icardo Urgell (Barcelona, 1937) is a unique product of the Catalan bourgeoisie. Among his ancestors are artists such as the landscape painter and playwright Modest Urgell, his great-grandfather, or the impressionist painter Ricard Urgell, his grandfather. His father was an engineer at Ducati; He was to follow in his footsteps but decided to become a beach boy. His first business was a waterskiing school in Sitges, where he used to spend his summer vacations, and later a bar in what is known as Carrer del Pecat or Sin Street. After selling that seminal bar, he decided to open his first Pacha in Sitges in 1967, and began a career that would make him a night-life tycoon. A character who doesn’t mince his words, who has not hesitated to openly criticize Ibizan politicians and who does not like electronic music too much, which he defines as noise.
But it was the leap to Ibiza in 1973 that would turn the Pacha brand into a worldwide reference in club culture, as a result of the transformation of the island into a factory of hedonistic experience for its visitors. Urgell, who throughout his career managed to open over 80 discotheques, including his own establishments as well as franchises with the same name, finally decided to sell out the business when he finally accepted that his children weren’t interest enough to take the helm of the company.
After negotiating the sale with Chinese capital managers for a price of about 500 million euros, it was a venture capital fund founded by former directors of Lehman Brothers, Trilantic Capital Partners, which took over most of the Pacha property. The advisers for the operation were [leading Catalan law firm] Cuatrecasas, and the contract for the sale of assets and shares amounted to 290 million euros, which included the operation of the Pachá Ibiza nightclub, the Destino Pacha Ibiza resort and the Lío Ibiza cabaret restaurant, as well as magazine publications, a merchandising line and the organization of events. The acquisition was executed through the special purpose vehicle Sena Directorship, S.A. by Trilantic, a fund that also has investments in other Spanish companies, such as Talgo and Euskaltel.
The sale of the Pacha assets puts Ricardo Urgell at 169 in daily El Mundo’s annual ranking of Spain’s wealthiest, with a net worth of 270 million euros. Urgell continues to hold a position on the board of directors and his vision continues to carry weight in the management of the company. For half a century the twin-cherry brand has been a symbol of Ibiza’s nightlife, and has today become an immense business that has transformed the island for good or bad, depending on who you ask. Pacha is now set to become a global brand through the exploitation of its different brands.
One of the first steps on the new path has been the refurbishing of Pacha in Ibiza, which closed last winter for the first time in its long history. The architect Juli Capella, who has tried to stay true to the tradition of the house, is responsible for the works designed and executed in just six months. Capella describes his approach to the challenge in the following way: “At first I took the project hoping to leave my mark singularly and brilliantly, as does any creator. But I immediately realized that Pacha was a jewel that had to be preserved, a global icon that had influenced many other clubs. It was a place designed by its founder, Ricardo Urgell, who intuitively knew how to create a special, magical atmosphere. That’s why we immediately understood that the work had to be delicate, in the style of Spain’s Royal Academy of Language, whose motto says that it does not invent anything but cleanses, fixes and gives splendour. That’s why the initial concept was to change everything so that everything stayed the same, and above all not spoil it: to keep its basic materials, its rough finishes, its light colours…”
So the club has been modernized although it is not really noticeable at first sight: “As the club had never closed since inaugurating in 1973, all the renovations were made in haste between sessions. There were many add-ons, botches, provisional solutions, irregularities and inconsistencies that needed a thorough revision. It was necessary to adapt the space to current regulations, and above all to renew the facilities, deep works that are not very visible but that the clients will notice,” says Capella.
Another of the renovation’s notable contributions has been the creation of a new area for the DJ, which now occupies a central space in the room. According to Capella, “this was an awesome issue. We have gone from DJs, who were banished to a tiny cabin away from the dancefloor, to star DJs who take a central position. Now the cabin has to accommodate the DJ, but also his friends, go-go dancers and VIPs. We have achieved a good size, versatile space which can change depending on the public’s preferences, which will tend to be more participatory and experiential. Pacha will never be completed, it is a living creature in constant transformation.” Capella’s contribution also includes the design of the group’s headquarters, which will endeavour to maintain the informal, creative and uninhibited spirit that the brand transmits.
Capella quotes [celebrated Catalan journalist and author] Josep Pla to remind us that what is most local is also often the most international, and that modernity and cosmopolitanism can emerge from the vernacular. He also recalls Gaudí saying that “to be original is to return to the origin.” And the origin of the Pacha legend is furiously Ibizan, although on the [Pityusic] island Pacha competes with powerful rivals such as Ushuaïa, Amnesia (founded, by the way, by philosopher Antonio Escohotado in 1976) or Hard Rock, each with its own peculiarities.
While currently employing over 1,400 people in the high season, Pacha’s expansion strategy has begun with the professionalization of the management of a hitherto family business, and its conversion to the financial standards required of a global company, a requirement to assault the global entertainment market through the exploitation of its different brands, as confirmed by the group’s new Chief Marketing Manager Pedro Martínez Vega. Although the company is reluctant to specify its future plans, they are studying several expansion projects worldwide. The hotel division intends to replicate the Hotel Pacha and Destino Ibiza model in different locations. In Martínez Vega’s words, “we do not want to be a standard brand. Our intention is to adapt to each environment in which we operate. We want to get to a site, get to know it and design an experience that makes sense in each context, without foresaking our values as a brand.”
This applies both to nightclubs and to hotels—which will try to sell an almost entertainment-like experience, such as that at the W or Standard hotels—or restaurants with dinner shows, on the Lío Ibiza model, which has raised the concept of cabaret to a unique level of luxury experience. Pacha and its sub-brands intend to compete internationally with brand names like Hakkasan or Tao. Another challenge is to start growing the division of all-in shows marketed under the Pacha brand umbrella. This will face competition, for example, from Barcelona-based Elrow, a company that has deployed a brilliant global expansion programme over the last years. It will also review the franchise model of the club, until now based on a royalty collection model that allowed little control over the use of the brand and scant participation in the business it generated.
“We are going to create differential experiences that go beyond the DJ. Hotels are also becoming hubs that offer experiences beyond just a bed to sleep in. The digitalization of the world has generated a counter-trend offering physical experiences. Pacha is a great reference in this field, and our future lies in studying user experience and turning that into the products we offer. Our journey is from the local to the global, not the other way around,” concludes Pedro Martínez Vega.
Thus begins the leap into infinity of a brand whose famous twin cherries promised an artificial paradise on a still virginal and countercultural island, and now aspires to export the experience without eschewing the essence attempting to survive in a very different Ibiza from that of 1973.