The VICE Guide to Lisbon 2014

We have street parties that go until dawn and we’ve decriminalised all drugs. WAHEY!

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Jun 30 2014, 3:35am

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(Photo by Nuno Barroso)

Here in the Portuguese capital it’s so hot we have to party on the streets, we go until dawn and we’ve decriminalised all drugs. WAHEY! Here's a guide to our wonderful city.

Jump to sections by using the index below:

WHERE TO PARTY
WHAT'S THE DEAL WITH DRUGS?
POLITICS, PROTESTS AND JUST HOW RACIST IS EVERYONE HERE?
WHERE TO EAT
WHAT DO LOCALS EAT?
WHERE TO DRINK
WHERE TO STAY
LGBT LISBON
WHERE TO HANG OUT WHEN YOU'RE SOBER
HOW TO AVOID GETTING RIPPED OFF AND BEATEN UP
PEOPLE AND PLACES TO AVOID
TIPPING AND HANDY PHRASES
A YOUTUBE PLAYLIST OF QUESTIONABLE LOCAL MUSIC
VICE CITY MAP

(Photo by Nuno Barroso)

WHERE TO PARTY

Lux Frágil
Avenida Infante Dom Henrique, 1950-376
Lux is the sort of place even casual clubbers end up staggering out of at 8AM shouting about being converted to the way of the bass. They’re more likely to play Frankie Knuckles than Bob Sinclair, and that philosophy helps them attract the best local and international superstar DJs. There's two floors, a big outdoor terrace, the fucking sea and lots of people walking around with massive cocktails looking really, really pleased with themselves. And why wouldn't they be? They live in Lisbon – they're on holiday ALL THE TIME.
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Lounge
Rua da Moeda, 1 0/P, Cais do Sodré
The sloths who run Lounge were incredibly lazy when they named it, and that attitude bleeds through to the bar itself: it's a cool little place where people pre-lash before heading on to Lux or Music Box. Occasionally there’s a band playing but most of the time you'll find a succession of vinyl-only DJs being rhythmically tasteful and justifying their crippling Discogs addictions.
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Music Box
Rua Nova do Carvalho 24, 1200-292
It opens at midnight, but TBH this sweaty club beneath a bridge only really starts around 2AM when the bars kick out. After Lux it has the best DJs in Lisbon, and occasionally they throw on the odd live band as well. Every night is different, so you’re just as likely to hear the latest cumbia banger as a house tune when you stumble up looking to carry the party on till 6AM.
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Incognito Bar
R. Poiais de s. Bento, 37, 1200-346
They’re taking their name literally here: There’s no sign on the door and you have to ring a bell and wait to be let in. Once inside you’ll find a decent-sized dancefloor and a quiet bar above, where you can eyeball the dancers like a sleazy bird of prey. It’s one of the oldest clubs in the city, and they haven’t bothered to change the playlist in 20 years, so I hope you like synthpop.
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(Photo by Nuno Barroso)

WHAT'S THE DEAL WITH DRUGS?

How’s your "legalise weed" protest going, hippy? Not so good? Guess what, here in Portugal we’ve decriminalised ALL drugs. Yep, even the bad ones. That means you’re safe from cops as long as you’ve got no more than five grams of hash, two grams of cocaine or one gram of heroin on you. However, it’s worth noting that drugs are not legal here, they are decriminalised – a subtle but important difference. It's also worth noting that heroin still sucks, even though you're in Portugal.

Back in 2001 Lisbon was a heroin hellhole and, rather than cracking skulls in the grand tradition of the War On Drugs, the Portuguese government decided to try something different. Once decriminalisation came in, a lot of media predicted the country would become a junkie flop-house, but in 2009 a pre-fame Glenn Greenwald published this study announcing that “none of the nightmare scenarios touted by preenactment decriminalization opponents – from rampant increases in drug usage among the young to the transformation of Lisbon into a haven for “drug tourists” – has occurred.” HURRAH!

These days the police won’t arrest you, but you're seen you will be stopped, have your stash confiscated and be sent before a commission. These commissions offer education and try to dissuade you from using drugs. A fairly valiant mission and a lot nicer than going to jail.

However, drug trafficking remains illegal, so if you’re caught with any more than these amounts you could still get busted. It also means that it’s not legal to sell it in real shops, so dealers still control the market.

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(Photo by Nuno Barroso)

POLITICS, PROTESTS AND JUST HOW RACIST IS EVERYONE HERE?

