In Lisbon, the decadent, yet beautiful capital of Portugal, the coffee culture is part of daily life. It is said that there is a coffee shop for every 250 people. These charming cafes, some of them centuries old, are social gathering spaces that entrench the city in an aura of magical nostalgia.
Coffee is one of the great passions of the Portuguese, and they have more than a few ways of enjoying it. There is the “café” (black coffee served in small cup), Bica with Cheirinho (black coffee with a splash of brandy), carioca (highly concentrated coffee), abatanado (long coffee), pingado (coffee with a dash of milk) and garoto (coffee with milk served in glass), among other specialties.
If you are looking for history, unique sweets, or excellent coffee, the Portuguese capital has emblematic cafes where you can feel the beat and mood of the city. Although there are many in Lisbon, these two cannot be missed: Café Lisboa and Cafe Versailles.
Largo de São Carlos, 23
Between the Baixa and Bairro Alto, you’ll find the famous Chiado, an area known for its neighborhood charm, bookstores, small antique shops, bars, and cafes. This is the home of Café Lisboa, located inside the National Theater of Sao Carlos, a popular hub, and a great starting point if you want to get to know Lisbon. More than two hundred years old, the stage is the only place in the city where operas are performed. The great Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa was also born in the area around the theater. El Lisboa, as locals like to call it, has all the mystique of the old cafes. It is divided into two areas: a room inside the theater, and a large and captivating outdoor terrace that with the arrival of spring becomes a favorite spot for locals and visitors alike. The well-known chef José Avile runs El Lisboa and has tried to safeguard certain old traditions that were about to disappear, such as serving steaks in coffee houses, accompanied by a good glass of Douro wine, or delicious cream cakes next to a café pingado or a carioca. It is best to go to El Lisboa when there is an opera at the theater. On those days, the atmosphere is unmatched.
Av. da República 15ª
A few steps from Plaza del Duque de Saldanha, we come across one of the most beautiful cafes in Lisbon. It debut in 1922, and its name is a tribute to the French palace of Versailles. Its interior evokes a modernist mansion with art nouveau accents, large mirrors, and antique moldings. The palatial feeling is heightened by the vision of the waiters wearing old fashion livery, the display cases filled with homemade pastries, and the shelves displaying succulent meats. The cafe is distinguished by its atypical ambiance, as it is the meeting place Lisbon’s elite who mingle with ease with visitors from around the world. Café Versailles is also a restaurant, with a separate area featuring traditional Portuguese dishes like bacalhau a bras or caldeirada de Peixe. But the main attractions—and good reasons to spend an evening in this particular corner of Lisbon— are the decor, its worldly atmosphere, and the exquisite pastries. Find our about other legendary cafés in cities like Paris and Vienna. ■