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Getting friendly in Portugal

by Jimmy Im



I’m sitting on a vintage sofa as my host Tiago cooks me dinner wearing only black briefs. Sure, I just met him but, in the tradition of all good Lisboners, he’s making sure I feel right at home. A ‘celeb’ of sorts in the European performing-arts world, Tiago comments on the delightful weather, which is only one of Lisbon’s best features. Sausages are fired up. And then we eat.

The Portuguese capital has come a long way, baby, as Europe’s underdog. From reinventing itself after the devastating tsunami of 1755 to surviving the fire in the trendy Chiado neighborhood in 1988, this city comprising seven hills is giving the Portuguese boot to Barcelona (which has been stealing all the Iberian Peninsula thunder for years) and easily paving its way as the newest European hotspot for gay travelers.

This is clearly evident my first night during a leisurely after-dinner stroll along cobblestone streets lined by older buildings accented by decorative tiles (azulejos—a Portuguese staple) to the buzzing Bairro Alto district, which you know you’re near when you hear the cacophony of drunken bantering. Most bars in Lisbon are a smidge larger than the interior of freight elevators, so locals and tourists alike flood the streets armed with cocktails—ala New Orleans’ Mardi Gras—and socialize until 2 a.m. “Be prepared,” Tiago tells me.

As naďve as I usually am, I soon understand what he means: as the maddening, mixed crowd thirst, their eyes wander to me. “It’s only because we see the same people every day,” Tiago continues. “You’re new here, and everyone wants to talk to you. We love tourists.” And he’s not kidding. I’m offered several different drinks and winks, and the dark-haired, long-lashed denizens of Lisbon compete for a word with the newbie. It’s an unusual moment but strongly reflective of the gays, who are friendlier than clergymen (give them a drink or two and you’ve got it in the bag).

Even a fairly cute architect chats me up about his recent visit to New York, then suggests we take a stroll. But Tiago has other plans. After a few drinks and with precise timing, he whisks me away through the Principe Real district, a hotspot for trendy bars and cafes, and we end up at Trump’s. Inside, the patrons are young and lively, though dressed rather... suburban.

I find out that it’s a favorite haunt for paroles—the Lisbon version of Bridge & Tunnel in New York City—and the non-city dwellers must take a bridge or boat to get there. Hey, boat, bridge or tuk tuk, I’m for sure going to get my gay on on a Friday night. As we dance to some pretty cliché gay house music, Tiago checks his watch. “Time to go.” (Rule of thumb in Lisbon: dinner from 10-12 a.m., cocktails from 12-2 a.m., discos from 2-4 a.m., and Lux nightclub from 4-7 a.m.—arrive earlier or later, and you’ll be the only fool in attendance), We head to Santa Apolonia, which isn’t exactly the buzzing neighborhood—yet.

Just east of the Bairro Alto along the Tagus River, it’s quietly burgeoning—a few trendy boutiques have already set up camp. Santa Apolonia’s claim to fame is John Malkevitch’s nightclub Lux where, at 4:30 a.m., the line of cabs emulate 5th avenue during rush hour. Inside, I tour the three levels then park on the spacious rooftop where a handful of drunks sit inside the 10-foot structure of a stiletto and gaze into the panoramic view of the Tagus.


Tiago tells me, “A lot of people come out here after dancing and watch the sunrise,” which will commence shortly. Some partiers even head to the gay beaches of Costa da Caparica. Either way, its good to know Lisboners have fierce stamina. As the whole lot of cracked out partiers assemble along the deck to watch the sun peak from beyond the hills, I’m already wondering what Tiago’s going to cook me for breakfast.

In a Nutshell:

Money: The dollar is pretty limp compared to the virility of the Euro, but Lisbon is inexpensive and won’t burn holes in your pocket.

Language: Speaking Portuguese earns you 5 stars, Spanish earns you 4. Most Portuguese speak English and love practicing it with you.

Taxi: Relatively cheap and easy to find. Don’t get taxi-scammed at the airport; it’s less than 10 Euro to get downtown.


Alfama: A small neighborhood known for it’s narrow, windy streets and fado bars. As one of the seven hills, it has an amazing view from the historic Castelo de Sao Jorge.

Sintra: You know you’re in the quaint neighborhood when you smell the eucalyptus. Romantic, and cornered by lush landscapes, it’s a must-see excursion.


NH Liberdade: The bulk of hotels are on Avenida da Liberdade, and NH is one of the best in terms of quality and price. Av da Liberdade, 180 B,

Ritz Four Seasons: If you feel like splurging, shack up at the Ritz. A full-service spa with 1,500-square-meter heated pool, panoramic view atop the roof, and top-notch service will make you feel like a prince (or princess). Rua Rodrigo da Fonseca, 88,


Pap’ acorda: (rua da Atalaia, 57-59) Fashionistas and hipsters head to this hot spot for major neck-craning and good eats. The trendy restaurant features a modern twist to traditional Portuguese cuisine.

Clube de Fado: ( You won’t want to miss the Fado experience (Portuguese tradition of singers lamenting about heartbreak and longing) and Clube de Fado offers a traditional menu that will make your own taste buds cry—with joy.

Bica do Sapato: (Santa Apolonia) Toted as the restaurant in Lisbon with inventive dishes and a sushi bar, as well as winning my award for ‘see and be seen’ establishment.


Bairro Alto: The main cross streets are Travessa da Espera and Rua da Barroca where the scene thrives outside. It’s on the Barroca side where the gays usually cruise.

Trump’s: (Rua Imprensa Nacional, 104 B) This hot spot for college students has two floors and two free drinks with the ten Euro entrance fee.

Finalmente: (Rua da Palmeira 38) Glam-trash heaven with hot boys, drag shows and stiff drinks.

Lux ( Pretty much the whole city packs in this nightclub from 4 a.m. to sunrise. It’s three floors, so the adventure of getting lost just means finding a way out.


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