Jason Bull is the man behind Es Vive, the renowned Ibiza hotel that this year celebrates its 15th anniversary – he’s been its driving force since way back when it was just a run of the mill hostel; he was responsible for turning it into the island’s most illustrious party hotel; and now he’s successfully steered it towards boutique territory, or in his own words “a luxury hotel with an underlying party beat.” He’s a man with his finger on the pulse of what his clients want, as he says “we try to make everyone, irrespective of what they do and where they’re from, feel at home here,” and it’s this ethos that’s undoubtedly contributed to the hotel’s continued success. Over the past three years the hotel has undergone a multi-million pound refurbishment, and the resulting transformation is a thing of understated, stylised beauty. The entire hotel is characterised by chic art deco flourishes, and there’s the addition of a new spa and stunning roof terrace. The restaurant too, has been renovated – the menu is now bursting with flavour-packed favourites to die for (tip: you can eat at the restaurant even if you’re not a guest, and it’s well worth the trip). At Es Vive, it’s all about the little touches combining to create one big, impressive picture. We caught up with Jason one afternoon to discover how he’s helped shape this gem of a hotel.
How did you end up buying a hotel all those years ago?
The original idea came from listening to people’s opinions of hotels at the time – there was nothing that catered for the people who used to come here, so my four partners and I started thinking about creating the kind of hotel we’d like to stay at ourselves, and where our friends would like to stay – somewhere that focused on style, service, décor, ambience, beats. So we started looking around for a hotel to buy. Originally we started looking for a building with around 20-30 rooms that we could develop but then we came across this amazing building, and myself and Max walked in, took one look – at the style, the location, the proximity to Ibiza – and thought, this is the place. It was bigger than we wanted and more expensive than we could afford, but it had everything we were looking for, so we went for it. And so began this amazing journey.
What was the catalyst that finally made you go for it?
Well interestingly, we had a very good friend here who died in a motorbike accident and it was at his wake that myself, Nick Reed and Max were all sat around talking – about how life was too short and how you had to follow your dreams – and that’s when we decided to go for it. We’d not run a hotel before but I’d run Base Bar in Ibiza so I’d come from a hospitality background and all my business partners were from the city. We didn’t have a clue what we were doing but we had devotion and energy and that set us off on our way.
Was it a learning curve at first?
We operated it for one year as it was and then after that first season we needed to get air con, so we started smashing the hotel to pieces without any real idea of how we were going to put it back together. We ended up calling an architect friend of mine from Barcelona and he came over and then we started developing it, getting better at what we were doing and taking it on its own journey from a hostel to a party hotel to what it is now – a luxury boutique hotel.
So tell me about that evolution.
In the beginning it was badly decorated, terribly designed, there was no food – it was a hostel so there was no service involved. Every decision we’ve made has been conscious, so we started to add services and touches of style, and then a nightclub and DJs. And of course there’s been organic development as well – when we see what works and what the clients have enjoyed, we follow that direction. So we’ve added the roof terrace and the spa, a menu with healthy food options, we do yoga now and we’ve got this amazing art deco style. It’s been an interesting journey, but it works brilliantly and everyone loves it – we have clients from all over the world who always stay here. We try to make it really friendly and social, so that when clients have walk through the doors and they’ve been coming for years, they feel like family. We want it to be a home from home, so we remember names and what people like to eat and drink, and what parties they like to go to.
That alone must set you apart from the rest?
Obviously there are physically bigger and better hotels in Ibiza, like Ushuaia – it’s better because it’s on the beach and it has a bigger space and facilities – so we can’t compete with those premises, but in a boutique sense they can’t compare with us and the service we offer, and the style, attention to detail, care and passion we offer – that’s where we really stand out in Ibiza – it’s a completely different experience. We try to break down barriers rather than stick them up – and of course that’s what the whole VIP thing is. When you operate your own premises, a lot of your own energy and soul and passion go into it, so really on this sort of scale it’s an extension of you and your personality. The people who come here feel that energy and the openness – lots of friendships have formed here. We want people to be relaxed, but we only pamper people when they want it. If we can see you hanging around the pool after a night out, we’re not going to come and stick cucumbers on your eyes or anything like that – we’ll wait until you open your eyes and then bring you a Bloody Mary!
