Throughout June the Portuguese capital celebrates with considerable gusto the Festas de Lisboa, a series of musical and cultural events held at various venues across the city. Many of these are concentrated in the Alafama district, and in particular the huge unfolding street party that takes place on the night of June 12. This is when the entire population of Lisbon it seems pays homage to their favourite saint, Santo Antonio. The narrow and decorated lanes of the old Moorish quarter tremble under the weight of thousands of revellers drawn to the many ad hoc food and drink stands erected for the occasion. Floating on the breeze are the mouth-watering aromas of charcoal grilled chicken and sardine. Beer, wine and sangria flows in alarming quantities and traditional music fills the air. The party continues well into the small hours and the festival remains one of the most vibrant and animated in Portugal.
One of the least pretentious of Lisbon's fado restaurants is also one of its finest. Hosts Duarte Santos and Ana Marina treat guests as family and the homely ambiance is warming and inviting. The homemade gastronomy is noted for its textures and flavours and generous portions, with the seafood cataplana (stew) a much-lauded feast. The menu is limited, but here it's all about the quality of the food. As for the entertainment, this is local fado at its most authentic â" the singers and musicians have known each other for years, and the performance is heartfelt and genuine. Quite often, diners are invited to join in which makes the evening truly memorable.
Mario Pacheco, an accomplished guitarist who's played with the best of them, including Camane, Ana Sofia Varela and Mariza, owns this beautiful and revered establishment. The club is one of the best venues in Lisbon to hear professional fado, and over the years has attracted Portugal's most celebrated fadistas. The building is centuries old. Guests dine under a vaulted ceiling of brick stone, and in one corner of the room an original Moorish well still stands. Between courses diners are regaled to the haunting strains of Portugal's most emblematic musical style, delivered by male and female singers, depending on the programme. The club's reputation is such that along with portraits of the performers there are dozens of photographs decorating the walls of VIP guests shaking hands with a proud Mario.
This shoe box-sized taberna in Alfama serves up ensopado de borrego (lamb stew and toasted bread) among other rich, heart Portuguese fare. But what really is special about this family-run eatery is the amateur fado performances (fado vadio) that take place between Thursday and Monday. Instead of hosting professional singers, the proprietor, Isabel, invites members of the public to sing in front of diners. Invariably, these are local residents who offer their own unique renditions of favourite fado songs. A surprise is the two cooks, Carla and Paula, who briefly swap kitchen duties for the spotlight and delight the audience with their beautiful singing. The atmosphere is homely and wonderfully amateurish but absolutely genuine. The singing is from the heart and makes for one of the most authentic dining experiences in the city.
Music and food are served in harmony at this cosy little restaurant-bar set under vaulted ceilings. Diners are regaled to voice and piano recitals and performances while enjoying dishes that range from cod fillets with sweet potato to pork braised in red wine. Lighter, tapas-style snacks are also available as well as nourishing soups and delicious desserts that include warm chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream. The style of music is eclectic: one evening it could be a jazzy and upbeat, the next classical and sombre. Occasionally, an urban ensemble will liven the pace with an instrumental concert. The restaurant also serves as an art gallery, where exhibitions of painting and photography are regularly held.
As well as a popular daytime haunt, this snug rustic-style bar is a favourite after hours option for those seeking fine wine and good conversation. Tucked away at the top of a narrow lane under the shadow of Lisbon's castle, the location couldn't be more romantic. The wines, from vineyards across Portugal, are simply outstanding and sold by the bottle or glass. Complementing the reds, whites, ports and Madeiras is a menu of appetising snacks, regional delicacies that include tangy cheeses and smoked ham cuts. This is the perfect venue to unwind with your other half or with a select group of friends. Bereft of loud music and flashing lights, the bar instead is hushed and intimate and exudes a delightfully civilised atmosphere.
Once upon a time Graça's newest nightspot used to be a bakery, and when owners Clara Metais and Alexandra Vidal decided to refurbish the premises they deliberately maintained original interior features like the kitchen's stainless steel work surfaces where bakers would roll and knead dough into rolls and loaves. Preserving these quirky design elements enrich the atmosphere of this café-restaurant-concert venue, one of Lisbon's more original nightlife haunts. The emphasis is very much on providing musicians with a live music platform (in fact a large hall at the back of the bar) and Damas hosts an eclectic range and local and international bands on most nights. Regular DJ sets attract the clubbers.
Co-founded in 1971 by acclaimed Portuguese writer and poet Natália Correia and colleagues Isabel Meireles, Júlia Marenha and Helena Roseta, this humble watering hole is still a favourite meeting place for literary types and intellectuals drawn to the laid-back bohemian ambiance and historic connotations. A modest menu lists tasty options such as steak sandwich with salad but essentially this is a late-night bar where a local and somewhat alternative crowd gather to chew the fat over cultural and political issues. The small cramped interior features bookcases lined with literature and several portraits of Correia, who passed away in 1993. Effectively, Botequim is a shrine to her memory and an evening spent here should be savoured over good conversation and a glass or two or wine.
Dating back to the 1930s, this was a once thriving hardware store where locals congregated to purchase household wares and other DIY products. These days it's a cosy and equally busy wine bar, but careful restoration has preserved much of its yesteryear charm. Indeed, some Graça residents remember visiting the original shop and are delighted to find an interior little changed in design and character. Proprietor Miguel Azevedo is always happy to impart the history behind this alluring venue, a place to unwind over fine wines and organic, artisan fare. Graça do Vinho stocks over 40 different Portuguese wines from regions around the country, including the Azores. There's a menu featuring all sorts of pates, dips, salads, sandwiches, and meat and cheeseboards. Actually, the cheese selection is exemplary, and Miguel can provide wine pairings with cheeses as a special treat. And if you're out celebrating, why not try their oysters, plucked from the ocean near Setúbal? Customers can buy bottles of wine to go, and the bar can also arrange wine tastings by appointment.
Historic Alfama is probably not the first place you'd expect to find the largest collection of bourbon in Europe. But dig deep and you'll eventually stumble across Ulysses, quite simply one of the most extraordinary bars in town. This shoebox-sized watering hole is a veritable treasure trove of rare spirits and liqueurs, historic brands that you'd normally expect to find at the plushest hotels or the most exclusive bar-lounges. Essentially a cocktail bar, Ulysses is ably presided over by Manuel Barreir¬aand there's few drinks he can't mix or an ingredient he can't quote. The drinks range is vast. Shelves heave under the weight of around 380 labels, anything from 12-year-old Van Winkle Kentucky straight bourbon to Old Duff Real Dutch Genever single malt. Look carefully and you'll spy a seriously scarce Saint Benedictine 1841. Then there's the 1930's Campari, and a Booth's gin, bottled in the 1940s. Liqueurs include Génépi Dolin, an aromatic aperitif from the French Alps. From Rome is the herbal tonic quinine liqueur Ferro China Baliva. Complementing the stock is 40 different wines and six craft beers. Even the coffee is special, and includes 100% Arabica from São Tomé. Ulysses is for anyone who appreciates drinking in a refined and intimate atmosphere. And even seasoned connoisseurs will be impressed with Manuel's extensive knowledge and artfulness in mixing the perfect drink. Reservations are needed after 11pm but if you knock the door and quote the password "to toll the bells" you'll be invited in. Ulysses is a deliberately understated gem of venue where you can enjoy a memorable drink in unforgettable surroundings.