During my time in Lisbon I came across wonderful places, friendly people, and gorgeous picturesque vistas in the pristine weather. One of my treasures found and enjoyed was…can you guess? Cafes! I know, I know…big surprise if you know me even the slightest bit.
The Cafe Where Modern & Organic Fall in Love with Cycling…
A local of Portugal, Luis, took me walking around what is called the downtown area of Lisbon and for our first coffee of the day he took me to Gremio do Carmo. Right away it was unique, even in the way that you enter. It’s tucked away up on the second floor of a large building, just above the Merrell store. But to enter it from the street, you go in a teeny-tiny shop of books and up the short flight of stairs to the back of that shop to discover this fantastic world of art, literature, road bicycles, a design twist of modern and retro, aaaannnnddd….yes, it gets better…coffee, wines, and delicious food. Tall french doors open to small quaint wrought iron balconies that overlook the street below. Potted plants are dispersed on these little overlooks and next to the boldly colored chairs placed here for you to sit and keep them company in the sun.
Each wall has either a vibrant eclectic painting voicing a message or a Merrell road bicycle mounted like a picture of a beautiful woman, sexy and attractive to those who appreciate and love cycling. There is a main middle room, open and airy with tall ceilings. In the middle of this is a long rectangular community table with benches on either side. Off each side of this room are smaller square spaces created by dividers of open shelves that keep the entire space connected and looking in on each other. One of the side spaces has the elevator that takes you down to the Merrell store and brings you up from there and the other side has an open closet-type of space in the wall that is decked out with creative natural shelves thrown together from crates and resplendent with books in English, Portuguese, and I think I saw a few in Spanish. They even had my brothers’ favorites, Calvin and Hobbes!
We enjoyed their organic coffee with raw cane sugar and later had lunch at their community table. The egg and salad were fresh and delicious and the glass of red wine I sipped on was fantastic. To top it all off, I indulged with a cappuccino and gooey chocolate-brown, homemade by the owner’s mother. The owner was friendly and helpful, sharing with us about how he used his own passion for cycling to give the cafe its flavor and style. The art is done by a local friend, giving opportunity to emerging artists in the area. The food and drinks are done with natural and organic ingredients, placing priority on a healthy menu. There’s even lockers to rent and store items in if you need to make it a base for trekking around Lisbon.
With the combination of a great menu, creatively beautiful environment full of openness and light, and wonderfully friendly people running the place, this cafe is a must for me to return to for recharging the creative juices, getting work done thanks to their free WiFi, and to just enjoy a relaxing break while seeing Lisbon’s exciting downtown.
Funky Cafe Makes Music with Historic Architecture…
I was finishing a trek up and down the stairs of the Alfama neighborhood when I came upon the Cruzes Credo Cafe. My walking tour friend from the This is Lisbon Hostal wanted to introduce me to the place and we sat outside in their cobblestone patio to the side of the cafe, enjoying the perfectly temperate breeze and warm sun. Under the tall shadowing green trees, she had a coffee and I had an amazing natural smoothie made from banana, orange, and ginger. Perfect for quenching my thirst after all the walking we had been doing.
Their coffee is wonderful! I would have the Americano, black with just a bit of honey they were kind enough to provide, and it was delicious – not burnt and acidic, but rich and smooth. Twice I had what came to be my favorite sandwich in all of Lisbon, their Chicken Toast. They call them toasts, but don’t be deceived…it’s delicious sandwich bread with mushrooms grilled on the outside, drizzled with olive oil, and overflowing inside with hot melted mozzarella cheese and grilled chicken. Writing about it now makes my mouth water and my stomach growl…I remember how the cheese was so perfectly melted that it would stretch from my mouth with every bite I took. Add to this the savory touch of dried basil flakes and…mmm mmm…scrumptious! This and their zucchini soup with a glass of the house red wine, won me over. And, as is essential for any good cafe, they’re service was good with people who were fun and nice and they play great music, some in Portuguese and here and there a toss-in of classic jazz or funk. I also made some friends there who enjoy the place for the same reasons I do. More than anything, I hope they still have that chicken toast on the menu for whenever I go back on my next Lisbon.
The Small Neighborhood Cafe with Big Flavor…
Marcelino Pao y Vinho (Bread and Wine), was the first cafe that I experienced in Lisbon. It was also the one I frequented the most and for more reasons than just the fact that it was conveniently located right across the street from where I was staying. The story of how I finally found this place is part of the endearing first few hours of my arrival in the city (check out the full story on my earlier post, Lisbon – The City for Making Friends). Although I was laughing when I arrived, I was also a bit sweaty and tired when I lugged my large duffel on wheels onto their patio. All this was to the amusement and stares of the local neighborhood men who were standing around the convenient store next door, enjoying their beers after their work day. Rita, one of the owners along with her partner Nuno, was sitting at the quaint picnic table and greeted me with the warmest smile and welcomed me to sit down. Looking in through the large pristine glass window just behind my seat, I could see bread and cafe knickknacks, highlighted enticingly with a bright crystal lamp. Just in the doorway stands an antique wood and glass cabinet housing bottles of wine that caught my eye and had me asking for a glass of red before I even sat down. All together, the lovely store-front looks like a charming painting, but even better…it was Portuguese style. Inside are more tables and benches from which you can admire the artistic photography of the owner Nuno. His beautiful talent creatively captures images in bold rich colors and presents others in classic black and white. The subject matter of his camera’s eye varies excitedly between people, buildings, and city-scenes.
The patio looks out onto a street that is always busy with great people-watching. From the locals who are going to and from home and work to the tourists who are looking at their maps wondering where they had found themselves. This little area is great in my mind especially because it is located in this little pocket of local people, business, and their residences, all in between several different areas that are busy and more crowded with tourist. For example, from this cafe the Castle of São Jorge (Castle of Saint George) is just an eight to ten minute walk up the old cobblestone streets that steeply climb to the beautiful 16th century Moorish castle. All within ten minutes walk from here, you can enjoy the Gardens of Julio de Castilho where there are overlooks with beautiful views of the Alfama neighborhood and the river further down the hill, museums, and the Monastery of Saint Vincent of Fora.
Marcelino is where I would have my daily glass of red wine, or two actually. Talking with Rita and Nuno was always a great time and I learned that their cafe had only been open about three months when I arrived into town. That would explain why it was a bit hard to find at first. Yet its making a mark on the map, that’s for sure. I’m convinced it’s thanks to the great people there and their delicious food, like their gazpacho that I had several times and still crave. Their version of gazpacho is the first I have seen with a freshly fried egg in it, still warm and with yolk just cooked to firmness so it doesn’t run into the soup. Croutons of bread and fresh herbs sprinkled atop make the dish heavenly delicious to the taste buds and pleasing to the eyes. I love how this dish combines the freshness of the tomato with the zest of the garlic. Delicioso!
This neighborhood spot became special to me not only for the friends that I made there, but also for what I got to experience of a local Lisboan neighborhood feel and the people. And they are the first cafe ever to give me a gift! I was so touched and it turns out I was just thinking the week before that I needed to be keeping my eye out for a white seashell for doing the Camino de Santiago hopefully next year…I didn’t need to look for long – I do not think it was coincidental. It’s a great place to work from as well since they have free WiFi and you can always count on feeling comfortable and at home in Lisbon in this Portuguese cafe of great drinks, amazing food, and warm friendly company. I know it will draw me back. Save some gazpacho for me!