Other than the Greeks, we've been fucked just as hard as anyone by the various crises that have hit Europe recently, but for whatever reason our fascists just haven't made the most of it. There is no Portuguese UKIP – although many of the bollock-faced British ex-pats over in the Algarve would probably re-marry their ex-wives for Nigel Farage – and no nationalist group has gained significant support.

We had a pretty sizeable empire in our day, and because of that Lisbon has attracted a not inconsiderable number of immigrants from its former colonies. Most are Brazilian, but there’s also Indians from Goa and Africans from places like Angola and Mozambique. It’s worth noting that for a long time Portugal was a country of net emigration, but that’s now changed. We have growing numbers of Romanians and Chinese people, but the total immigrant population remains below 5 percent. Thankfully, there isn’t too much friction between groups in the city – we all tend to get along and wonder why everyone else in Europe can’t.

In 2012 and 2013, there were a series of violent clashes in opposition to the "Troika", the worst supergroup since Velvet Revolver. Made up of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF, the three bodies came together to impose stringent bailout conditions on the country and people weren’t happy about it. Lisbon has been relatively quiet on the protest front for the last year or so, though. To be honest, the closest we really get to an extreme political event of any kind these days is when some far-left activists get together for a rave. Which is kind of pathetic but also much more fun than getting coshed.

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(Photo courtesy of Grant Armour)

WHERE TO EAT

The Decadente Restaurante & Bar
Rua São Pedro de Alcântara 81, 1250-238
It might be decadent by name, but this place is more Jay Electronica than Jay Gatsby. Attached to a hostel in the heart of the busy Bairro Alto district, it attracts tourists and locals alike. You should come here for the simple, modern Portuguese menu, which varies to take advantage of the best local produce. Yes, they make all the waiters wear braces, but nowhere’s perfect.
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Frade Dos Mares
Avenida Dom Carlos i 55, 1200
The guy who runs this cosy, quiet place is a surfer who catches fish with a spear. Which is the long way round, really – just like print media, he’s failed to understand the advantages of the net. Anyway, we can’t fault his seafood menu, which includes a section that reads like "101 things to do with an octopus".
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Santa Bica
Travessa do Cabral 37,  1200-074
I know people are often dubious of gin bars because they think they’ll be full of nuts old people crying, but this old bakery with an extensive Mother's Ruin collection is great. Traditional Portuguese dishes, great views of the city, no one crying, what more could you want, other than drinks that aren't gin?
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Casa do Alentejo
Rua das Portas de Santo Antao, 58, Lisbon 1150-26
Like capital cities all over the world, Lisbon is a magnet that sucks in people and culture from all over Portugal. Eighty-five years ago, the people from Alentejo in the south of this country opened this place to preserve their incredible cuisine and host concerts by folk musicians. It’s in an old Berber palace, so the architecture, like the food, is Moorish.

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(Photo by Andi Galdi Vinko)

WHAT DO LOCALS EAT?

Pastel de Nata
I hate to break it to you, but you haven’t been taking egg custard tarts seriously enough. Those shitty packs of two that always end up in the reduced aisle at Sainsbury’s are tiny little insulting turds compared to the majestic Portuguese version. The best egg custard tarts in the whole world are made at a century-old bakery in Belém, and we love them so much we throw them their own festival. 

Ameijoas à Bolhão Pato
Portugal is basically just one long coastline, so our seafood is obviously incredible. There’s no better place in the world to eat a big bowl of clams, which we garnish with garlic and coriander.

Bacalhau à Braz
Invented in Bairro Alto, you make "Braz’s Cod" by shredding the fish, thinly frying some potatoes and then sticking the whole mixture together with scrambled eggs. I don’t know who Braz is, but my cod, do I respect him.

Pataniscas
Okay, this isn’t a billion miles away from Braz’s cod, but we’ve had hundreds of years of living by the sea to figure out lots of things to do with dead fish, so don’t look so surprised that all our best local dishes are basically variations on a theme. This time, mash your cod into a pulp with your fist, then fry it with potatoes and parsley, so it ends up a bit like a fishy pakora.

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(Photo by Grant Armour)

WHERE TO DRINK

Most nights out in Lisbon begin and end on the streets of Bairro Alto. Nobody wants to spend any more time than they have to inside the sticky bars, so when it’s hot – and it’s always hot – everyone spills out onto the streets. It doesn’t really matter where you go as you’re just going to end up outside anyway, but Maria Caxuxa, Frágil and Galeria Zé dos Bois are all worth visiting. If you can’t stand the crowds head down to Bica, which is only a five-minute walk away but a hell of a lot more relaxed.

One place that does stand out in Bairro Alto is Purex. You can’t miss the bright orange door; go through it into the really cool gay bar with a big lesbian scene beyond. Great cocktails, too.

