Nightlife in Lisbon: Lisbon's best bars

by guyan

Lisbon's top spots to go out drinking

Lisbon’s bar culture is a diverse mix of spit-and-sawdust taverns, chi chi cocktail joints and al fresco wine bars. Most nights start with a few sharpeners in one of these before moving on to one of the city’s bigger clubs.

Cocktail hour

You can seek out Lisbon’s finest cocktails in Cinco Lounge (Rua Ruben A. Leitão, Príncipe Real; +351 21 342 4033; www.cincolounge.com; 9pm–2am). Opened in October 2004 by British barman and owner, Dave Palethorpe and partner Julie Craig, it ignited a wave of cocktail adoration and enlightenment among the sangria-loving Lisboetas. The first specialist cocktail bar of its kind in Lisbon, the menu is so comprehensive that it’s listed chronologically to bring customers through the ages of mixed drinks. Those seeking further knowledge can enrol in cocktail-making courses, which are on offer most days.

Low-key and quirky

For more down-at-heel drinking, check out Majong (Rua da Atalaia 3, Bairro Alto; +351 21 342 1039). The institutional Bairro Alto favourite always feels like a boho house party. Open concrete flooring, harsh lighting and a general unwashed feel give this place serious industrial-decay chic points. Fun cliques of artisans hang out and discuss ‘commercial conspiracies’ and ever-perspective projects over ice-cold cups of beer, while table football is on hand for a bit of boisterous banter. Things get packed and chaotic around midnight, with a rowdy crowd at the bar and out onto the cobbled streets.

The out-of-towners favourite is Pavilhão Chinês (Rua Dom Pedro V89; Bairro Alto; +351 21 342 4729). There’s no escaping the touristy nature of this place, but it’s still one of the city’s most unique bars and should be experienced at least once. Cluttered to the hilt with kitsch and random décor, the maze of rooms is bursting with porcelain, china and glass knick-knacks. The en masse siege of dolls and props doesn’t quite err on the side of tacky rather than blunder right through the connotation. But it does make for good talking points to accompany the excellent cocktails. There’s also a back-room pool table.

For the more quirky kind of drinking den, try Santiago Alquimista (Rua de Santiago 19, Alfama; +351 21 882 0533; Sun-Thu 10am-2am; Fri-Sat 10am-4am). You’ll find this deceptively large cavernous building in one of the eerily quiet winding lanes below the imposing Castelo de São Jorge. Formerly a blacksmith’s space, the venue still has the original stonewalls that were used from the castle foundation. You’ll find any night goes here, from karaoke to poetry recitals. There are two vault-like rooms, which can take up to 600 people, most of whom are the cream of Lisbon’s creative and alternative crop.

A drink with a view

When the sun's out and you're looking for a drink with a view, Portas Do Sol (Largo das Portas do Sol; +351 21 8851299; www.potasdosol.biz) is just the place. More of a daytime drinking spot than a night venue, this bar has one of the most spectacular views in the city - just the spot for a long boozy afternoon. I’ve lost hours lounging in the outdoors, black cotton-covered sofas and beanbags looking out onto the dusk-orange rooftops, cobbled alleyways and castle of the Moorish Alfama district that surround the vast terrace. There’s a dancefloor inside for when things get more raucous at night, where DJs spin rolling house tunes to the chime of sunset and wine-fuelled chatter.

Another good sunshine spot is Kubo (Rua da Cintura, Cais do Sodré; +351 21 3932930). The sophisticated summer-only ‘beach bar’ is part of the Grupo K, that also owns clubland stalwarts, Kapital and Kremlin, and occupies a stellar spot on the waterfront, just five minutes’ walk from the Cais do Sodré ferry terminal. When the sun’s out, there are few better spots to sip a cocktail and catch a few rays while lounging on the all-white cushions and watching sail boats float along the Tejo. This is a place where cool beats and flirtatious chatter are accompanied by the lap of the river licking the rocks below. An essential summer socialising spot.

More expert advice on Lisbon

For suggestions on where to stay in Lisbon, see my Lisbon Hotels – Award winning expert hotel reviews, from cheap to luxury hotels in Lisbon page.

For more nightlife in Lisbon, read my overview on Lisbon nightlife and see my guides Nightlife in Lisbon: Lisbon's best clubs and Nightlife in Lisbon: live music and culture.

guyan

I'm a freelance travel writer, editor and author. I write and edit travel features and books for Lonely Planet, the Sunday Times, the Sunday Times Travel Magazine, A Hedonist's Guide To..., Esquire and many others.

I have been a regular visitor to Lisbon for the past thirteen years. I first visted on an interrail trip as an eager 16 year-old backpacker and immediately fell in love with the city for its cobbled mish-mash charm and Atlantic-sprayed air. I have many close ties with the city, and working as a travel journalist, I continue to return regularly. I’ve often spent months at a time in the city, living in an apartment in Bairro Alto or Cascais, where I would eat and drink my way around the town by night and sleep it off on the suburban beaches by day. I consider the city a second home and when I’m not there I can be found seeking out the best pastel de nata or bica in the many Portuguese enclaves of North West London.

My Lisbon

Where I always grab a coffee: going for a coffee in Lisbon is as much about getting my pastry fix as it is tending to caffeine cravings. If I’m anywhere near Belem, I’ll go into Pasteis de Belem for the world’s best pastel de nata (custard tart). If I’m closer to the centre of town I’ll head into Café A Brasíleira, for excellent coffee, Old World charm and bustling street tables.

My favourite stroll: in the summer, I like to head out to the beachside suburbs of Cascais and Estoril. There’s a lovely walk along the seafront promenade that connects the two towns. I also like to take one of the free bikes at Cascais train station and cycle out to the wild beaches at Guincho and beyond.

Fiction for inspiration: The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon by Richard Zimler will give you an insight into 16th-century Lisbon and the mystical world of kabbalah during the Jewish persecutions of the time. While the book is set in a very different Lisbon from the one you’ll see today, it does bring alive the medieval cobbled streets of the historic quarters and gives the city’s religious sites real poignancy.

Where to be seen: with its penthouse views across the city, members bar Silk (free membership can be arranged easily online) in Bairro Alto is where the beautiful people hangout these days.

The most breathtaking view: position yourself behind any of the cannons that protect the medieval Castelo de São Jorge. Here you’ll get a view that spans over the city’s church spires, terracotta rooftops and yawning Atlantic-facing estuary.

The best spot for some peace and quiet: for real inner-city calm you can’t beat the city’s ornate and serene churches and cathedrals, Basílica da Estrela, Igreja De São Roque, Igreja de São Vicente da Fora and Sé Cathedral.

Shopaholics beware: the vintage tailors, perfumeries, herbalists and haberdashers in the timeworn Baixa district are a maze of skills, crafts and trade.

City soundtrack: while the melancholic fado music is the traditional sound of the city, 21st-century Lisbon swings to a more Samba sound. My favourite local artist is Sara Tavares, have a listen to the lovely ‘Balancé’.

Don’t leave without... partying till dawn then getting a freshly baked pão com chorizo (chrozio baked in bread, or a Portuguese hot dog, if you like) from one of the city’s just-opened bakeries.