The walkway outside Mariquita Copas, a hole-in-the-wall bar in Torremolinos’ main “gaybourhood”, La Nogalera, glowed blue. The makeshift drinking terrace I was sitting at was surrounded by palm-filled squares in the heart of southern Spain’s Costa del Sol, a few blocks up from the Mediterranean. As I sipped a beer on my first night in town, I surveyed the scene: pedestrians holding shopping bags had stopped to chat; a man and woman sat entwined on a bench; and gay locals clinked cocktail glasses. In the midst of it all was a bearded drag artist, outlandishly tall in knee-length platform boots, leather cap and skin-tight camouflage bodysuit. This, I soon realised, was just another night in Torremolinos.
Of course, it wasn’t always this way. Until now, I’d been blissfully ignorant of Torremolinos’ important role in Spain’s LGBTQ+ history. But, as I was about to learn, not only did the country’s first gay-friendly bar open here back in 1962, it was also where Spain’s gay rights movement began – rather violently.
Why Torremolinos? Let’s start, as we Brits like to, with the weather.