We had wandered out of our hotel in Lisbon Portugal rather late in search of local cuisine. We knew we were close to the popular Las Ramblas area, but we weren’t quite sure just how far away. We wandered in the general direction of Las Ramblas and hoped that once we were closer, our restaurant choices would become more robust. There were a few high-end eateries along the way, but we didn’t want to pay a fortune for a decent Portuguese meal and we didn’t want to wait forty minutes for a table or fight for a seat at the bar either, so we continued.
We had wandered out of our hotel in Lisbon Portugal rather late in search of local cuisine.
We wandered through dark residential areas along steep winding streets down towards the bottom of what seemed like an endless hill. We eventually found Las Ramblas, but we were smack in the middle of the retail zone, so our restaurant choices were fast food chains or breakfast joints that had been closed since noon. We stopped in the middle of a small park and panned around 360 degrees to get a better sense of whats around. Robin said, “I’ve been here before many years ago and remember there being an area with a bunch of restaurants,” so the obvious choice here was to continue wandering. I had chosen to wear my Converse sneakers, which, while stylish, are also not ideal for long walks on steep sloped streets with uneven pavement and cobble stones. “But maybe we should just go back to the hotel and eat at the restaurant there before it gets too late.” She added, effectively muddling my desire to continue on despite the pain. So we headed back up Las Ramblas for a few minutes and as we passed now familiar sights some little devil in our brains told us we were about to ruin our only night in Portugal. You see, we were only supposed to be there for one night and then we are to board a cruise ship and embark on a cruise through the mediterranean. The hotel restaurant is okay. Its a bit pricey and the food is nothing to complain about, but we already had lunch there and our wanderlust had been eating away at us since we arrived. No, we are not going to go back. Lets press on.
We continued down the cobblestone paths that meander through the greenbelt that runs down the center of Las Ramblas towards the bottom of the hill. We had walked miles without finding just the right restaurant. We wandered into a few back streets in search of fine Portuguese cuisine and finally found the trove of restaurants Robin had recalled earlier. We sat down at a little table on the sidewalk and our waiter came and took our order. We feasted on a local seafood platter. It was exactly what we were hoping to find. We drank local variations of gin and tonic from giant goblets and got nicely buzzed. We enjoyed a bottle of local red wine. The wine was excellent and still modestly priced. There was a television with soccer commentary and replays from previous games playing. The waiter explained to us that Portugal made it to the finals in the Eurocup and will be playing the next day. We chatted with our waiter about soccer for a bit, but it seemed like we were distracting him from the all important analysis leading up to the big match between France and Portugal. A lot is at stake for sure and that came through in his tone despite his broken English. A woman wandered down the street as we were finishing up our meal. She was quite drunk and began yelling “This is not authentic Portuguese food!” at the top of her lungs. The waiter just yelled something in Portuguese that probably translates to: “go home you drunken tart.” The waiter apologized for the distraction despite the obvious indicators that we both found the exchange amusing and then his eyeballs dutifully returned to the television, so we requested our bill and wandered off into the night.
I don’t know what it is about drinking large goblets of gin and finishing off a bottle of local Portuguese wine that makes us better at getting around and more keen to explore, but it just does. We took the long way home. We wandered the back streets hoping to satisfy our wanderlust. We were not disappointed.
We had turned towards the general direction of our hotel when we looked up a narrow and rather steep dead end street. There were dozens of locals milling about outside, smoking, drinking and carrying on vibrant conversations with each other. The energy of the area was just to compelling so we wandered up the steep street towards the locus of all the activity. The energy was flowing from the inside of an old run down building. Near the top of the dead end street there were concrete stairs that led up to a dark entrance. There was a rather intimidating looking fella sitting on a chair at the entrance, presumably, he was a bouncer, but ones imagination tends to forgo the obvious and conjure up all sorts of anxiety inducing thoughts. The mood of the crowd did not match up with the anxiety this bouncer generated, but the crowd is local and, well, we are very much the opposite of local. Are we wandering into some kind of territorial situation here? Is this a no tourists zone?
As we passed through the open doorway the bouncer nodded at us and we continued down a dark hallway completely covered in graffiti. The drinks we had for dinner were now more or less fully saturated into our bloodstream and therefore we were approaching peak intoxication, which is the best time to make the decision to wander past an imposing foreign bouncer into a dark graffiti covered hallway. But something lured us deeper. The music was upbeat and pleasantly foreign. I don’t know what it is about music in other languages that makes it so alluring, perhaps unfamiliar language combined with a slightly foreign take on a popular genre makes the music more exotic. The drum beat echoed off the concrete walls and lured us closer. The hallway led to what seemed to be an old gymnasium with concrete walls covered in more graffiti. Since the graffiti was mostly in Portuguese or nonsense scribbles, I have no idea whether they were gang tags or peace signs, but I opted to believe they were peace signs. I opted to believe they were words written out of joy and not hate. Nobody seemed hateful and nobody confronted us. As we wandered further into the building the crowd became more dense. I moved my wallet to a front pocket, but only because I didn’t want to keep imagining that every bump or brush of my ass was a pickpocket. The place did not have a pickpocket vibe despite the darkness and graffiti.
There was a line at the bar a mile long and a mile wide. Everyone waited patiently and most people didn’t push except for a few assholes now and then. We chatted up a Portuguese fella that was next to us in line and he explained in broken English that this was the “last party.” We didn’t quite understand what he meant by the last party. Was it the last party of the month? The last party before the Eurocup finals? Had we missed the news about the impending end of the world because our waiter preferred soccer commentary and highlights? Was the apocalypse happening outside and we just couldn’t feel civilization crumbling to the ground because of all the gin and wine? Well, it turns out that someone bought the building and was planning on turning it into some kind of boutique hotel. A popular party spot was about to fall off the Earth forever so you better live it up now. Our new friend bought us a couple of beers and later in the evening we returned the favor.
It is hard to describe this place and I am afraid the pictures will not be adequate. We wandered from room to room gently nudging our way through the crowd. It was hot and loud but everyone was enjoying their last party. There was a sway to the crowd. You could see friends connecting long distance using hand gestures, nods or simply yelling across the room. The decor was odd to say the least. It felt like a punk venue that had been decorated by local hipster artists at the advice of the local drunks. There were sofas and chairs to sit on, but people had claimed seats hours earlier and seemed to have no need to move.
We explored this party, finished our beers and wandered back out into the streets. With plenty of alcohol stimulating our internal compasses we managed to find our hotel easily despite our detours. The next day we boarded our cruise ship. We reached the port by taxi some time in the early afternoon and they were already setting up the large projection screens and sound systems they would use to project the final Eurocup match to thousands. Our ship left port during the last few minutes of the match. We could hear the glorious cheers as Portugal won the Eurocup. You could feel the pride as the fireworks began to go off everywhere. Somewhere there is a waiter in the throes of incredible bliss ignoring everything and completely unable to take his eyes off the television screen, for to do so might mean he has to take his mind away from the fantastic final score: 1 – 0 Portugal. In some dark alley in Lisbon there is another “last party” more crowded and more energetic than the last “last party” and it will no doubt go down as the most glorious evening of somebody’s entire life. I’m just glad we had the opportunity to taste that sensation and live through the eyes of these locals if only for one last party.
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