What’s the most memorable party you’ve had here?
There was once a time when we used to have all the DJs come back here wanting to do after parties. And there was one particular party – it was the Amnesia closing – it was about 6pm in the evening and I got a call from a friend of mine saying they had nowhere to go – and they asked if they could come back to the Experience Bar. So of course I said yes, and it turned out to be Richie Hawtin, Loco Dice, Ricardo Viallalobos and all their entourage back here for the evening! Then people heard about it so they were climbing over the fence and running through the kitchens trying to get in to the bar. It was bedlam! There was another time with Toby Newman and Sven Väth playing around the pool and the music got too loud so the police came and shut us down. There’s a whole load of stories like this from over the years – you know, moments in history that were brilliant and helped define us as being an entity in Ibiza terms.
It sounds really fun, so what made you decide to move the hotel away from its party roots?
When you’re living on that edge like that you need to be here controlling it, a lot needs to be organised, so unless you’ve got a ringleader for all the madness it can get a bit much. I grew up, got married and had children, so I didn’t want to be stuck in a club every day of the week until 6am. So I thought, let’s move away from the party hotel kind of vibe. And at the same time Ushuaia popped up and they were doing it on a completely different scale. We set the standard and created this party hotel concept and they continued with the theme. These days I can’t compete with that – I’ve got neighbours and physical restrictions. So what I thought I’d do was what I do best – style, service and how we make the clients feel. But we still have an that underlying element where the stars align and we’ve got the clients, the DJ, the vibe, it’s busy and it feels like it could spontaneously combust at any moment. But it’s different from what it was.
So tell me about the hotel’s redesign.
We started the art deco thing a few years ago – when we looked at the building as an architectural entity there was one element that stood out and that’s the pyramids above the balconies – so I thought about using pastel shades to take it further down that line. And obviously it’s then nice to continue that same theme with interiors. Our media, website, font, everything is done in art deco style. I was looking for a designer here in Ibiza, and it was proving difficult to find someone to interpret that style here. You know, I was referencing the Connaught, the Wolseley, Claridges, so someone recommended Sean Cochrane to me as an up and coming UK designer. He came over and discussed how we’d evolve the hotel’s style. The restaurant was the first thing to be done, then the terrace and reception and we’ve just finished all the rooms as well. We still have the Experience Bar to complete – that’s going to be a kind of ocean liner from the twenties, and that will happen this winter.
Has you client base changed in line with the hotel’s evolution?
It’s been a long journey, but we’re comfortable now, we’ve got great occupancy and a great fan base and the staff are very special here. They really understand how to treat the clients and make them feel special – we’ve become second to none in that area. And we still have lots of the same clients – when we were much younger, the clients were too, and what we provided was reflective in the price. But now we’ve got better facilities and food and service and so the prices have gone up to reflect that – they’ve moved in line with what we offer. Our customers want to dip their toes into the madness outside the hotel, but have somewhere cool and relaxing to come back to.
How has the restaurant changed over the years?
We’ve got the same chef, but we’ve been developing him over the years too. He went off to do on a course we discovered in the Basque country – all the best chefs from Spain are from there and they had input into this culinary school – so they handpick each chef and accept them onto the course accordingly. They really augmented his skills – so now we have foams and pastes and chemistry going on in the kitchen! Every element we’re able to improve year on year, we do.
Are you as passionate about the hotel as you were when you first started?
You need to really love this business – you need to enjoy entertaining people and providing great service. If you had to put on a face it would be very, very difficult. I’ve always loved this industry so I just come to work and be myself, and I enjoy it – it would be hard not to. We want people to come and enjoy and be part of our journey and enjoy every element. It’s all about completing the big picture.
And I had to ask, what’s the weirdest request you’ve ever had?
There was a guy dressed as Mickey Mouse who asked for a room with a small piece of cheese in the corner!