Joie de Vive: Es Vive, Ibiza


As hotel Es Vive celebrates ten years at the top, its five founders reunite in Ibiza and reflect on a decade of summer decadence and the secrets of their success.

“IT just seems so long ago now.” English entrepreneur Jason Bull is by the pool at Es Vive, reflecting on how Ibiza’s original party hotel was born. It was 2001 when Bull and four friends – Max Leverett, Jamie Kahn, Neil Dawson and Nick Reid – pioneered the pet project that has become an Ibiza institution, a concept conceived following the fateful death of a friend.

Bull and Leverett first discovered the “overgrown and windswept” Es Vive hotel at the turn of the millennium and instantly “knew this was the place”. More than ten years on and the island’s revolutionary music hotel still reigns supreme as the epitome of Balearic decadence. The iconic turquoise facade evoking Miami cool with its Art Deco elegance has become as synonymous with epic all-nighters as it has with sophisticated ambience and poolside chill
(all soundtracked to the Es Vive compilations that have encapsulated ten years of summer fun).

Jamie Jones, Seth Troxler and The Cuban Brothers have contributed to the 2011 celebrations so far. And recently, as the partners reunited in Ibiza for the first time in years, they reflected on the success that stemmed from personal
tragedy, on the decade of summer parties, the people and their enduring friendships.

How it all began…
Jason Bull: “The actual kind of moment when it all became a reality was at the funeral of a friend of ours. Nick, Max and I were all sort of stood around afterwards in Max’s kitchen talking about how life was too short and we’ve got to live the dreams and all that sort of stuff and that’s when we decided that we were going to do this together.”
Max Leverett: “Jason and I went searching for a small country-style hotel, around ten to 15 rooms, but came across nothing, until one day an old man sitting in a tiny estate agent’s office in Ibiza Town took us to see his friends’ family run hotel. This was Es Vive. We fell in love with the hotel instantly but realised that 58 rooms was way bigger than we were looking for and far too expensive. But for some reason it just felt right. It was at that time we offered out shares of the hotel to a couple of friends, Neil and Jamie. After much hard work and numerous bank transfers, we ended up landing our prize toy for the five of us: Es Vive.”
Nick Reid: “When the keys were given to us a gang of us got a load of sledgehammers and just smashed the place to pieces, not really knowing what we were doing. There was like a mini golf at the front, there was a little pool bar and a kiddies’ paddling pool. For me that was the birth date of the hotel.”
Jamie Kahn: “We all were smashing up a crazy golf course in the front of the hotel when we first opened and The Experience Bar was an old peoples’ TV room. The whole hotel needed to be revamped, but we could see from the rear exterior that the hotel had amazing potential to be a beautiful, comfortable and state-of-the-art hotel.”
Neil Dawson: “Max and Jason had told us all about an amazing Art Deco Miami-style beach building in Figueretas that, although a little run down, looked amazing and we could really go to town on. By chance we spoke to the owners’ daughter by just walking in and asked if they wanted to sell. It all went so quick from then on. It was far bigger and far more money than we ever intended spending but we knew that if we passed up on this building something similar may never come along again.”

The friendships…
Jason Bull: “I met Max at Bora Bora in 1999. He was chatting up some girl that I was friends with at the time, and we just got on super well. So that was the start of our friendship. And then via Max I met Nick and then obviously Neil and Jamie sort of came in at the end and completed the picture.”
Max Leverett: “I’ve known Nick as a neighbour and best mate for 35 years, Jamie as a great mate from the mid ‘90s where we worked together as traders, and Neil for 25 years – we met at Chigwell school in Essex, England. And I met Jason on the beach at Bora Bora. We then spent every night for six weeks in a row together. When I left Ibiza we realised we shared the same birthday – we’ve partied together every year since.”
Nick Reid: “It was just a fun, daring project. I’d only been on holiday here once or twice before we bought this place. I’d drunk down at Jason’s bar, I’d done the clubs, stayed in a hotel that remains nameless, had an argument with the owner and thought ‘Christ, we could do this better’.”
Jamie Kahn: “When I flew out to Ibiza for three hours to sign for the hotel, Max asked me to take his car home for him – a beautiful Mercedes sports car. What I didn’t know was that they had put a new foot-high curb opposite Pacha, and I proceeded to hit it. The engine fell out and the oil tank was 30 yards down the road. I just had to call Max and tell him his car was outside Pacha and that I was getting my flight home at 3pm.”
Neil Dawson: “We all met Jason when we came out to the island to party and generally go crazy during our holiday time from work starting about 14 years ago.”

