Written and Photographed by Juan Dingli
Back from the seaside resort of Marsalforn in Gozo, we find ourselves back in St Julian’s. This time round we’ve entered straight into the heart of Malta’s nightlife, Paceville, the district that never sleeps. Although this suburb forms part of St Julian’s, it’s a different entity altogether which merits its own article. Life is faster here and generally more chaotic but some people live for this rush. Bars, restaurants, hotels, nightclubs, discos and every form of entertainment you might imagine lives here. I myself tend to avoid the area due to my intolerance for large crowds and uneasy situations but Paceville does have its redeeming factors nonetheless. Every year, Paceville attracts thousands of foreigners and locals who choose to spend their evenings in this high density entertainment area. What attracts these people week after week or even day after day? I blame it on the high amount of sensory stimulation…and the cheap booze.
How did this district in St Julian’s come to be? What sparked the creation of this entertainment hub? Let me give you a quick run through of the chain of events that led to the Paceville we know today. Going back to the late 1800s, the area was still mainly farmland and sprawling rocky terrain. Only a couple of small farmhouses existed here, most of which no longer exist. The tip of the Dragonara point is home to the Dragonara Palace which was built during the 1870s as a summer residence for a noble Maltese family. This palace was built on the site of a former 1799 battery that was constructed during the French Blockade at the turn of the century. The Dragonara Palace had also served as a hospital during the First World War and hosted over a hundred refugees during the Second World War. It was then transformed into a casino in the year 1964, making it Malta’s first casino. This building of high architectural value still stands proudly till this day attracting gamblers and people looking for a classy night out. Back to Paceville itself, the 1920s saw the construction of various seaside residences that were built by a certain Dr. Giuseppe Pace, a wealthy land developer. In fact, the name Paceville came from Dr. Giueseppe Pace’s surname, Pace (Pach- E). By time, more and more residences were built in this seaside area which eventually prompted the construction of two major hotels during the 1960s to cater for the ever increasing influx of tourists to Malta. This move also meant that bars, restaurants and other forms of nightlife started being constructed in Paceville to compliment this newfound wealth of visitors to the area. This brought us to the current Paceville which is a constantly evolving and dynamic district. Most locals have left the area in search of quieter places but a good amount of people still live in Paceville although most of them are foreigners who work in the area. In the midst of all of this, a beacon of light can be found on the periphery of Paceville in the form of the Millennium Chapel. A haven dedicated to peace and prayer that was built in the year 2000.
Enough about the past though, Paceville is a place of the present, a place where time does not exist. Frequent visitors to Paceville can definitely attest to this. If you had to go again after a month, chances are that you’ll definitely see a new bar or takeaway joint in place of an older one. In fact, on my last visit to take photos for this article, I hardly recognized the place. I could only spot a handful of nightclubs from my time. So what should one expect if they had to go to Paceville in our current time? Well first of all, it all depends on when you decide to go to Paceville. As you would imagine, summertime is when Paceville would be the busiest with many students, foreigners and locals choosing to spend their evening dancing or drinking the night away. Come wintertime, Saturdays just like in summer would be the busiest evenings, rain and all. You’ll also notice less foreigners roaming around even though by time this trend is changing. If you’re still new to the whole Paceville scene, I would recommend trying two things. If you consider yourself adventurous, go all in. Embrace the colours, the commercial tunes and go for the special offers on pitchers. If you’re not keen on having the fourth instalment of the Hangover movie dedicated entirely on your wild night, then go on a Tuesday or Wednesday. The place would definitely be quieter and more relaxed. Bars and discos would still be open but large crowds would mostly be non-existent. I prefer it like this. During my time in Paceville, I tended to go there for the dancing rather than the alcohol. I always liked my personal dancing bubble where I could freely jump and dance like nobody was watching.
What would a normal evening at Paceville be like you might ask? Some wouldn’t think of arriving any time before 11pm. I used to arrive at 9pm, meet up with the rest of my friends and head over to a “starter bar” for a quick chat and a couple of drinks to get us going. A starter bar would be a place on the periphery of Paceville where groups would congregate for a cheap drink and a quick word or two to discuss the evening’s plan of action. Once on our way to the core of Paceville, specifically the main square, a mishmash of music would merge into one background sound of party music. Clouds of shisha smoke would waft away in the air, teasing our nose in the process. The smell of food was also quite welcoming but that’s the last stop before heading home. Throngs of mostly young folk dressed in their flashiest clothes and skimpiest dresses converging to the centre point. The lights shine bright enticing street roamers to enter their premises. Neon lights, disco balls, projectors, large flashy billboards are all commonplace in these few roads. Truly a feast for all the senses. At this point we would have gone into a good nightclub for more drinks, using our coupons to get another pitcher for free whilst dancing to the overplayed music. After, we would go for more drinks at another of our haunts in the area. Walking down the street can be a challenge, dodging crowds of rowdy people and evading the promoters handing out free drinks coupons for the gentlemen’s clubs. Standing on the top of the St Rita Steps, one can get a good perspective of how busy the place would really be. Next bar. By this time, we would have arrived at the appropriate mind-set to merge with the crowds dancing on the dancefloors. We’d probably go to another bar or two during the night followed by a quick pick-me-up pizza deal at 3am. It wouldn’t be the first time we stayed here till the sun came up, arriving home to see your family wake up. Bussing it home is the smartest thing one can do here. Plus, parking is quite a nightmare. The real victory would be when we would wake up the next day and still be in possession of our valuables and dignity. Come next Saturday, the same ritual would take place again albeit a slightly different route. I have since reduced my visits to Paceville to once a year as I’m getting old for this fast-paced debauchery.
This might sound like too much for most and the inconvenient reality is that Paceville is not the safest place to be despite thousands of party-goers returning to this place week after week, fights are not rare here. I recommend staying in a group and keeping to yourselves, this would ensure an enjoyable and peaceful evening. Don’t let me scare you away from visiting Paceville though, I still invite you to give it a try.
If you’re a nightlife person, you’ll definitely enjoy Paceville. Leave a message below with your experiences in Paceville if you have already visited. I would like to conclude this Paceville exclusive edition with some choice words of wisdom. “What happens in Paceville…stays in Paceville”. Stay safe and don’t drink and drive.