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Mix106
December 14th, 2005, 09:57 PM
Now Playing in Lisbon: The Late, Late Show

October 30, 2005

http://travel2.nytimes.com/2005/10/30/travel/30lisbon.html?ex=1134709200&en=e8e5b182f980ceb3&ei=5070

IT is midnight on a Saturday in the Bairro Alto, Lisbon's famously raucous High Neighborhood, but the only thing moving is the laundry fluttering in the breeze between the balconies of the grand but dilapidated buildings that line the streets. A few plaintive strains of fado, the distinctly mournful songs of longing that are said to define the collective Portuguese character, waft out of the small neighborhood restaurants geared to tourists. Some cafes and bars are open, but the feeling is that things are winding down, not up.

Don't be fooled. Navigating these lanes an hour later will require a very reduced definition of "personal space" to make any headway through streets teeming with enough high-spirited Portuguese youth to make one doubt - even granting that you may already be seeing double - if this can really be a country of just 10 million people.
Throw in equal measures of tourists and students from other European countries, drinks costing $4.25 (at 1.22 euros to the dollar) and served in plastic cups to make carrying them easier (drinking in the street is legal), and the potent mix gives new meaning to the idea of a "high" neighborhood.
Cheek by jowl doesn't begin to describe this crowd. The game is full contact - hand on back, hands on bottom, hand squeezing bicep, caipirinha spilled on special-edition Adidas - as revelers snake their way through the throngs.
The storefronts that were shuttered minutes before have burst open, revealing an endless array of small bars, the decoration of which seems to have been left to young art students and fashion designers.
At Alto Bar, Travessa dos Fiéis Deus, 33-31, lone bartenders manning 1950's-vintage crushed ice machines somehow manage to grind out enough vodka and strawberry or pineapple-laced slush - the drinks are called morangoskas or ananoskas, respectively - to keep everyone swaying through the night. Getting to the bar requires dancing with the three girls blocking it until one of them gets a call on her cellphone and leaves an opening.
"The main spirit here is to hang out and meet people," said Vasco Sousa at Club 43, at Rua da Barroca, 43. "It's unique in Europe (http://travel2.nytimes.com/top/features/travel/destinations/europe/?inline=nyt-geo) that there is a place where everyone - rich, poor, straight, gay, local or foreign - is welcome. No bouncers, no cover, no attitude" (Given the density of local bars, many just use their street numbers.)
Mr. Sousa, who recently gave up engineering to study psychology, was quick to share further insights. "People think we Portuguese have a pessimistic mentality, but when we have a chance to have fun, we take it," he said. "We love receiving guests, and we're good at it."
Back on the street, the neighborhood reveals that it can still go higher, both topographically and in terms of the median age of the clientele, as one climbs the steep streets. There are also cozy and slightly more tranquil bars, like Quatro Estaciones, Rua da Barroca, 60A, where maintaining a conversation will not strain the vocal chords. Asked about the night life of the Bairro Alto, the bartender and longtime resident, Margarita, said: "Oh it's great. There's just too much of it."
Nearby, the tiny street Travessa Queimada is a vortex of Latin American bars, with Mexico (http://travel2.nytimes.com/top/features/travel/destinations/mexico/?inline=nyt-geo) and Cuba (http://travel2.nytimes.com/top/features/travel/destinations/bermudaandcaribbean/cuba/?inline=nyt-geo) - and their tequila and rum - being especially well represented. With the confluence of merengue, ranchera and Latin Top 40 songs reverberating between the buildings, dancing in the streets feels almost mandatory. Other tastes are sorted out with a cluster of gay or gay-friendly locales such as Portas Largas, situated opposite the packed dance club Frágil, Rua da Atalaia, 105, which closes at 4 a.m., leaving plenty of time to head somewhere else. For those following the gay itinerary that might mean the aptly named Finalmente, Rua de Palmeira, 38C, a tiny and densely packed club "where one can always hear 'In the Navy,' "one habitué said. Finalmente was among the first gay places to make the scene after the dictatorship, though openly gay is still not easy here; hence the frequent qualifier "gay-friendly."
In the light of day, Lisbon is breathtakingly beautiful, like San Francisco (http://travel2.nytimes.com/top/features/travel/destinations/unitedstates/california/sanfrancisco/?inline=nyt-geo). There are steep hills, clanging cable cars, azure skies with sweeping vistas of bay, bridges and the vast expanse of ocean beyond, as well as an over-the-top architectural bent of the sort that seems to evolve in wealthy, worldly cities that have been devastated by earthquakes (85 percent of the city was leveled by a massive temblor in 1755).