The concept…
Jason Bull: “We just imagined the sort of place where everyone would sort of be sitting around having a great time. Good music, cool people, good food, good service and everyone would be really happy. From the minute they arrived to the minute they left, it would be a place that really enhanced their holiday, that they could live out their dreams a little bit here, you know.”
Max Leverett: “A young, cool party house. I think we nailed that at the time. We still offer the partying but have cut down the noise by improved sound systems, new windows and sound proofing throughout.”
Nick Reid: “The Experience Bar was really what gave the hotel its party image and its party atmosphere.”
Jamie Kahn: “The idea was to have a slightly older party crowd. We wanted the hotel to encapsulate the whole energy of the island where the emphasis is on having a great party but within an atmosphere that welcomes anyone and everyone. It was clear within a couple of years that we were on to something big…”
Neil Dawson: “A hotel where like-minded people could party without fear of upsetting the other people around them and go a wild when the mood took them. And for the staff to cater for the needs of people staying rather than what suited the hotel, as was the case in a lot of other places.”

The people…
Jason Bull: “We have clients that come three or four times every year and just love the place. It’s a big part of their lives. You know we have real fans, and it’s a real cross section of people, which makes it interesting.”
Max Leverett: “The typical clientele for us are young, cool and like to party. Media and finance, cosmopolitan, DJs and general players.”
Nick Reid: “The clientele’s changed over the years. Many of our clients have all gone off and started families, had kids, got married. Our clientele’s pretty cosmopolitan now across the board; whereas ten years ago you wouldn’t hear a Russian voice in the hotel, it’s quite regular now.”
Jamie Kahn: “The main common feature is that everyone, including all staff and guests alike, are so friendly. There’s an infectious energy at Es Vive which knows no boundaries. All walks of life from all corners of the world.”
Neil Dawson: “There’s no such thing as a typical Es Vive client, just someone who appreciates our concept and the way we do things and also like to party in a more refined and laidback way.”

The parties…
Jason Bull: “The last ten years have been one long big party. I remember the opening party and the first birthday for Max and me in the hotel was astonishing. Then we had the Amnesia closing converge on us one time with Richie Hawtin and Ricardo Villalobos.”
Max Leverett: “There were so many mad parties I couldn’t even list them. It was a famous hotel for Sunday after Space for a few years – queues of people waiting to get in. The original opening was amazing. The Cuban Brothers live were great, the fashion show over the pool was amazing, the new Experience Bar opening, and most of all the lock-ins that went on for many years.”
Nick Reid: “For me the most memorable one was the opening one. It was an achievement. It was like, ‘Wow, did we do this? Look at all of these people here enjoying themselves, we’re responsible’.”
Jamie Kahn: “One of the first and most memorable parties was when England beat Germany five to one on September 1, 2001. We had mentioned the World Cup game to a few people, and had no real staff. Over 500 people turned up, glued to a makeshift 20-inch telly we’d commandeered from somewhere! The day was total chaos but it was an amazing party, all five of us working behind the bar!”
Neil Dawson: “Don’t know where to start – so many legendary nights and days. I particularly remember Sunday nights in the hotel bar when everyone came back after the Space terrace closed at midnight – you
could not move in there.”

The secret to our success…
Jason Bull: “We stand out as pioneers really. We kind of had an idea and developed the idea and sort of made it a reality and since then others have seen what we’ve done and tried to recreate it… but no one can really replicate the personal service and the care and the love that has gone into Es Vive over the years.”
Max Leverett: “The constant attention to detail and clients that just keep coming back. We have many loyal clients and friends. And also the quality of service and food throughout the years, and of course the Es Vive mascot: Jason.”
Nick Reid: “Attention to detail, particularly that which Jason gives to clients. What we can’t do because we lack the space we make up for in service. I think it’s much more personal than staying in one of the bigger hotels.”
Jamie Kahn: “I think to start with none of us realised how much support we would get from not just family and friends but also from people who were established on the island.”
Neil Dawson: “Well, if we told you it wouldn’t be a secret – you’ll just have to stay and find out.”

First published in Pacha Magazine, Ibiza, August 2011.
© Abbey Stirling