Word of Mouth: Porto
Word of Mouth: Porto
Vintage furniture, vegetarian fare, obscure records and everything in between in Portugal's northern metropolis
by Ross Belfer
Porto is no longer limited to its UNESCO World Heritage-recognized Old City, replete with meticulously preserved Romanesque, Gothic and Manueline-style architectural structures and seven river-expanding bridges—not to mention its renowned wine culture. The city evokes an industrial-hip vibe supported by a vibrant nightlife and thriving music and art scenes. Lifting its head out of economic despair, Porto (like its familial city of Lisbon) has experienced a creative resurgence over the past several years, spearheaded by young professionals hoping to shake up the traditional work structure. This month from 18-20 September, visitors and locals will flock to Porto to catch some of the country's most popular indie artists at record label Lovers and Lollypops' nine-year anniversary festival, but no matter what time of year, Porto is surely a must-stop for anybody seeking a culture-packed destination that won't break the bank.
Below are a few unmissable spots in the northern Portuguese metropolis, which we were fortunate enough to visit with the guidance of Lovers and Lollypops' own Jonathan Tavares.
Cafe Au Lait
“Don’t be surprised if you find Porto’s music scene to rival or be better than Lisbon's,” proposed a Lisbonian music expert who will remain anonymous for security purposes. Porto—with its Berlin-like industrialism and Firenze-eque charm—is home to Café Au Lait, an intimate alternative music spot in the heart of the city’s nightclub-laden downtown. Café Au Lait is known as Porto’s landmark venue for international and local musicians and DJs alike, hosting harmony-drenched indie rock, soulful electronica, house and tropicalia acts on any given night—including local mainstays White Haus, Blac Koyote, Holy Nothing. And, on 19 September, Café Au Lait will host a performance by Gonçalo with a live band as part of the aforementioned anniversary celebration.
The Artist Boutique Hotel
A short walk from just about any major landmark or cultural haunt in the city, Porto’s newest boutique property might also be the its most art-savvy to date. Having opened in April 2014 and just a short stroll from Porto’s Rua de Santa Catarina commercial hub, The Artist is a spacious, 17-room boutique property embodying the zeitgeist of 1960s retro Porto. Before being transformed into a boutique hotel, the space housed the Soares dos Reis Art School, founded in 1927 and a highly regarded institution for Portuguese visual artists, industrial and graphic designers. In keeping up with Porto’s creative frontier, The Artist displays original blueprints and sketches by art school students in the lobby leading up to its plush, minimalist rooms. The hotel takes its creative approach a step further at its Artist Bistro, offering colorful, nightly tasting menus with sharable dishes which fly out of the kitchen according to your preferred meal size (five, seven or nine plates), as well as with its B’Bistro cocktail bar.
Em Carne Viva
After a few days in Portugal, you'll have eaten enough slow-cooked pork, seafood and prego sandwiches (garlic steak) to last a lifetime. Breaking up the carnivorous gluttony is the ironically named vegetarian restaurant Em Carne Viva. The refined space doubles as an inner-city health complex, encompassing a white-clad, indoor dining room, as well as a wine and tea house within a massive, rustic Portuguese garden with local fauna hanging throughout. If you're looking to complete the healthy living circuit, Carne Viva offers guided yoga classes in its private studio space, followed by a lunch vegetarian and vegan dishes. Highlights include seitan assado with potatoes and pumpkin, tempura vegetables with rice and beans and the local favorite: asparagus salad.
Patch is a brand new art, design and fashion shop paying homage to contemporary Portuguese aesthetics through a spectrum of eras and artistic influences. Hand-selected vintage clothing, retro furnishings, a graphic design studio and a gallery boasting innovative, upcycled lighting fixtures are all found here. Located on Rosário Street in the city’s burgeoning Miguel Bombarda district, Patch is the brainchild of Portuguese lighting designer Artur Mendanha, who builds and sells his eclectic and obscure lighting fixtures in the space’s 500-square-foot subterranean gallery—including innovative one-off-pieces like the “Cloud Ceiling Lamp,” “Explosion Chandelier,” and a lamp made entirely of vintage books. And throughout each month, Patch transforms into a gallery and performance space hosting art exhibitions and sets by local and international musical performers, this includes Australian dream-pop act Ginger and the Ghost. The gallery will also welcome the opening of a mixed-media exhibition by Portuguese artist Ricardo Pistola, entitled “Emergence Affair,” on 20 September.
Walking down Almada Street, replete with alluringly gritty abandoned manufacturing buildings adorned with 1950s signage, you'll find Casa Almada, a multi-level vintage furniture shop offering rare, mid-century furniture and contemporary industrial pieces meticulously selected from private collections and markets across Europe. When we visited, the friendly shopkeeper guided us to a 1950s Danish teak sideboard with a black Formica top; a 1970s Laslo Studioform trolley and bar; an Olaio easy-chair designed by José Espinho and a KP Møbler oak frame easy-chair. It's certainly a shop in which you'll be wishing you had brought bigger luggage.
If every city around the world contained just one, definitive record store, then Matéria Prima would be it for Porto. The well-designed, minimalist shop is a dream for record-diggers and music fanatics looking to indulge over auditory gems by local and international musical artists—from house, techno and dream pop crooners to tropicalia and Afro-Caribbean inspired artists. After settling upon a double-record compilation of 1970s Northern Thailand psych-pop music, we browsed through graphic design prints and illustrations on display in the shop’s storefront gallery, Dama Aflita. Before departing Matéria Prima, be sure to speak with the owner or manager to learn about the one-off events and exhibitions held in its verdant, private outdoor space.
Word of Mouth presents a destination the way we experienced it. Following both trusted tips and our own whims we explore with the goal of finding what's unique to that place. For deeper looks at some of our favorite metropolises, check out our CH City Guides.
Images courtesy of the respective venues