Next Great Neighborhoods: Porto
Published: April 2009
By Tara Tahbaz
In 1999, Pritzker Prize winner and native Porto architect Álvaro Siza completed the National Contemporary Art Museum in the Art Deco gardens of the Serralves Foundation. Its effect was overwhelming: quite suddenly, Porto, the northern Portuguese city once known only for its port wine, became catnip for lovers of contemporary art and architecture. Since then a dozen or so galleries have opened their doors on Rua Miguel Bombarda in the well-trodden Baixa area, and Porto has begun preparing for its role as the European Cultural City of 2001—shedding its traditional, somewhat stodgy industrial image.
The old section of Porto—the Foz, where the Atlantic meets the Douro River, and its western neighbors, the Ribeira and the Baixa—has been discovered by the fashion and design set, who are slowly reclaiming the abandoned warehouses and run-down mansions, left to rot since the fifties. Now when galleries turn off their lights for the evening and port houses close their doors to wine tasters, the waterfront's trendy restaurants and discos, designed by radical young Portuguese architects such as Souto de Moura, Ramalho, and Paulo Lobo, come alive.
BARS Praia da Luz Avda. do Brasil; 351-22/617-3234. This glass structure occupies a prime spot on the rocky beach. Locals come to gaze through the huge windows at the Atlantic waves breaking and frothing, to catch live music, and to imbibe the house drink, the caipirinha. Trinta e Um 564 Rua do Passeio Alegre; 351-22/610-7567. Psychedelic wallpaper straight out of the 1960's decorates this turn-of-the-century riverfront mansion. Famous international DJ's spin soul, groove, and funk while patrons spill onto the street and line the heaving balconies. O Labirinto 334 Rua Nossa Senhora de Fatima; no phone. A refurbished town house gives O Labirinto's fashion-conscious crowd three floors and a mazelike garden. The name is appropriate—once you wind your way inside, it's hard to find your way out.
RESTAURANTS Cafeina 100 Rua do Padrão; 351-22/610-8059; dinner for two $45. Architect-designer Paulo Lobo transformed an old town house into a contemporary bar/restaurant—and the best place for people-watching. Creative salads and Portuguese treats such as ovos moles (runny egg tarts) fill the menu. Rhino 35 Rua Monsenhor Manuel Marinho; 351-22/618-1945; dinner for two $39. Copper-plated columns and low ceilings beckon Porto socialites, but outsiders are welcome, too. Try the venison with chestnuts and clams. Massarelos-L'Entrecôte 3 Rua da Boa Viagem; 351-22/600-8732; dinner for two $75. In creating a restaurant, two Portuense architects restored the original glamour of this 1837 mansion, with its wonderful terrace, stunning views of the Douro, and Hindu temple in the basement (don't ask). The menu seems like an afterthought, listing only two entrées: shrimp fricassee and entrecôte with spicy sauce. Triplex 911 Avda. da Boavista; 351-22/ 606-3164; dinner for two $34. Yet another town house from the late 1800's, only this one has been reimagined as a three-story ode to the thirties—with a hint of contemporary design thrown in. The rich dishes, such as codfish with bread crumbs and salmon in puff pastry, are complemented by the red walls and 1930's crystal chandeliers in the dining room. At night, the ground- and top-floor bars are packed with models awaiting the best tables, No. 2 and No. 3.
Itamae 216 Rua Miguel Bombarda; 351-22/205-1240; dinner for two $60. Japanese food has finally arrived in Porto. Conveniently located on the same block as a dozen of the city's galleries, the minimalist Asian space sits in the basement of a house, with a small garden for summer dining. Don Tonho 13 Cais da Ribeira; 351-22/200-4307; dinner for two $35. Co-owned by singer Rui Veloso, the 16th-century residence has a remodeled interior but retains its vaulted ceilings and a secret passageway dating from the time of the Inquisition. If you ask nicely, a waiter will give you a tour. Portuguese dishes, such as tripe and codfish gratin, make the menu as traditional as the place. Max Café 108 Rua Nova da Alfândega; 351-22/208-7967; dinner for two $32. The contemporary streamlined look of Jorge Ramos's restaurant lures in Porto's fashion-forward artists. They descend into Max's subterranean space for typical Portuguese fare, such as roast pork sirloin and fried-codfish "meatballs."
AFTER DARK River Café 271 Rua do Ouro; 351-22/619-9680. Among all the newly occupied yet still decaying warehouses along the riverbank, there is a handful of remarkable nightclubs. The River Café is one of them, a wooden structure that appears more American frontier than proper Portuguese—and is just as far out inside. Voice 1 Rua da Boa Viagem; 351-22/606-7815. At 3 a.m., this dance club and bar is the place to be (don't bother going any earlier). Infectious music, courtesy of Europe's best DJ's, keeps the club hopping until dawn. Via Rápida 567 Rua de Manuel Pinto de Azevedo; 351-22/610-9427. Though it's not on the waterfront, this 3,000-square-foot former factory is still an essential stop on a Porto evening. Two balconies look out on the oversized dance floor, and drinks flow all night from eight bars.
SHOPPING Ana Salazar 65 Rua Nova da Alfândega; 351-22/203-9701. One of Portugal's most celebrated fashion designers recently opened a boutique on the riverside, much to the glee of Portuenses. Salazar stocks an array of black, clingy numbers for late nights on the town.
A Barraca 200 Rua Mouzinho da Silveira; 351-22/208-2535. Enterprising designer Julia Malo keeps her family's turn-of-the-century fabric warehouse filled with top Portuguese designers, such as Julio Torcato, Solanja Ribeiro, and Carlos Alberto. Many items are appropriate for viewing, not wearing. Pedras & Pessegos 560 Rua do Almada; 351-22/208-8730. Don't be frightened away by the exterior. Inside what appears to be a condemned building, Jaime Garcia deals in vintage furniture and objets d'art by Panton, Eames, Kristiansen, and all the other Scandinavian greats. He also creates and sells some striking imitations. Edifício Artes em Partes 457 Rua Miguel Bombarda; 351-96/634-2977. The colossal structure houses all things art and design, from live musicians (a jazz cellist is almost always performing) and a few galleries to a CD shop, a furniture store, and a hair salon (Freaks Hair Designers). If you're looking to tap into the Porto art scene, this is the place.