Vinyl serves both global sounds and refined neo-Portuguese cuisine, Seth Sherwood writes in this review for The New York Times.
Eeva Tuuhea remembers the precise moment when she received a friend’s phone call telling her that the Hot Clube de Portugal, an iconic Lisbon jazz joint since the 1940s and her beloved regular hangout for two decades, was on fire — literally.
“It was a rainy night, the 22nd of December, 2009, at 3 a.m.,” recalled Ms. Tuuhea, a blond, middle-aged Finnish expat who said she has been “part of the furniture” at the Hot Clube since the late 1980s.
“I was called and came down to see it; 8,500 hearts broke on Facebook, and God knows how many besides that,” she said.
The fire and subsequent flooding by the fire department destroyed the building. The Hot Clube went cold. But the mourning period was short. The city government pledged to help, putting up money and installing the club in a small building just a few doors down from the original, overlooking the once-seedy and now trendy Praça de Alegria.
Completed in 2011 and reopened officially last year, the relaunched Hot Clube de Portugal is back in business with a full assortment of local and international live acts. On a balmy fall evening last year, any fears that Hot Clube 2.0 wouldn’t match the heat of its beloved predecessor had apparently been assuaged. A full spectrum of fans, from college students to suited young professionals to longtime regulars in their 40s and 50s, was packed around the low tables of the windowless concert area.
“They recreated the space but they brought over the spirit from the old place,” Ms. Tuuhea said, sipping red wine at the club’s bar and awaiting a performance by Carlos Bica, a Portuguese bassist with a cult following whose sometime backing band, Azul, conjures gorgeously strange avant-garde soundscapes. “This is really the heart of jazz in Lisbon again,” Ms. Tuuhea added.
Over the last couple of years, innovative new music spots have been popping up around Lisbon, and defunct and departed iconic music venues have been rising from their ashes, literally or figuratively. From intimate supper clubs to warehouse dance halls, the new generation of hangouts is enriching the Portuguese capital’s sonic spectrum and expanding the array of places where music aficionados and bands of all stripes can converge. These days, a spin around town is a journey across continents and styles, from indie jazz to African beats to American retro rock to electronic experiments.
“Everyone thinks that Lisbon is only fado,” said Luis Rodrigues, music editor for Time Out Lisbon, referring to the homegrown melancholy folk music that has become almost a cliché of Lisbon. “But there’s so much more going on.”
For instance, if you’re seeking a classy evening of global sounds (from jazz to folk to ethno-groove) and refined neo-Portuguese cuisine, the airy and angular Vinyl cafe-restaurant began serving dinner and hosting concerts last year. And if you absolutely must hear fado, you can find the music reborn in unexpected, avant-garde forms (as well as other Portuguese music, both traditional and experimental) at Can the Can, a new gallery-like restaurant and “Fado laboratory” started by Rui Pregal da Cunha, singer for a famous 1980s Portuguese rock band called Heróis do Mar — Heroes of the Sea. (The cuisine, consisting of upscale takes on traditional tinned goods like sardines and mackerel, is no less adventurous or brine-soaked.)
“I see fado as an ultimate urban expression of our feelings, culture and language,” said Mr. Pregal da Cunha, “and in that sense it has had an incredible success with new young musicians wanting to partake in such a different experience.”
The same week as the Carlos Bica show at Hot Clube de Portugal, an eclectic crowd ambled into B.Leza, a bubblegum-pink warehouse that practically glows at night amid the dingy docklands next to Cais do Sodré train station. African immigrants and native Portuguese from all reaches of Lisbon society — bespectacled grad-student types, 50-something intellectuals, a noisy bachelorette party — paid the 10-euro cover charge and milled around the soaring neo-industrial space.
Along the walls, colorful posters announced past and future concerts by a bevy of prestigious African artists, including Bombino, the Tuareg guitarist from Niger, and the legendary Cape Verdean singer-guitarist Tito Paris. Flyers for photo exhibitions, poetry readings and a weekly Sunday-night dance instruction fluttered alongside.
Ask any Lisbon music fan about B.Leza and you’ll get a nostalgic sigh and a wistful tale about the beauty and character of the original space, an 18th-century palace that the club had to abandon in 2007. Drawing everyone from broke college students to celebrities like Robert De Niro and Catherine Deneuve, the old B.Leza is evoked like a lost Zion.
While the shiny contemporary B.Leza, which opened last year, might lack the faded grandeur of its forefather, it certainly retains its pan-African programming and remarkably loyal, diverse fan base. Not just for whippersnappers, B.Leza is still the Lisbon club where you’re most likely to run into your mom — assuming she is gaga for, say, Angolan folk tunes — or incognito A-listers like Jeremy Irons and Pierre Casiraghi of Monaco, both of whom discreetly stopped in last year.
“They come here like normal people,” said Sofia Saudade e Silva, whose father, a Portuguese lawyer in love with African music, founded the club and then left it to Ms. Saudade and her sister when he died. “Here everyone is equal: rich, poor, black, white.”
Around 2 a.m., the headlining duo of the guitarist Stephan Almeida and the vocalist Flégon Oliveira took the stage, backed by a full band. Looking barely into their 20s, the two young transplants from the music-rich Cape Verde Islands were making their first appearance at B.Leza. No one knew what to expect, and with a packed weekend crowd on hand, expectations were high. Ms. Saudade and her husband had discovered them a few weeks earlier while eating at a small restaurant in the historical Alfama district, where the two were giving a dinnertime performance.
Under the blue stage lights, Mr. Almeida plucked bright arpeggios and strummed lush chords as the tight backing band rounded out a feel-good Afro-pop jamboree. A scarf tied jauntily around his neck, Mr. Oliveira rocked back and forth, smiling and exuding confident charisma as he sang soulful melodies in Portuguese. Dozens of tight-clutching couples twirled by the stage. Any doubts about the new duo seemed to be dissipating with each beat.
“We were fearing this first performance,” confided Ricardo Mesquita, the husband of Ms. Saudade e Silva, reiterating the two headliners’ newness to the music scene. “But they are calm and enthusiastic. They have found their place here.”
IF YOU GO
Hot Clube de Portugal, Praça da Alegria 48; (351-21) 346-0305; hotclubedeportugal.org.
B.Leza, Rua Cintura do Porto de Lisboa 16, Armazém B, Cais do Sodré; (351-21) 010-6837; blogdibleza.blogspot.com
Vinyl, Praça das Indústrias, Entrada Principal, Travessa da Galé 36; (351-21) 364-5097
Can the Can, Praça do Comércio 82/83; (351-21) 885-1392; canthecanlisboa.com.
For the original report go to http://travel.nytimes.com/2013/10/20/travel/finding-a-global-groove-in-lisbon.html?pagewanted=2&_r=0