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Nightlife in Valencia > Zona Carmen: Overview
Zona Carmen: Overview (Nightlife in Valencia)
Carmen is home to the alternative / underground of Valencia. It is the oldest, the most diverse, cosmopolitan, curious and bohemian nigthlife area of the city.
There is no other district here where you will find a punk bar, a reggae smoking den, a retro chill-out lounge, a jazz basement, an underground trance mix, an intelligencia meeting point, a goth dungeon, a gay bar, latino tunes, caribbean heat and a twisted bohemian art-cave, all within a short walk of each other.
Carmen is an amazing caleidoscope of cultures, subcultures, ambiences and personalities. It can be explored forever, like a continent.
However, there is a publicity problem. Often branded "the heart of Valencian nightlife", sometimes Carmen gets the false publicity of being the best and the biggest of Valencia. This is a bit misguided since Carmen has its specific flavour which may or may not appeal. You may want to read more here.
The best way to summarise Carmen is to say it is the alternative scene of Valencia.
There are two Carmens. The official district Barrio del Carmen is locked between (clockwise) Torres de Serranos, Plaza de la Virgen, Torres de Quart and IVAM. However, as the vibe spilled out of there, when people say Carmen they refer to everything from Plaza Ayuntamento up. The nightlife is conentrated in the quadrant outlined above, plus the triangle between Calle Caballeros, Plaza de la Reina and Mercado Central.
Most of the Carmen is hidden in the crazy maze of this old neighbourhood from the Arab times. Calle Caballeros is always referred to as the main drag, but only because it is the only line on the map that makes any sense in Carmen, and is used by crowds as a fast-track artery. The street doesn't have many venues (perhaps 15% of Carmen at the most) and most that are here are not really what Carmen is about - here is where you find the few mainstream bars of Carmen, which is exactly why the official (read: mainstream) literature always sends you there. So when you are told to go to Calle Caballeros to get a taste of Carmen, this is a very poor advice. For the names that are true legends and symbols of Carmen you have to dive into the insanely confusing backstreets. So it is important you have a good look at our map.
Carmen is all about small and cosy, since all the buildings are old and expensive. Consequently, Carmen is mainly about pubbing in curious environments. Two thirds to three quarters of Carmen are various pubs, lounges and bars not suitable for dancing. All those places will promptly shut down at 2am due to the strictest closing policy enforced in Valencia.
The remainder is disco-bars. The ones that are truly original, such as Bigornia, Mitjanit, Pinball or Radio City are the stuff you won't find anywhere else in town and are worth your time. The rest are what you get anywhere else in the city, but with more variety, space and better prices.
In a place like Carmen it is impossible to summarize. Only a few places will adhere to "normal pop" and commercial music. The vast majority will have their specific ambiences to fill, and Carmen is undoubtedly the place for those who don't like their music mainstream.
You could hear jazz, blues, latino, flamenco, R&B, hip-hop, reggae, rock, trance, house, funk, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and all kinds of weird stuff that you didn't even know existed on the face of this planet.
In any case, Carmen will be unorthodox and untraditional, well away from the roots of Valencian nightlife and well into the international space.
Carmen is extremeley motley. There is everyone in Carmen - rich and homeless, young and old, local and foreign, tidy and scruffy, european, arab, african, asian, black, white, blue, pink, purple.
Carmen is not called cosmopolitan for nothing. Since it is usually portrayed as the only place to go out in Valencia, it gets pretty much 100% of Valencia's tourism. For the same reason the majority of ex-pats from the developed world never venture outside the boundaries of Carmen, and many live here. It is different for many Latino Americans who have their own well defined nightlife elsewhere, and are also offered much more attractive options in other major nightlife areas of Valencia. Carmen also gets some of Valencia's African and Arab population.
Naturally, Carmen also attracts many Spaniards. They are either part of the alternative scene of Carmen, or those attracted by things cosmopolitan.
Carmen is home to all alternative sub-cultures of Valencia and you will see a lot of that both on the streets and indoors. Punks, hippies, new age, goths, rockeros, ravers, etc, plus all those people who are "kind of". The mainstream crowd doesn't have much of a foothold in Carmen, confined to a few places. The large part of smart-dressed people you see in Carmen are those who mainly came out to eat, and might pop in for a drink or two since they are here.
Camen as a district has a large gay / lesbian community. The nightlife has several well-defined gay venues. It is, in fact, the only area in Valencia with gay nightlife.
Carmen is the only place in Valencia where the politics come into nightlife. Although normally just a shadow of an undercurrent, in places it is polarised between left-wing alternative and right-wing smart/mainstream. And yes, you have read it right - in places your clothes is all it takes to be labelled, accepted or rejected, on both poles of the scene. So keep this in mind.
It is unfortunate but the "heart of Valencia nightlife" has the lamest working hours in Valencia.
Anal vecinos (neighbours) have caused a strict enforcement of licenses, although you can't really blame them once you see the havoc wrecked on the streets of Carmen at night. The bulk of nightlife - the pubs - close at 2am promptly. And that's taking into account that the bars don't start filling up until midnight! This is a total anti-climax since any respectable Spaniard will only have had one or two drink by then.
Thus commences the confused wander of crowds after 2am. They finally stuff the remaining disco-bars to the limit. Those will close at 4am.
Unless you are well into your alternative ambience and would like to visit Mitjanit, Radio City, Bigornia or Pinball, you will be well advised to leave the agonizing Carmen at 2 am for one of the other areas.
In terms of starting the night the usual applies - the first signs of life appear between 11 and midnight.
Apart from the touristy prices of the Beach / Port area, Carmen is the most expensive nightlife zona of Valencia, due to the high overheads the owners have to pay for having their venue in such a prestigious district.
Usually a beer will be 3-4€ for a bottle, sometimes 5€. Spirit/mixer will go at 6-7€ a glass, sometimes 8€. These prices are close to those you pay in night-clubs. Alternative places will tend to be a little cheaper than mainstream / trendy.
Entry is free everywhere, apart from the two venues that go beyond 4am.
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