Lisbon – great city but where’s the Cerveja? Part 1

I was fortunate to get invited to Lisbon for the weekend by friends who had rented a lovely apartment in the heart of the Bairro Alto district on Rua da Barroca. The apartment, five breath taking floors up (with no lift!), had a tranquil-by-day and noisy-be-night roof top terrace affording views across the River Tagus and out to the Castelo de Sao Jorge.

During the day the Bairro Alto is a bit of a ghost town and not really worth a visit – although there are some stylish boutique shops dispersed across the area. Better to venture out to the Baixa and Rossio areas and like us head up to the Castelo de Sao Jorge on the rickety old Tram 28.

Rickety Tram in Lisbon

Rickety Tram in Lisbon

Here the views across Lisbon are amazing and can’t be bettered – and after you’ve soaked them in, you can the head down and meander through the streets occasionally stopping to buy and munch on delicious custard tarts (Pasteis de nata).

The main tourist thoroughfare starts at the Praça do Comércio and at their version of the Arc de Triomphe. Around these streets, squares and the waterfront you will be frequently offered all sorts of herbal remedies (best taken with tobacco) shipped in from North Africa – if that’s your thing.

A boat trip on the Tagus in the afternoon took in the sites of their “Rio de Janeiro” Jesus Christ statue (the Cristo Rei) – and their copy of the Golden Gate Bridge (25 de Abril bridge) and some freaky water based fort in Belem (the Belem Tower).

The trip afforded me the chance to sit down and sample some Portuguese Cerveja – there was Sagres, Super Bock and Cristal Pilsener on offer – so I tried them all. None of them had any endearing qualities or any flavours that were etched into my memory or stood them out from their bland mass-produced lager peers.

Portuguese Cerveja

Portuguese Cerveja

These beers are best enjoyed in an ice cold glass on an extremely soaring hot day paired with a well salted crisp or nut based snack – in these conditions their thirst quenching qualities would negate the lack of flavour and burp inducing gassiness. Also all of them have ABVs above 5% – and this helps give them some mind relaxing properties that people seek when on holiday – essential and great for pairing with day lounging in the sun with a good book – why else would you drink this stuff?

After a successful days tourist itinerary we returned to our new home in the Barrio Alto – which was already starting to come alive – with the early birds heading in to enjoy dinner in one of the many and relatively cheap restaurants.

This is definitely the area to head for in the evening with an abundance of Portuguese food on offer in numerous small family run restaurants.

We walked around for a while soaking it all in and eventually selected a lovely restaurant called Louro and Sal for dinner – they served us delicious king prawns cooked in ginger washed down with some lovely Portuguese sparkling wine – I personally couldn’t face another gassy Sagres which was sadly the only beer on offer.

After dinner, the area was beginning to turn into party central – where thousands of young revellers were starting to descend into the little cobbled streets and create a real festival atmosphere (that continued through both of the nights that we stayed there!).

View from Apartment in Rua da Barroca, Bairro Alto, Lisbon

3am – View from Apartment in Rua da Barroca, Bairro Alto, Lisbon

We knew with the position of our apartment that there was only one way we were going to be able to get to sleep – and that was to join the festivities ourselves!

The crowds were loud and lively and there was a great friendly buzz where old and young mingled, hanging out in the numerous small bars. In our road alone, every building seemed to offer a bar – some with a real natural charm and character and others so damn soulless that the 50 inch plasma pumping out football was the centre of attention – most were the size of a front room in a Victorian terrace – neon lights and tiled floors led to bars with only Super Bock or Sagres on tap and if you were lucky Sagres Bohemia (which is passable and the best of a bad bunch).

For once it was time to move away from my usual choice of drink and act like a local and enjoy a night on cocktails packed with citrus fruits and ice – served in lovely plastic Super Bock pint glasses with the obligatory two black plastic straws. Cocktails were cheap at €5 and even cheaper in happy hour. Despite the presentation and drinking vessel – they were actually quite delicious and refreshing packed with plenty of fresh citrus fruits, good rum and fresh mint (in the Mojitos) – as good as any that I’ve had before. I also enjoyed a couple of Caipirinha’s (a Brazilian favourite) along with the Mojitos!

Spurred on by a cocktail induced “second wind” I managed to keep going until about 3am – when the day and drink finally caught up with me. It was time to call it a night and head for bed – I was snoring as soon as my head hit the pillow – although as my light sleeping friends informed me the party continued outside until 6am!