Half a century among barrels and flamenco

Half a century among barrels and flamenco
  • The famous El Pimpi bar in Malaga city opened its doors on 5 August 1971 after a series of happy coincidences. Fifty years on, it has become a symbol of the city

Malaga historians say that 'el pimpi' was the nickname for a type of early tour guide who used to go to the port to help the crew when ships arrived and then accompany the passengers around the city, showing them the sights of interest and where to find typical food. In a way that is like El Pimpi - the iconic bar and restaurant in the city - with its visitors who have been coming for the past half a century to see a piece of authentic Malaga.

This historic establishment celebrated its 50th anniversary this week and marked the occasion with its customers, blowing out candles and making wishes for a further 50 years of love and affection.

El Pimpi was opened on 5 August 1971 by two businessmen and friends, Francisco Campos and Pepe Cobos. However, like many other things that turn out to be a triumph, it happened due to a series of lucky coincidences. Both men had been based at Bodegas Campos in Cordoba and the company decided to open a new branch of the business in Granada. They went to take a look at some potential premises, in the company of legendary local writer Antonio Gala, who was a great friend of the family, but when they arrived they didn't like the building they were being offered and decided to take a drive down to Malaga.

As fate would have it, these entrepreneurs parked in Calle Alcazabilla, which was open to traffic in those days, and walked to the Antonio Martín restaurant in La Malagueta. Halfway through lunch, someone who was passing interrupted them to ask Antonio Gala for his autograph and asked why they were there. He then told them he knew of an old 18th century mansion that met their requirements and they decided to have a look.

When they saw that it was just by where they had parked, they realised that it was the sign they had been looking for and they never left Malaga again.

Although El Pimpi is now an emblem of the city and an obligatory stop for the thousands of tourists who visit the province, its beginnings were not that simple. Elena Cobos, Pepe's daughter, who is now one of the people who run the business, remembers that her father and Paco went through such hard times that they had to share one fixed set menu because they didn't have enough money for one each. The situation was so critical that barely two years after opening El Pimpi, Bodegas Campos asked them to abandon the project. Fortunately for them and for Malaga they were sure they could make it work and decided to carry on alone. "They started with 17 people and there are 140 of us now," says Elena, proudly.

In those days, Pepe and Paco did practically everything themselves. Pepe was in charge of attracting tourists, so he would stand by the entrance to the Cathedral and tell them about the bar and the typical Moscatel wine served there. He also went around hotels on the Costa on the same mission, and when he got back he would be behind the bar serving drinks and playing records.

She doesn't want to go into details of the most difficult times - "every business has them," she says - but explains that the major leap forward came on 11 September 2001, the day of the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers. Her father was watching it on TV and he immediately rang her and said something that marked the start of a big change for the business: "Elena, the world has changed today and if we don't reinvent ourselves we are going to die."

Part of local society

That change of attitude led them to modernise the business, improve the food (they now have a market garden of their own), stop using plastic glasses and begin to offer typical Malaga products. "El Pimpi had always been a bit apart from society, but decided to get closer," says Elena. "Then the authorities, local people and the tourists started to feel warmer about us and we felt the same about them."

It was at that time that they began to expand the charitable and cultural aspect of the business. In 2017, wanting to give back to society some of what they received, they created the Fundación El Pimpi, to support the culture and traditions of Malaga and help to resolve the most urgent social problems in the city. For the same reason they also created the Soles de Malaga festival, which raised 256,000 euros in the first two years alone.

The next landmark in the history of El Pimpi came in December 2017 when actor Antonio Banderas bought Francisco Campos' share of the business. Working with the present manager, Pablo Gonzalo, he has helped to raise its international profile.

What will the future hold? The slogan they have chosen to celebrate this 50th anniversary is 'Malaga, I will love you for another 50 years'. The management of today doesn't want to look back. Although they had several business projects in mind in order to keep growing, Covid has forced them to focus on guaranteeing the financial viability of the business and the people who work there. So they can carry on for at least another half a century.