As stakeholders prepare to implement a Paceville action plan to improve security and cleanliness, and debate continues over raising the drinking age to 18, Patrick Cooke speaks to one young woman who frequents Malta’s main nightlife district and another who avoids it at all costs.
The pro-Paceville party girl
Tina Camilleri, 17
What age were you when you first visited Paceville?
A few days after my 15th birthday we went as a group of friends for the first time, but we didn’t really go to the area where it all happens, we stayed in the bars on the outskirts.
Is 15 the typical age when teenagers visit Paceville for the first time?
The typical age is 13 or 14. When I studied at St Catherine’s the average age was 13. They would be drinking at that age but not amounts that would get them overly intoxicated.
Would they go to Paceville with their parents’ permission at that age?
Yes. Others may say they are going to the beach but they end up venturing to that area. At first I’m not sure my parents knew I was going to Paceville, but afterwards I told them that is where I was going.
Is Paceville the only place teenagers want to go at weekends?
It’s not that people really want to go to Paceville. If we had another option they would experiment with other places, but we are quite limited. I say ‘we’ because I’m still at that age. We’re quite limited in places we can go with our friends to have fun and be in a crowd with a lot of people we know. It’s something entertaining and new at the same time.
Is there nowhere else for young people to have fun?
It depends on what you are into. I like cultural things as well. I tried to go to a few events at the Malta Arts Festival and so on. But there is curiosity about Paceville. I don’t know a lot of people who haven’t been to Paceville or aren’t that interested in going, at least once.
Do you always enjoy it when you go there?
I can’t say I always enjoy it. It depends who you are with and where you go. The amount you drink is another a factor that affects the night.
The more you drink the better the night?
It depends what you get up to when you drink. First of all when you are with a lot of people you are under a certain amount of peer pressure. There were times when I went out and I wasn’t interested in drinking, I just wanted a chilled night. Then when you see people drinking and people offer you drinks, you change your mind.
What would you and your friends drink on a typical night?
Right now the trend is shots. When you’re younger you try to experiment with everything. Then you reach an age when things might start getting a bit boring. That’s a common word I hear now from my group of friends. There are nights or whole weekends where we miss out Paceville and chill somewhere like Valletta.
To be honest I’ve always been quite sure that Paceville is not somewhere I want to go every single week. It gets a bit daunting every week: you go out, get a bit tipsy, maybe even worse; see the same people, go the same places.
At first I went more frequently than I do now. It’s not so entertaining anymore.
How much would spend on a typical night out in Paceville?
It used to be more but now it’s around €30 on drinks.
What is the appeal of Paceville to your generation?
It is a rite of passage. At my age if someone asks you if you have ever been to Paceville and you tell them no they will gawk at you.
I think the media – not just the Maltese media but the international media even more – and songs, films... they make it seem like partying is something amazing and something you can’t miss in your life. This idea of living in the moment, of YOLO (you only live once). This is marketed as the way to enjoy life.
At my age if someone asks you if you have ever been to Paceville and you tell them no they will gawk at you
Are you starting to question the validity of that now?
Yes. But I do go out and have fun; I can’t say I won’t live with the mentality that you are only young once so you should enjoy it now because it will be different when you’re older. But then again, you have your whole life ahead of you so you can’t do things that damage you.
Would you or your friends ever get so drunk that you can’t remember what happened?
With friends there were cases like that. Maybe it was more frequent when we were younger. Once you learn your limits it happens less. Sometimes people claim that their drinks are spiked because they won’t admit to themselves that they had one drink too many.
Do you feel safe in Paceville?
There is always violence, practically every weekend. Once I saw a guy being pushed off a two-metre ledge outside, then someone grabbed a piece of wood and tried to attack him with it. It doesn’t always have to be that extreme. When you’re in such a packed place, with so many people talking different languages, putting alcohol into the equation does not create a friendly atmosphere.
Do you think security staff and police are effective at keeping revellers safe?
They do their best. They have to do their duty but they also have to make sure they are safe. I don’t know the extremes they go to, but it is not that easy to stop a fight. You never know what could happen.
Have you ever been asked for ID in the bars?
Yes definitely. They ask all the time, especially now. Most of the main bars do. They have gotten stricter, definitely. Sometimes if you know the bouncer you can talk your way in.
Would it change anything if the legal drinking age was raised from 17 to 18?
I don’t think it will make much difference to be honest. Kids will still try to experiment. When you start sixth form you do feel that little bit more mature so for sure 16-year-olds will still go there.
A solution could be to have more places for kids to go to. I’ve been abroad and you don’t see kids at 13 dressing up and going to bars. It’s quite sad and hard to shake off, especially with the peer pressure. In the beginning I felt pressure to go every week but now if I don’t feel like going I feel no shame in saying that I’m staying in and relaxing.
Is Paceville a place people can go and stay sober? Would it be unbearable if you were not at least a little tipsy?
I have gone and just had a few beers. But if you want to go to the crowded places it’s a bit difficult to just stand there. Alcohol loosens people up. When you see people having fun in the club and the alcohol is available, you drink.
Do you foresee a time in the near future when you will want a change from Paceville?
I already do. Last weekend, for example, I just had a few friends over for a barbecue and we went around for a drive.
Do you have any friends who don’t go to Paceville?
When I was younger practically all my friends went there. Now some are absolutely not interested or go once or twice a month.
Could you describe your typical night out there?
I would go to a friend’s first and then go to Paceville for a few hours later on. Right now it is so packed with tourists we prefer to go to the more chilled bars on the outskirts. I like Juuls a lot. You don’t get any drama there. Then maybe we’ll wander into the centre later but at the moment it is difficult because there are so many tourists.
