When fire ripped through number 39 Praça de Alegria in late December 2009, the immediate thought for many was whether the property’s basement had survived the inferno. The premises, located in a leafy square behind Lisbon’s Avenida da Liberdade, was gutted and it was quite apparent that the entire building had been severely damaged. For lovers of jazz, number 39 was a hallowed location. This was the address of Hot Clube de Portugal, and one of the city’s most famous live music venues was now a smoldering ruin.
It was a disaster.
For over 60 years some of the greatest names in the business had played here, virtuosos like Dizzy Gillespie, Dexter Gordon and Quincy Jones. The pokey cellar with its low-slung ceiling, yellowed walls and scuffed wooden floor could barely accommodate an audience, perhaps 50 people at most. Musicians fared slightly better. They at least had a stage to perform on, albeit one that groaned and creaked, especially under the weight of a baby grand. It was like playing out of a shoebox.
Contemporary jazz at Hot Clube de Portugal. — Photo courtesy of Joaquim Mendes
But the smokey, claustrophobic ambiance lent the club its bohemian down-at-heel character throughout the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s, and a saxophone never sounded so good through all that blue haze.
The club’s owners knew they’d never truly recapture that kind of beatnik-esque atmosphere when they made the decision to rebuild the club shortly after the flames had been doused. For a start, the venue needed a new home. Fortunately, a new space was found in the same street just a few doors away, at number 48, and on 21 December 2011 Hot Clube de Portugal re-opened to citywide applause.
But today jazz aficionados can gather in more stylish and contemporary surroundings and still listen to the kind of music that makes this historic club one of Lisbon’s most notable nightlife experiences.