For years, riverside Cais do Sodré was one of Lisbon's seediest neighbourhoods. Its backstreets were the haunt of whisky-slugging sailors craving a little after-dark sleaze; a lacklustre place where brothels sidled up to sweaty clubs.
Then suddenly everything changed. In late
2011, the district was given a makeover. Its main street, Rua Nova do Carvalho, was painted a welcoming bright pink and the call
girls were sent packing, but the edginess and decadence on which Lisbon thrives
remained. Live music venues, burlesque clubs and tapas bars began to pop up
with astonishing frequency, and soon thereafter, Cais do Sodré had upstaged
Bairro Alto as Lisbon's most happening nightlife district.
Similar to Bairro Alto, the vibe in Cais do
Sodré is bohemian. Do not bother
turning up anywhere much before midnight, as this is when the crowds descend. If
you want to get a full taste of the area, here are a few of the neighbourhood's
hottest bars and live music venues, perfect for a late-night bar crawl.
You do not need much imagination to see what Sol
e Pesca once was. Rods, nets, hooks and fish charts give away the tiny
bar's former life as a fishing-tackle shop. Glass cabinets are stacked with vintage-looking
tins of sardines, tuna, octopus and other kinds of seafood (or conservas as the Portuguese say). The concept
is simple: grab a chair, order a tin or two, and accompany it with bread, olives,
white wine and good company. Sol e Pesca is open until 4 am on weekends.
Opinions are often mixed about fado,
the bluesy, melancholic folk music for which Portugal -- and in particular
Lisbon -- is famous, because it can be hard to find the real deal. Well, Povo is it. There is an unpretentious
spirit and intimacy that traditionally defines Lisbon's fado clubs. A different
fadista (fado singer) is in residence
every month, there is no stage, pestiscos
(Portuguese tapas) are served, and the aim is to give young, little-known fadistas
exposure. The fado stars of tomorrow? You heard them here first.
If the name Pensão Amor (Rua do
Alecrim 19; 021-314-3399), or Guesthouse of Love, does not spell out what this
place once was, the graffiti murals of cavorting nudes and the scarlet walls
surely will. Reborn as an art space, you will find meeting spaces, a bordello-chic
bar serving drinks and ceviche (a Peruvian
dish of raw, marinated fish), a bookshop with erotic literature, and boutiques
selling lingerie and vintage clothing. Concerts, DJ sessions, plays and poetry
recitals attract the crowds. If you plan to come at the weekend, be prepared to
queue – it is worth the wait.
Tucked under the arches of a bridge on Rua Nova do Carvalho , the cave-like Music Box is, as its name suggests,
all about the music. Locals are right when they say that this is one of the
city's best gig venues and -- this being Lisbon, one of Europe’s least
expensive capital cities, you rarely pay more than 15 euro for a ticket. The
concerts cover the entire spectrum, from jazz to indie, rock to metal, and
British bands like Fink and
sweet-voiced soloist Martina Topley
Bird recently played here. DJs take over when the gigs finish, spinning
everything from house to electro and techno until 7 am.
to the cabaret
Berlin, yes, Paris, of course -- but cabaret in Lisbon? Apparently so. The fabulously
burlesque Bar da Velha Senhora (Rua Nova do Carvalho 38; 021-346-8479) whisks
you back to the hazy, crazy days of Cais do Sodré in the early 20th Century,
with its low-lit interior and glittering revue shows.
Tapas and cocktails with risqué names get the crowd in the mood for fado
performances, cabaret, erotic poetry recitals and pianists bashing out songs, just
as they did in the good old days.
The article 'The rebirth of Lisbon’s Cais do Sodré' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.