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AlteArte: Defining Our Business
Sara and David find that owning a bar means more than just being a local watering hole.


Courtesy of Sara Wilson, Illustration by Gabriel Lefrancois
David makes the delicious bar food and Sara's syrups stand out in this small town.


I donít drink much. Actually, leave it up to me and I wonít drink at all. Ask my friends from college and theyíll confirm that while they would drink beer after beer at the frat parties Freshman year, I would slyly nurse one drink the entire evening. Itís not that Iím morally opposed to alcohol, itís just that my body rejects it as if it were a poison. And try as I might (and my friends certainly did) raising my tolerance level is simply a no-go.

Therefore, some might see it as ironic that Iím now here in Spain running a bar, but I see things quite differently. I see AlteArte as being much more than just a bar. From the time when the original owner founded it and created the name and concept, it has been more than a bar. The sign out front reads "art and internet lounge." The original owner had three computers upstairs. We took out two of them but implemented free WiFi. The previous owner, Pepe, and original owner, Benjamin, featured art from the local students. We are continuing that tradition and currently have a series of photographs hung from one of the students studying at the local art university, as well as a painting from an award-winning artist who is also attending the art school.

We are also trying to attract more of a coffee-drinking crowd and therefore open at 4:00 p.m. as opposed to Pepe who opened it laterósometimes as late as 10 p.m. And to encourage people to come earlier, we have added special activities like movie nights on Mondays. With our large screen TV, Bose speakers, and fresh-made popcorn, we turn AlteArte into a mini movie theater. We also have English conversation on Tuesdays and Spanish conversation on Fridaysóand we have plans for more.

Sure, we sell alcohol, but we also sell more than that. I searched high and low to find syrups for espresso drinks and nice teas but couldnít find any place in Spain that sold either. When I expanded my search to the U.S., I found plenty but then ran into a roadblock when many wouldnít ship to Europe or they would but with formidable shipping costs. Then, just when I was beginning to think that the search was futile, David came to the rescue and found a company just outside of Barcelona that sold both.

Surprisingly, the teas have become great sellers. Everyone told us that the Spaniards arenít big tea drinkers, but we have had groups come in just for tea and each time someone orders one it serves as confirmation that we were right in scouring Spain for something different.

We also have soy milk, which is easily found in markets, but unheard of in cafes. The fact that we have soy milk was enough to impress Paul, an American who has been living in Berlin for the last two years, so much that he returned twice in the remaining days he had left in Altea. Although Paul was just visiting Altea for a short time, he left a lasting impression on me. We talked about lifeís crossroads and our interesting, albeit brief, interaction made me feel grateful that I am where I am to be able to meet people like Paul.

And even though we donít have a kitchen, David has turned his tiny counter into a tapas factory. David produces everything from that small section of space: montaditos (mini sandwiches) of all kinds, quesadillas, and even hot dogs (with a hot dog machine purchased from Germany). As time passes, more and more people are ordering foodóthe owner of a nearby restaurant included, who sends one of his waiters to place the order which David then hand delivers when itís ready.

People are starting to come with their laptops to use the WiFi too, with their books to study and with their friends to talk. When Kim, a Norwegian who has been living in Altea for more than 20 years tells me that weíve created a special ambiance that brings together an eclectic clientele of people who can speak philosophically, I couldnít be happier, for thatís exactly the type of atmosphere that I want to create.

With some shaping and molding, AlteArte is proving to be more than just a bar.

Sara Wilson is currently working as a freelance writer and lives in Torrevieja, Spain with her husband. She has kept a record of her adventures living abroad which you can find here or on her blog: http://sarawilson.wordpress.com. Contact her directly at wilson.sara@gmail.com.

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