Right now, rather than seeing Maltese passed out on the floor, you see tourists – you see kid tourists who are totally out of it. I see that quite a lot. It will happen every night for sure. I can’t say it puts me off because I know my limits, it doesn’t mean I have to be the same way.
What time would you usually go home after a night out in Paceville?
All nighters have happened. If I did that I wouldn’t go to the bars that stay open all night. I would just go to the beach to watch the sunrise. The all-night places are too hardcore; there are a lot of drugs in there.
The anywhere-but-Paceville girl
Thea Leigh Micallef, 21
How often do you go to Paceville?
Maybe once every six months, because my friends force me to.
How old were you when you first went there?
I was 13. My younger friends tell me there are 12-year-olds going there now.
Even now, after they raised the legal drinking age to 17?
It doesn’t matter. It makes no difference at all.
Is it easy to get into clubs at that age?
When I went at that age it was easy. The legal drinking age then was 16. But I think even now it is quite easy, especially for girls. Sometimes you will be asked for ID but if you appear older they rarely ask.
What is the appeal of Paceville when you’re 12 and 13?
It is seen as a grown-up thing to do. And part of the appeal is that it’s forbidden. If you go there now it’s just a bunch of young teenagers. Once you actually reach the legal drinking age you are less likely to want to go to Paceville. I didn’t.
Did you ever enjoy it?
No. It was peer pressure. I even used to ask my parents to ground me so I didn’t have to go! When I was 15 to 17 I used to go every weekend. It helps when you leave school. When I went to sixth form and made new friends my weekends completely changed. I no longer had that peer pressure to go to clubs.
Would things change if the legal drinking age was raised to 18?
No. At 17 you still have 13 and 14-year-olds there.
What could be done to entice underage teens away from Paceville?
Maybe it’s a fantasy but we could have community centres or teenage discos.
Are the kids who get a taste for Paceville at 13 going to want to visit a community centre instead?
Well I quickly realised Paceville wasn’t my cup of tea so I would have liked an alternative. It could be the beginning of a new lifestyle.
Would it help if the police clamped down on underage teens, maybe by taking them home to their parents?
I’m not sure. Most parents know their children are going to Paceville and drinking. I doubt they would do anything about it.
Did your parents know you were drinking in Paceville at 13?
Not when I was 13, but I guess they do now! I have a 16-year-old brother who goes to Paceville and I’m pretty sure they know he drinks. It’s common. But he doesn’t get drunk.
What would you drink at 13?
My first drink was vodka and lime. We would buy from the club itself. We were not motivated by the price of drinks, we wanted to go to the best places.
How would you get money at that age?
My parents would give me €10 for the weekend. That was more than enough as I would just have one drink. My parents and my friends’ parents were quite relaxed. My dad used to pick me up at 11.30pm when I was 14. When I was older I just walked home.
Where do you go have fun now?
We go to bars outside of Paceville, in places like Buġibba or Sliema, or just out for dinner. There are a lot of refined wine bars opening in places like Birgu and Valletta.
What would be a typical night out for your friends in Paceville?
Drinking and partying I guess. They have their favourite places. There is a bit of a class divide in terms of where people go and what part of Malta they are from. Some bars are also known to attract an older crowd, with men in their 40s.
What don’t you like Paceville?
I live close to Paceville in Pembroke. Sometimes I have to walk through it on my way to Sliema. I dislike the amount of young people who want to look like they’re grown-ups, especially the girls. They wear horrible clothes that are not very flattering. And I don’t like the general vibe of people getting so drunk they won’t remember what they did the following day.
I work in Valletta and pass through Paceville on the bus every morning. It’s disgusting to see the amount of rubbish on the street. Sometimes you see a passed-out guy on the bench, or even on the floor.
When I was 14 I was walking with my father and we saw a passed-out guy in front of the cinema at 10am. Everyone was just walking around him. He had his wallet and phone next to his head. Someone from the Millennium Chapel had to revive him.
Do you think such sights are bad for Malta’s image?
Some tourists come for the nightlife. It depends on the type of tourists we want. Tourists know it’s the nightlife area. If they don’t want nightlife they will go somewhere else.
Why do you think there is such a broad consensus among young people that getting drunk in Paceville at weekends is something to look forward to?
You see it in Hollywood movies. It’s this idea that whenever it’s the weekend you party till you drop; you party like there’s no tomorrow.
Do your friends find it hard to think of other ways to have fun at weekends?
Sometimes it is a problem. Paceville can be an easy way out, as opposed to trying to find a restaurant or somewhere relaxed. It is quite difficult to get everyone together to go somewhere. You know Paceville is always there and even if someone arrives late the party is still going on?
Violence is common. You always sense there is potential for trouble
Do you feel safe in Paceville?
There is a police presence centred around Burger King. I think it needs to be reinforced. No one is really intimidated by the police presence. If someone wants to throw a bar stool they will still do it.
Once I was walking up the steps and there was a fight about two metres in front of me. One of the guys actually threw a bar stool at us. Violence is common. You always sense there is potential for trouble. If I have to walk through Paceville I try to go as fast as I can.
Is it common for people to drive home drunk?
I think so. We don’t have a culture of car pooling in Malta. Two people from the same village will go in their own cars. Accidents do happen on Sunday mornings. You can see a lot of glass on the roads. It does need to be reinforced slightly.
Do people openly flout the smoking ban in bars there?
Yes, that is very common. It bothers me a lot. It is one of the reasons I don’t like going there. That and the invasion of personal space. You have these 40-year-old men who can’t take the hint that you want to be left alone.
Is there a drug culture in the area?
I have never encountered drugs there, but friends and my younger brother have witnessed the sale of drugs. I think it’s more about the alcohol.
Are you friends now growing out of Paceville?
Some of them are still quite into it. I guess it’s just my personality – I don’t like being in crowded areas.