Archive for September, 2008

Lux turns 10

Monday, September 29th, 2008

Lux club, Lisbon

Ask anyone in Lisbon to recommend a club for a night of drinking and dancing, and you’ll be told to go to Lux. In a city with so many clubs and nightlife options, Lux is everyone’s undisputed favorite. And there are good reasons why. It celebrates its 10th anniversary today, and for the last decade no other club has come close to offering such a variety of theme nights, big name DJs, or a reinvented ambience week after week.

It is owned by actor John Malkovich and Lisbon’s nightlife king Manuel Reis (who opened the landmark “Fragil” in Bairro Alto in the 80s), and has seen a number of celebrities and now-legendary parties walk through its doors. After a concert in Lisbon, Prince (or “The Artist” formerly known as…) decided to spend the rest of his night at Lux, and ended up giving an unscheduled mini-concert at the club.  Years later Madonna reserved the club for her private after-concert party, but although her entire staff showed up, she prefered to stay at her hotel (Pestana Palace).

Manuel Reis refuses to define Lux simply as a club, and instead sees it as a musical, artistic, and design showcase. The stylish (and often unconventional) décor is by contemporary artists (a huge chandelier completely made of tampons remains the most talked about), and the terrace with views over the river and to Alfama is the city’s best spot for a drink.

For many, getting into Lux is a strike of good luck. The club has a highly selective door staff that likes to maintain a good male-female ratio inside, and uses a subjective selection process entirely based on looks. It helps if you’re well dressed and beautiful, and if you’re not, be sure to be going with someone who is.  Sure you’ll find plenty of tacky or just plain ugly people being let it, but when that happens you know he or she is a well-known friend of the bouncer. No one is told they can’t get in — they’re just asked something like 180 euros as the cover charge (it’s really €12 for everyone else; free for the friends).

Several publications have ranked Lux among Europe’s top clubs, and “Resident Advisor” even ranked it among the best in the world, at number 35 in the world’s top 100.  If you want to judge it yourself, start your night at the Bica do Sapato restaurant in the row of former warehouses next to the club (and owned by the same team), and end up at one of the bars or dance floor at Lux.  While Fridays and Saturdays are obviously the nights with the best music and ambience, a visit during a weekday will often be a more enjoyable experience. That’s when it becomes more of a lounge without the crowds, but in any case, you’ll know there is no better place to be in Lisbon at night.

The Night Bus

Saturday, September 27th, 2008

If you’re in Lisbon for the weekend (and many Europeans do that), you’ll surely be going out at night and staying out until morning. Even if you don’t plan on doing that, you won’t be able to avoid it, as dinners start late, and a bar hop in Bairro Alto is one of the city’s most popular activities.

You don’t have to worry about how you’ll be getting back to your hotel or apartment so late at night (or early in the day), because two new free bus services have just been introduced in the city.
They cover the Bairro Alto and Avenida 24 de Julho areas, the two main nightlife districts in Lisbon every Friday and Saturday night, and on the evenings before holidays.

Running between 10PM and 5AM, the “Night Bus” shuttle starts in Marquês de Pombal Square and ends in the Belem district’s waterfront. The second bus service is a circular route starting and ending in Cais do Sodré, passing through Santos’ bars and Avenida 24 de Julho’s clubs. Both of these services depart every 20 minutes.

In addition to these two routes, the Gloria Elevator that connects Restauradores Square with Bairro Alto will now operate until 4:30AM.

With these new services, Lisbon City Hall hopes for less traffic in the center of the city and prevent people from driving home after a few drinks. In your case, you’ll save a few euros that you’d otherwise have to spend on a taxi, and don’t have to look for one at a time when they’re pretty much all taken.

The World’s Oldest Filmmaker is Celebrated in Lisbon

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

Cinemateca, Portugal's Film Museum in Lisbon
A pink mansion up a street from Avenida da Liberdade is the home of Cinemateca, Portugal’s Film Museum, screening art-house and contemporary films six days a week. Nineteenth century camera equipment is displayed around a grand staircase leading to an art nouveau courtyard, where you can discuss the film you just saw or go to the café next to it.

Cinemateca is celebrating its 50th anniversary on September 29th, and since this year will also be the 100th birthday of Portugal’s most prominent film director Manoel de Oliveira, it will screen his entire work in October. De Oliveira has the record of being the world’s oldest active filmmaker, having made movie magic since the times when films were still silent. He’s received multiple honors and prizes at film festivals (in Cannes he received the Jury Prize), and his latest film will be opening internationally later this year. It will be “Columbus – The Enigma” in which the origins of the famous explorer are traced to a small town in Portugal.

