My Own Lisbon Underground

I almost forgot two very important things about Lisbon, one of which should have been included in the last post, while the other is entirely deserving of its own post:

9. Pois, Cafe: A darling little cafe tucked on a street around from the Se, Lisbon’s cathedral, Pois, Cafe is run by an Austrian and serves a delightful mix of Austrian pastries, vegetarian sandwiches, and brunch dishes. It felt like a tiny Californian oasis and my sandwich of brie, sprouts, and jam on a bagel-like whole wheat roll would have been a proud offering at any Berkeley establishment. While Alyson and I were there, we happened to strike up a conversation with the Canadians sitting at the table next to us (Pois is a communal place), who were both doing graduation work at the university. The girl happened to be from Kitchener, Ontario, which is not far from Stratford, Ontario, where I spent this past New Year’s. As for the rest of the clientele, it was a mixture of Italians and Spanish on holiday, local Portuguese, and numerous children running around in between the sofas and the lending library.

And now, for the grand moment of Lisbon:

Our first night in Lisbon was a Sunday, making almost every restaurant closed. We were starving by Portuguese dinner time, 9pm, but could only find a tapas bar open. We managed to get an ok meal there, despite having the owner push a 10 Euro ham plate on us (all the appetizers that appear on the table, unordered, are not free in Portugal–even the bread costs anywhere from 10 cents to a Euro)–and the waiter attempt to play a Portuguese Lothario (“Let me make you some Capirinhas. You don’t need to go to a bar to get a drink”).

So we wandered onward after dinner, eager for a digestif to shake off whatever bad vibes the restaurant had given us, including the feeling of being lost in a tourist spiral. The girls sitting next to us hadn’t help contribute to this feeling–one was from London and the other from Japan–and they were a strange combination. The Japanese girl barely spoke English and we had only started talking to them when we had noticed the waiter trying to take advantage of them as well. We asked them if they knew each other from school, as the Japanese girl was spending the year in London, but the British girl was highly offended.

 “I may look young, but I’m not in school,” she said, her face tensing up.

It seemed like a normal question. If you are under 30, everyone and their mother asks it, especially when you appear jobless, live at home, and/or are traveling with unlikely companions. Alyson and I were constantly asked that question and we always explained, usually quite delighted people wanted to talk to us, that we had met when I had been doing a study abroad year at the university Alyson attended in Scotland.

The two girls were staying at the Dream Hotel and seemed brazenly offended when Alyson gave them advice on some good nightlife spots in Porto, where they were headed next. They didn’t drink we found out, which was very unusual for someone British. Absolute teetotalism is seen as extremism there, unless of course, you are an alcoholic.

As we walked down the street to our hotel, we came across a tiny place: Drynk’s Bar. It was a hole-in-the-wall establishment, with a guy playing a keyboard that sounded like a cross between an accordion and a marimba and another guy singing. The place was packed for a Sunday, with everyone from the grandmother to someone’s 5 year-old girl, drawing at a table.

We walked up to the bar and were bombarded with Portuguese, which was nice for a change–both Alyson and I hate to have people automatically assume we’re tourists. The waitress came over and said not to worry, we could get 3 beers for 5 Euros and she’d bring some snacks, gratis. They then offered us the best table in the house, making some other people move.

We sat down and were brought two stewed meat dishes and toothpicks to eat them with. The band seemed to be playing the same song over and over, a mix between a polka and a samba, though the lyrics kept changing. We took a sip of our beers, both Sagres, the southern Portuguese beer, and then were promptly asked to dance by two of the guys in the bar.

Apparently, there is a specific type of Portuguese dancing that involves some sort of hip work and moving of the feet that I could barely understand. It didn’t help that I kept looking back to make sure our bags were ok. The traveler inside of me couldn’t help but feel a little suspicious. But the guys were friendly, and when Alyson and I decided we’d had enough of the polka-samba, they brought their friend over to help translate.

Before we knew it we were considered good friends of everyone in the bar. The owner and his wife, the waitress, invited us to go with them and their friends to another place “with better music” and another one that would actually be a real Lisbon club. Why not? We’d call a cab if things got odd.

So off we went. The first stop was on an ordinary street. The girls knocked on the door and a man opened it up. There wasn’t a cover, but you had to get a ticket from the guy, make the bartender stamp it for each drink, and then pay on your way out. If you lost your ticket, you’d have to pay a flat fee. We walked in through the next door and found that half the people from the first place were all there. There was a better band playing Brazilian music and everyone insisted we dance with them.

Alyson mentioned to the owner and his wife that she would have to have her Lisbon friend check out their bar.

“Oh, that might not be the greatest idea,” they say. “We’re a regular bar on Sundays, but every other night it’s a strip club.”

That would explain the pole on the stage where the musicians were playing. But the owner and his wife were awfully nice and generous, inviting Alyson to come stay with them next time she was in town and telling us about the house they were building in Brazil, along with the various restaurants they had in Lisbon.

“We’ll take you to a much better place after this one,” the wife promised me.

And off we went.

The second place was a real club where we had to buy a ticket at the door that included two drinks. We were told the group was going to get a table and a bottle of whisky. It turned out the couple knew the owner or manager of the club and everything was on the house. This place was packed with people, a live band, a bunch of Brazilians, and really posh looking guys in blazers. The music was great and everyone was dancing. We had know idea what time it was.

Eventually everyone got tired and the couple drove us back to our hotel. “If you need anything, while you’re here, be sure to let us know!” they said.

It was 4:30am.

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