I first went to Bar Alaska in Palma on my second date with Vincente, now my husband and this simple but iconic bar has a place in my heart. Now its continued existence appears to be threatened, I wanted to find out the backstory.
Bar Alaska opened in Plaza del Mercat in 1936 and has been there ever since. I believe the original kiosk is unchanged. It certainly looks that way.
As Kika Coll Borràs, a Palma councillor and one of the people working to save this city institution told me, ‘Bar Alaska represented the arrival of hamburgers and hot dogs to our city. Before that, we just watched people eat them in the American movies. So many of us grew up with Bar Alaska. It’s a fundamental part of our relationship with our city and way of life.’
Vincente, my husband, has been going to Bar Alaska ever since he was a boy. His mother and father went there too.
I’m told that before fast food became a thing, Bar Alaska was one of the very few places you could get a hamburger or hot dog in Palma.
A friend told me she remembers seeing an America sailor run up to Bar Alaska fifty years ago. The guy threw his hands up in the air with delight and cried ‘McDonalds!’
As well as offering simple food, Bar Alaska became a place to meet, a social hub in the centre of Palma. There’s a sense that everyone’s equal here. It’s not a place for airs and graces.
Apparently, Felipe VI, current king of Spain was a regular as a young man when his family spent their summers in Mallorca.
Bar Alaska’s simplicity was why Vincente suggested we meet there on our second date. Our first had been at a fancy restaurant. It was fine but we were nervous. Things were different at Bar Alaska. We relaxed and got to know each other better.
Now that I’ve lived in Mallorca for 12 years, I’ve been to Bar Alaska many times. For me, it’s a place to connect with the real Palma.
For Kika Coll, places like Bar Alaska ‘form part of our collective memory, our collective idea of ourselves and our community. When they disappear, it adds to the sense that we’re losing our identity as Mallorcans, as citizens of Palma.’
‘When places like Bar Moka Verd, a wonderful bar on Carrer de Sant Miguel in the city centre that closed and is now a perfume store, vanish, Palma becomes more depersonalised and dehumanised,’ Kika added.
For those of us who weren’t born and raised on Mallorca, it can be hard to appreciate the significance of somewhere like Bar Alaska.
But I get what Kika’s saying. I’ve only been here for twelve years and in that time Palma’s changed incredibly, leaving me with mixed feelings.
On one hand, it’s great to see all the sophisticated restaurants, bars, galleries and boutiques opening in the city. But many of us really appreciate traditional Spanish bars and cafés so it’s sad when place like Moka Verd vanish or change so much they lose their identity.
Bar Alaska was first threatened with closure in 2007, which generated an enormous popular wave of support among the people of Palma. Since then, as I understand it, Bar Alaska has been paying a fee to operate that increases every year.
According to the latest news from the Majorca Daily Bulletin, Bar Alaska won’t close but the kiosk will be redesigned in line with the general redesign of Plaza del Mercat.
While it’s great that it looks like Bar Alaska will survive it would be a shame if the iconic kiosk itself was changed. From the metal bar to the signage, Bar Moka is an classic example of a certain kind of Spanish design that’s rapidly disappearing.
If Bar Alaska does stay open at Plaza del Mercat in a new kiosk, I very much hope this isn’t some kind of bland, turquoise monstrosity.
But I suppose that if this is what happens, we should be thankful that the bar itself survives. While it’s alive, I can’t imagine it will ever stop being a meeting place in the city centre.
Whatever happens, Kika said, ‘We can help these businesses survive by continuing to go to them, to support them. And we can belong to social movements and associations that are sensitive to the issue and actively helping to defend our customs and our identity.’
Those of us who’ve come to live on this island because we appreciate Mallorca’s culture and the way of life here should also do all we can to keep it alive. That means buying from local markets and shops and getting to know places like Bar Alaska.
For me, I hope it remains part of the life of Palma so I Vincente and I can take our little Emily there for the first time.
According to the ever-reliable Mallorca Daily Bulletin, Bar Alaska is set to remain as it currently is for the time being. Much to the relief and delight of those of us who love the place.