The new alternative to going out in Bairro Alto is Cais do Sodré, down by the docks. In the proud tradition of docks everywhere, this used to be Lisbon’s red light district, but now the prostitutes are gone and it’s home to places like Pensão Amor, Sol e Pesca and clubs like Lounge and Music Box. If you're a prostitute, take a holiday and come back to visit, the nightlife is great.

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(Photo by Andi Galdi Vinko)

WHERE TO STAY

Look, nobody spends much time sleeping in a country where carrying two grams of gak around with you at all times isn’t a criminal offence, so why bother paying loads for a hotel room? Our favourite place on a budget is the modern Yes! Hostel (from €22 a dorm bed per night), which is ideally placed between Bairro Alto, where you can get wasted, and the river, which you can then hurl yourself into.

Nearby is Travellers House (from €24 a dorm bed per night), which is far classier than anyone has the right to expect at that price. Lisbon Lounge (from €24 a dorm bed per night) is another good option in this area, while the Rossio Hostel (from €16 a dorm bed per night) is even cheaper but a little further from the sea.

If you’re going to be boring and choose a hotel, the Shiadu GuestHouse (rooms from €74 per night) has one of Lisbon’s best views. It looks out over the ocean where 16th century hipsters used to come to watch ships sail to India and Brazil – which was the renaissance version of watching a Jimmy Edgar set on Boiler Room.

Casa Amora (rooms from €90 per night) sounds like it should translate as "Love House" but a) what sort of establishments do you think we’re recommending here? And b) "amora" is Portuguese for blackberry, you’re thinking of “amor”. Anyway, this is pretty much the dream bed and breakfast guesthouse and it’s in Praça Amoreiras, which is the type of neighbourhood where cool people like you live.

NH Liberdade (rooms from €129 per night) is a 4-star hotel that opens its rooftop pool when the sun is shining and has a terrace with panoramic views of Lisbon and the Tagus River. It’s on Avenida da Liberdade, which is Lisbon’s version of Fifth Avenue, so there’s loads of luxury shops nearby if that’s your thing. The rich neighbours are matched only by the homeless people who sleep under the trees and ruin the illusion of universal wealth and beauty for the upper classes.

If money’s no object then Pestana Palace (rooms from €225 per night) is probably Lisbon’s fanciest hotel. It’s a genuine 19th century palace and is set in its own carefully manicured gardens. Madonna stayed here, but let’s face it, you’ll be at Yes! Hostel won’t you?

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(Photo by Grant Armour)

LGBT LISBON

Lisbon has a thriving gay scene, and socially it’s pretty well accepted – gay marriage has been legal here since 2010.

Bairro Alto is where most of the nightlife is, with bars like Purex and clubs like Sétimo Céu. As mentioned above, Purex is very popular with lesbians and attracts a really mixed crowd. Must be something to do with their cosmopolitans. Sétimo Céu is probably Lisbon’s largest gay bar, located in the heart of the area’s "Gay Corner". There’s an active sauna at Trombeta Bath.

Very near to Bairro Alto is Príncipe Real, where many gay men live, work and shop. Bar TR3S is the city’s biggest bear bar, while there’s another really big club called Construction.

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(Photo by Andi Galdi Vinko)

WHERE TO HANG OUT WHEN YOU'RE SOBER

Rossio
This has been one of Lisbon’s main squares since the Middle Ages, and over the years it’s played host to revolts, bullfights and executions. Nowadays, it’s one of the most beautiful places in town to meet people for an overpriced coffee. Today fighting bulls is very much frowned upon though, especially on a tourist visa.

Feira da Ladra
Lisbon’s flea market happens on Tuesdays and Saturdays in Campo de Santa Clara and you can find pretty much anything here: clothes, iPhones, human kidneys and lots and lots of old people emptying their houses so their kids don’t have to do it when they die ☹

Panteão Nacional
The São Vicente de Fora church is where we stick all our dead heroes. There are singers like Amália Rodrigues, writers like Almeida Garrett and Aquilino Ribeiro, fascists like Sidónio Pais and anti-fascists like Humberto Delgado. Portugal’s greatest ever footballer, Eusébio, who died at the beginning of the year, will soon be moved in to join them. Cristiano Ronaldo will one day live there, in a huge coffin shaped like a Nike football boot.

Praça do Comércio
Back in 1755 there was a massive earthquake that meant much of Lisbon had to be rebuilt. Portugal’s King José I did what we’d all do in that situation: built a massive fuck-off square with a badass statue of himself riding a horse trampling some snakes. It remains one of the best places in the city to hang out, look at the river, visit street markets and trample some snakes.