The magisterial scale of Lisbon's buildings and public spaces, from the monastery of Los Jerónimos to the Praça del Comérçio, can be staggering. But as the Portuguese empire unraveled - the country once held sway over large swaths of Africa (http://travel2.nytimes.com/top/features/travel/destinations/africa/?inline=nyt-geo), South America and the Far East - it seems that the people stopped painting the buildings and let the weeds sprouting between the cracks grow into trees and vines that still cling to their crumbling tile-encrusted facades.



Restoration and renovation are rampant in the city today but still emanating from the fault lines is a wistful air, at once melancholy and poetic, that is so often ascribed to the Portuguese temperament. Central to fado's forlorn lyrics is the concept of saudade, a term meaning bittersweet nostalgia or longing that has no adequate translation.
THAT sensation walks the night as well, especially for the generation of Portuguese who grew into adulthood during the movida of the 1990's, as the country's post-dictatorship social rebellion was called.
"Back then, it was about being out with your friends," said Eduardo Merino, a local journalist who wrote about the effervescent social scene of the 1990's. "It seemed we barely drank, but the fun was contagious. Now that we've become an international party destination, drugs have entered the scene and it feels like people try to drink away the week in a single night." He pointed out that many of the larger clubs had brought in the attitude and the buzz killers of strict door policies, arbitrary cover charges and even club memberships that one might expect in London (http://travel2.nytimes.com/top/features/travel/destinations/europe/unitedkingdom/england/london/?inline=nyt-geo) or New York. Nonetheless, the city maintains its reputation as one of the least expensive and most laid-back European capitals, and everyone seems to share the sentiment that anything is possible on any given night.
New restaurants, bars and clubs can come and go with astonishing frequency - often within the space of six months or a year - so it stands to reason that at least a few tried and true places, like the always packed restaurant Pap' Açorda in the Bairro Alto, or the bar Pavilhão Chinês (Chinese Pavilion), remain atop many people's lists.
"Unique" and "quirky" are the words most often applied to the Pavilion's seemingly endless series of rooms packed with seemingly endless collections of toy soldiers, porcelain figurines, German beer steins and military headwear. The crowd is just as eclectic: locals lingering over a beer while waiting for the clubs to open as old-school bartenders shuttle quickly between rooms bearing festive-looking drinks with names ranging from the Chinese Pavilion to the Fat Cow, a mix of rum, coconut milk, crème de cacão, pineapple juice, heavy cream and strawberry sorbet.
In the late 80's and the 90's, the Alcântara neighborhood along the river was the hot zone and is still home to many of the most popular clubs. Among the classics is Kapital, Avenida 24 de Julho, 68, which now has a reputation for attracting an upscale clientele. Although the minimalist white-on-white décor of the first-floor lounge may read upscale, the action was upstairs on the open terrace where folks were dancing and singing with international hits of the 1980's.
Around dawn, the crowd heads around the corner, following passageways that lead to the notorious acid-house mecca of Kremlin, Escadinhas da Praia, 5, which is open from 6 to 10 a.m. (The cover for either club is about 10 euros for men and half that or nothing for women.) According to the doorman, João, Kremlin deserves its risqué reputation: "You can meet anyone here - from dukes, to drug addicts, club kids, artists, prostitutes, politicians - you name it."
Lux, Avenida Infante Henrique, Cais da Pedra a Santa Apolónia, is often the final destination of the night. Lisbon's biggest draw for worldly revelers on the international party circuit is in a former waterfront warehouse, and at 3 a.m., whether you're in its vast gilded and glowing spaces or still among the orderly lines of expectant entrants patiently waiting out front, the boisterous and rough-cut bonhomie of Bairro Alto seem worlds away.


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