How can you truly party like a local in San Sebastian?
San Sebastian nightlife follows the Spanish model of going out. This means that parties start and end way later than what we're accustomed to in the U.S. A typical night goes like this: you meet up with your friends around 10:00 p.m. at your favorite bar. After everyone finishes their drinks, your group moves onto the next bar and has a drink there. You repeat this until around 2:00 or 3:00 a.m., which is when the bars close and the clubs open. The Spanish style of going out is more bar-hopping oriented and San Sebastian makes this easy by having most of the popular bars in the Old Town (Parte Vieja), so you literally just have to walk next door to arrive at next bar. After the bars start shutting down for the night, you head to one of the handful of clubs in the city. The most popular club in San Sebastian is called Bataplan and is where the majority of people go after 2:00 a.m. on the weekends. Therefore, unlike American nights out where the idea is to get as drunk as possible as soon as possible, the San Sebastian style requires you to pace yourself because you're out for quite a few hours. You do not want to be that American passed out on a bar stool at 1:00 a.m. Embarrassing.
What do the locals drink during parties?
The Kalimotxo (pronounced cali-mocho) is the quintessential Basque drink for party goers. It's equal parts red wine and Coca Cola. It sounds really nasty (it kinda is) and older people with more refined tastes and weaker stomachs don't touch it, but the youth love it. I'd recommend drinking something else first so by the time you have a kalimotxo your senses are slightly numbed. Other popular drinks are Gin/Tonic, Cider, Txakoli, Caña (cheap draught beer) and Caña con limón (cheap draught beer mixed with lemon flavored soda because the beer is so nasty).
What makes partying in San Sebastian unique?
The longevity and constant change of location of nightlife are the most unique aspects. If you commit to a real Basque night out, you're partying for at least 8 hours and hitting at least five bars and probably a club. The time flies faster than you would think, but don't expect to complete anything productive the following day.
What about house parties?
House parties are actually not common at all in Pais Vasco compared to the U.S. I think there are a couple reasons for this. First, the American tradition of owning your own home leads to pride in having people over and entertaining. A lot of Basques live in apartments and owning a home isn't the ultimate goal in your grown-up life. Second, American houses tend to be bigger than their European counterparts and these bigger sizes mean that comfortably having people over for a party isn't as feasible as in the United States. Spanish houses are smaller and the nightlife is good so Basques don't see the point in squashing people into their homes when they could be out bar hopping. Third, Basques tend to live with their parents during their college years and well into their 20's, and it's not exactly desirable to invite your friends over to your parent's house to get drunk. Fourth, while younger Americans lean towards house parties because they are not allowed into bars, the Basque drinking age is technically 18 but is enforced by exactly no one. This means that having a house party so that younger people can be apart of the action is unnecessary in Pais Vasco because it's a common occurrence to see teenagers at San Sebastian bars anyway. Of course, house parties can still happen, they're just not nearly as common as they are in the U.S.
What is your overall opinion of the nightlife in San Sebastian?
The nightlife in San Sebastian is really fun, I thoroughly enjoyed the weekends there. I think the city has an advantage because it's medium-sized, so it has a good variety of bars but it's also not as gigantic as Madrid or Barcelona, so you can easily find your friends and getting lost is more difficult. It's also a really safe city to go out in, so that's a definite plus.
In this article, I interviewed Cassie, a friend of mine who lived in San Sebastian and became a sort of party expert while she was there. Because she is from the U.S. and can look from the outside in, she gives us some great tips and understanding in this article as to how one can have an authentic Basque night out on the town.