Madrid gets verdict on seven-year bar wars: carry on as you are

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It has been seven years of warfare between bar owners who want to stay open longer and Madrid residents who want the Spanish capital's generous and oft-violated licensing hours cut. This bitter trial of strength has ended with a decision by the authorities to, er, leave things as they are.

The announcement on Friday amounts to a climbdown by conservative politicians, who have been trying for years to curb the excesses developed during the euphoric Eighties, when Madrid'smovida - a hectic scene epitomised by the hedonistic film director Pedro Almodovar - was the envy of young Europe. Visitors may feel relieved that they can still spend the night roaming an area where the concentration of bars is said to be higher than in the whole of Belgium (though some think Madrid contains more banks than bars), but the ruling satisfies none of the competing pressure groups.

The Association of Drinking Bars, Party Rooms and Discotheque Entrepreneurs, and the Regional Federation of Residents' Associations wanted opening until 6am, to coincide with the start-up of public transport; otherwise, they said, drinkers just get into their cars, drive off and kill each other. But residents living near bar areas want earlier closing, complaining that revellers' noise violates their right to a night's sleep. This fuelled other residents' complaints that youngsters spend their nights drinking calimotxo - a red wine and Coca-Cola mixture bought in all-night shops and swigged frombig plastic bottles in the street, which they then use as a urinal; on a Sunday morning stroll through 18th-century cobbled squares, you may come upon a stinking, plastic-strewn scene reminiscent of an abandoned refugee camp.

Locals are now grappling with the complex distinctions between bars (which also serve food), cafes (which sell drinks) and drinking bars (drinks only) and, in further sub-divisions, between discotheques, dance halls and salas de espectaculos, or live shows. The open-air summer bar or terraza is not to be confused with a verbena - an open-air drinking session on the eve of saints' days. All now have to display a notice saying what they are and when they close.

Here is a guide: bars and cafes close around midnight, drinking bars (where Madrilenos go to swig gintonic and cubalibre after dinner) stay open until 2am, discos (ditto with glitterball and louder music) until 3.30am and live shows 5am. Everything closes half an hour later on holidays, eves of holidays and at weekends. But all this is theoretical. Often the real closing time is when the police are called and evict shrieking revellers on to the street. That is what started the seven years' war in the first place.