Calls to save Lagos nightlife

‘Save the Lagos nightlife’ petitions are available in Portuguese and English

By ANA TAVARES [email protected]

A new proposal by Lagos Câmara, which sees the closing of all the council’s bars and restaurants by midnight as a way to control noise in residential areas, is sparking controversy amongst local business owners.

According to Portugal’s trading hours regulations, cafés, bars and restaurants are allowed to have their doors open every day until 2am, whilst clubs can operate until 4am. However, the law also enables city halls to change the establishments’ trading hours as a way to prevent noise pollution.

Whereas before local businesses could apply for a licence within the trading hours set by the general regulations, the Câmara has now presented a proposal which will force businesses to shut down two hours earlier – bars and restaurants will be closed by midnight and night clubs will close their doors at 2am.

And if this was not controversial enough, the Câmara also opened an exception for the riverside bars, which are currently being built on Avenida dos Descobrimentos, the city’s main avenue, and whichwill be allowed to run from 6am until 4am, unlike other businesses in the council.

The new bar concessions, which were put up for tender by the Câmara’s company FuturLagos, were granted to Aljezur-based company Vida no Sudoeste, Lda and JCT28 Adventure Cruises, Lda, but a third concession still awaits to be awarded.

According to Lagos Mayor Júlio Barroso, “the municipal authorities have long supported the relocation of the more problematic nightlife (meaning, the one that operates late hours and which may not comply with the Sound Law) to a different city area where it’s less conflicting with the rights of local residents”.

The Mayor also said that the creation of a new category in the municipal regulations – comprising only the new riverside establishments – was due to the singularity of “their location and nature” and that “Lagos needed businesses that could cater to those in search of nightlife into the early hours”.

Júlio Barroso also stressed that, as part of the new proposal, business owners can always request for an extension of their trading hours. In this case, to continue business as usual, establishments must be equipped with sound limiters that enable Câmara authorities to monitor online whether they are complying with the sound and trading hours regulations.

According to the Mayor, “sound limiters can be purchased in any specialist company” and those who already own such equipment “should verify their settings for a potential adaptation” to the new system.

Whilst Júlio Barroso explained that the new equipment, which will have to be financed entirely by business owners, can cost around €1,500 for establishments that don’t own a sound limiter already, some bar owners claimed – after discussing the matter with fellow business owners in Albufeira, who began implementing the same system in June last year – that such equipment can retail for as much as €3,000.

Those able to afford the new equipment will then have to perform the necessary sound tests and present a report to the Câmara, alongside a declaration that states that the equipment is correctly sealed, made by an entity certified by IPAC, the Portuguese Institute of Certification, as well as the access codes to the web portal where the Câmara will be able to monitor the system online.

Whilst the number of decibels allowed will, according to some bar owners, depend on the location of the establishments, it can go to as little as 80 decibels inside the bar near the sealed microphone. A single person talking can easily reach up to 65 decibels.

In an email sent to the Algarve Resident, the Lagos Mayor explained that the creation of a new proposal to control noise in residential areas was triggered by the several complaints received by the Câmara throughout the years, not only in the city centre, but also in rural areas of the council. “In the last two years, we have received formal complaints on 40 establishments, mainly from bars,” said Júlio Barroso. With the new proposal, the Câmara is hoping to promote “a higher quality of service”, as well as more “discipline and monitoring”, which will allow “both residents and tourists staying next to bars and clubs a better rest and quality of life”.

Although all bar owners whom the Algarve Resident spoke to were reluctant to be quoted by name, the general feeling is that the new system will not benefit the Lagos’ nightlife, nor residents or tourists. Much to the contrary, business owners believe that Lagos may be in danger as the “unique tourist destination it has become throughout the years”.

Accusing the Câmara of a lack of communication, bar owners criticised the municipality for not informing business owners of the new proposal. “We didn’t received a letter, nothing. We’ve been here for over 10 years, we’ve built relations with our neighbours and we would know if we were making too much noise,” said one of the bar owners.

Midnight curfew

With most clients getting to bars usually between 11.30pm and 12.15am, business owners fear they will lose their livelihood by closing their establishments at midnight.

“You wouldn’t book a holiday knowing that bars shut down at midnight. People leave the beach at around 8pm and then they go for dinner. They’d be arriving at the time we close,” said another bar owner.

Claiming that they have all passed previous sounds tests and abided by every single piece of legislation asked by the Câmara, business owners explained that this is not a matter of “us versus them” and pleaded for the Câmara to work alongside them.

“We’re open to ideas and willing to work out a way that would benefit us both. If the problem is people hanging out outside bars until the early hours, we know that the police don’t have the resources to help. It would cost us less to put in a certain amount and contribute to more policing.”

Another business owner who has been in the bar business for more than 20 years also said that “we have nothing against the main avenue bars staying open until 4am, but please just let us run until 2am, like every other bar in Portugal. We are a 10-week business and we just want to carry on with our lives.”

Saying that the Câmara is not helping businesses in any way, bar owners also warned that although Lagos was chosen as the best holiday destination by travel review website TripAdvisor in 2012, rumours are already circulating online regarding the possible death of Lagos’ nightlife, which could potentially affect businesses in 2013.

Laurinda Seabra, CEO of the Algarve Surf and Marine Activities Association (ASMAA), an independent non-profit organisation which was officially registered in late 2012 and aims to promote sustainability of local coastal communities, said that Lagos Câmara “hasn’t carried out any study to assess the impact of these measures”.

Seabra also accused the municipality of favouring the bars located on the Avenida dos Descobrimentos and added that the impact for the city will be “huge” as every tourist spends on average €18 whilst out at night. “These measures will have a ripple effect on every single business in town,” she assured.

Besides submitting a written objection to the Lagos municipality, the association also promoted two petitions – one in Portuguese and one in English – against the measures. At the time of going to press, both petitions had been signed by more than 2,500 people and were publicly supported by the Lagos Partido da Terra political group.

After meeting with some bar owners and ASMAA on January 8 in a session that many described as a “standstill”, the Câmara will be hosting a public session on January 16 at 9pm. With the municipality estimating that the new law will come into force before the summer, a question by one of the bar owners reflects the general mood of the city’s business owners: “What’s that bar worth now after so many years of hard work?”

To sign the petition, please visit: and search ‘Save Lagos Nightlife’.