On location: Lisbon’s bar scene

cinco loungeMark Ludmon checks out the bar scene in the Portuguese capital of Lisbon and finds out about its emerging cocktail culture

In May, Lisbon hosts its first-ever bar show. Speakers include leading experts from around the world, such as bartender Marian Beke from London’s Nightjar, UK-based rum ambassador Ian Burrell and António Parlapiano from Rome’s Jerry Thomas Project speakeasy. It is a promising move for a city which, despite being great for food and wine, has little cocktail culture beyond Sangria, Mojitos and Caipirinhas – made with cachaça from Portugal’s historic ally, Brazil.

Visiting in January, I found only a few spots worth recommending for their cocktails. Tucked away to the north of the bustling late-night area of Bairro Alto is the stylish Cinco Lounge (pictured top), with an extensive list of classic and contemporary cocktails. The refreshing Maisiaac is made with Elements Eight rum, fresh lemon juice, sugar syrup and fresh coriander stalks, muddled together and served in a tall glass, topped with soda and a lemon zest. The Best Hello Ever combines G’ Vine Nouaison gin with apricot brandy, lychee puree and fresh lemon juice, dry shaken and double-strained into a large martini glass.

Using seasonal ingredients and premium spirits, Cinco Lounge’s list is as creative as any you would find at a good bar in the UK so it should not be a surprise to learn that the owner is called Dave and comes from England. Dave Palethorpe set the bar up in 2004 after a globe-trotting bartending career that included working at Red in Soho in London, Theo’s in Manhattan, and Cadmus, Hemmisphere and Jacksons on George in Sydney.


More recent additions to the food and drink scene in Lisbon include Pharmacia (pictured), a stunning restaurant overlooking the river Tagus, which has a pharmacy-like interior inspired by the building’s history as the HQ of Portugal’s pharmacists’ association and museum. This also inspires some unusual glassware and tableware, such as surgical trays and sample vials, and some quirky simple cocktails. An Ibuprofen is made with cachaça, Licor Beirão liqueur and lemon juice while an Omeprazole is a mix of port and pear. The LSD cocktail is made with whisky and Portuguese sour cherry liqueur ginjinha.

While the cocktail scene is still in its infancy, the nightlife is not, with many great late-night bars for partying, live music and enjoying a Sagres beer or a fruity Caipirinha. For the true Lisbon experience, check out one of the many bars for fado – the somewhat mournful torch song tradition that dates back 200 years. One of my favourite spots was restaurant and bar Chapito, up in the hill next to the castle. Ostensibly part of a circus school, it has outside terraces with views over the old town and the river plus good food and wine – but watch out for the poor cocktails. And the clowns.

One of the reasons that the city is short of good cocktail bartenders is that many of them have come to London. Nelson Bernardes started his career as a bartender in Lisbon but came to London six years ago, ending up as head mixologist at Good Godfrey’s at the Waldorf Hilton (pictured). “Bartenders are very much willing to learn and develop, and more and more leave the country to places such as London where they can learn and practise such culture,” he says.

nelson bernardes

Much of the focus in Portugal is on flair bartending and drinks that are all show and no substance, Nelson adds. “You feel that the media in Portugal are not well informed and keep promoting whatever ‘looks nice’ so, without a good foundation in the classics, we end up promoting Mojitos made with dry ice because of the effect or anything else related to flair and bottles in the air. In general, they need a more open-minded and supportive media. There are a few magazines related to wine, but none to spirits or cocktails or a proper blog to promote activities and much more support from brands.”

Nelson is now bar manager at the Waldorf Astoria Shanghai on the Bund in China but he was back in London in February to compete in the UK final of the Bacardi Legacy competition. However, he says the kind of brand support he saw in the UK is rare in Portugal. “The brand support is far from what we are used in UK or even our neighbours in Spain. The brands could help with educational programmes or with international competitions but they are more interested in working with nightclubs for the volume sales. They still live very much for the ‘ladies night’ which provides free flow of house spirits for the ladies, and these nights are very popular. There are also zero trips to any distilleries or only a few good cocktail competitions.” He is very pleased to hear about the new Lisbon Bar Show. “I wish them all the best and truly hope things change.”

Lisbon Bar Show: www.lisbonbarshow.com
Cinco Lounge: www.cincolounge.com
Resto de Chapito: www.chapito.org
Pharmacia: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Restaurante-Pharmacia/480943651992636

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