Elevador de Santa Justa
A great glass elevator that first opened in 1902 and connects the city centre to Bairro Alto. It was designed by Raoul Mesnier du Ponsard, an apprentice of Gustave Eiffel, and some people have commented on the elevator’s likeness to the little known and inferior Eiffel Tower, which is apparently in France somewhere.

A Brasileira
This is an incredible café that opened in 1905 and was once the chief hangout for Lisbon’s literary scene. The poet Fernando Pessoa used to sit outside knocking back absinthe, chain-smoking and writing. Now you can do the same alongside the bronze statue of him at his favourite table.
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Intendente
Essentially Portugal’s answer to Brooklyn. It’s a rapidly gentrifying area with a big immigrant population and boasts some good art galleries, great bars and the best kebabs in Lisbon. Which also makes it Portugal’s answer to East London.

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(Photo by Andi Galdi Vinko)

HOW TO AVOID GETTING RIPPED OFF AND BEATEN UP

The IMF have been in town a lot recently, delivering their shock doctrine of severe austerity cuts. So imagine how much it cheered us up when one of their officials had their wallet lifted by one of Lisbon’s own pickpockets. Consider it bailout tax.

While it’s nice to think that our plucky Robin Hood was striking a blow against the IMF’s robber barons, really it’s just evidence that in a city like this it’s all too easy for anyone’s possessions to wander off. Keep an eye on them, especially if you’re visiting any crowded museums or other tourist traps. Unless you’re from the IMF – then don’t bother, dickhead; it’s other people’s money anyway, isn’t it?

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(Photo by Andi Galdi Vinko)

PEOPLE AND PLACES TO AVOID

Street Dealers
Avoid the dealers who patrol the most touristy areas and anyone who hassles you. Chances are what they’re selling is some seriously stepped-on shit. Also, and I don’t think I’m being pejorative here, they’re all massive sleazy bastards who’ll rob you and scare the shit out of you if they're given half a chance.

The Metro
It’s a good job Lisbon is such a nice city to walk around because we have Europe’s shittiest underground system. You’re looking at a ten-minute wait for a train, and that’s during rush hour. After 8PM you’ll have to wait 15 to 20 minutes. After 9PM and at weekends the trains run with only half their carriages, creating an actual real-life living hell on wheels. This is all because of budget cuts. Thanks again Troika, you utter twats.

Augusta Street
What is it about tourists that makes you all incapable of resisting the lure of a big marble arch? This pedestrianised street in the heart of Lisbon’s shopping district is always too crowded and noisy, full of horrible flower peddlers and people flogging hot chestnuts, yet stick a big marble arch at one end and the tourists can’t keep away.

Empty Streets
We love spilling out onto the streets of Bairro Alto for a drink, so if you come across an empty one there’s probably a good reason for it. You know that expression, “I wouldn’t like to meet them down a dark alley”? These are the alleys they were talking about.

Almirante Reis Avenue at Around 4AM
Every city has it’s bad neighbourhood and this is ours. Drunks, robbers, prostitutes and drug dealers haunt the streets, prodding each other until somebody flips out. This usually happens around 4AM.

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(Photo by Andi Galdi Vinko)

TIPPING AND HANDY PHRASES

Tipping
Because of the crisis, it’s understandable that Portuguese people and tourists don’t tip as much as they did. Today, it is considered a luxury for many. In regular restaurants, it’s OK if you don’t tip. Just pay the bill, smile and say “obrigado”. If you’re thinking about eating at more expensive places, like Eleven or Bica do Sapato, it’s polite to tip (up to 5 Euros).

Be careful with taxi drivers from the airport, though – if you’re a tourist (if you’re a really good actor and can speak Portuguese, just pretend you’re from Portugal) they’ll try to rob you and charge a huge bill. Make them turn on the meter – they usually turn it off once they smell foreign on you.

Handy Phrases:
Olá - Hello
Obrigado - Thank you (you’ll say this a lot and Portuguese people looove to hear foreigners say the word)
De nada - You’re welcome
Adeus - Goodbye
Fixe - Cool
Erva - Weed
Otário - Fool
Imperial - A beer

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A YOUTUBE PLAYLIST OF QUESTIONABLE LOCAL MUSIC

Okay, you pressed play on that playlist and now you're laughing at our music, right? Well fuck you, it might be cheesy but once you're falling in love to it over some grilled fish on a terrace this summer, it'll sound just fine. 

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VICE CITY MAP

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Alright, cheers you foreign lot. See you sweating in the street this August!

Love,

– VICE Portugal 

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