De Oliveira is seen as a European master, having also worked outside Portugal and with international stars such as John Malkovich and Catherine Deneuve. His films are often described as theatrical and many have historical or philosophical themes. His 100th birthday will be on December 11th.
On October 24th, Cinemateca will continue with its 50th anniversary celebration by screening the films of John Carpenter.

Lisbon Returns to Asia

Monday, September 22nd, 2008

Orient Museum, Lisbon

When Portugal handed Macao over to China in 1999, it was remembered that the Portuguese were the first Europeans in Asia, and the last ones to leave. In that long shared history, Portugal and the East established a relationship and a cultural exchange that essentially started what we now call globalization. It started with Vasco da Gama’s voyage to India, then came the lucrative spice trade, then the first European contact with Japan, and the Christianization of the East.

As the city that introduced many of the Asian treasures to the rest of Europe, it was surprising that Lisbon always lacked a space devoted to telling that story — until earlier this year. The Orient Museum opened in May in a renovated warehouse after a multi-million euro makeover, showcasing thousands of pieces of Asian art. There are ceramics, paintings, furniture, and textiles among other pieces, along with Hindu and Buddhist items donated by the Kwok On collection.

When the rainy days start in October you’ll likely be looking for shelter, and going to a museum sounds like the best idea. The Orient Museum is a great choice if you’re in Lisbon on one of those days. It’s located halfway between downtown and Belem, and the best time to visit are Fridays between 6PM and 10PM when entrance is free.

Saramago in Lisbon and Hollywood

Sunday, September 21st, 2008

Blindness, film based on Jose Saramago's novel
When Portuguese writer Jose Saramago won the Nobel Prize, his name became known around the world and his works were translated into several languages. Then Hollywood came calling for adaptations of his novels for the big screen, but Saramago always refused to provide the rights for that. However, someone must have made a good argument to convince him to turn his best-selling “Blindness” into a major feature film, and after opening the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, it will now premiere worldwide in October. It will start with a limited release in the United States on October 3rd, telling the story of a society in an unnamed country and city suddenly struck by an epidemic of blindness. It stars Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo, who bring to life a tale about the collapse of society due to the shocking fragility of our social institutions, or of humankind in general. For the trailer and complete information about the film, see its official website:

Lisbon will also have a new Saramago attraction soon with the opening of the Saramago Foundation inside the landmark Casa dos Bicos. That 16th century palace will be home to the author’s library and serve as host of a number of literary events, which will obviously tell you about when they happen. In the meantime, if you’ll be in Lisbon before the opening, you can still check out the curious façade of the building, with its hundreds of spikes.

Lisbon, The Design City

Friday, September 19th, 2008

Fontana Park, Design Hotel, Lisbon

Lisbon’s design biennial Experimenta Design will be back in 2009 (now also taking place in Amsterdam), but there are already some related events this year. The official launch is this month with the first world exhibition about Swiss architect Peter Zumthor.  It’s called “Peter Zumthor – Buildings and Projects 1986-2007” and focuses on the architect’s creative process, showing 29 of his projects through mock-ups and sketches.  Six of the large-scale mock-ups stand out for their physical impact, while two video installations reveal other aspects of the architect’s vision.  This exhibition is found in the Alcântara district on Rua Rodrigues Faria, 103.

Architecture and design buffs will also want to check out the temporary exhibitions of the Design & Fashion Museum, showing a few pieces from its outstanding collection in a small temporary space in Alfama as the museum prepares to be reopened in its new home.

In between these visits, continue with design in mind, and have your meals in stylish cafes and restaurants. Stop by Café Royale in Chiado for a light lunch surrounded by the contemporary Scandinavian décor of the space, and dine in style at Yasmin, a restaurant where the food is just as attractive as its furnishings and interior design.

All of that after checking out the boutiques of Lisbon’s most prominent designers Fatima Lopes and Ana Salazar, but also taking a look at the bold new talent in the city, in Storytailors’s fantastic space in Chiado. If you continue to be in the shopping mood, head on to Santos, the city’s designated “Design District,” home to Lisbon’s top interior design shops.  Stay in the area for a drink or the increasingly popular sushi at Estado Liquido.

At the end of the day, relax at your design hotel, Fontana Park uptown, or Jeronimos 8 right next to the city’s main architectural landmarks in Belem.

Downtown Lisbon, 250 Years of Urban Renaissance

Thursday, September 18th, 2008

View over downtown Lisbon

It took some time after the Great Earthquake of 1755 for Lisbon to have a reconstruction plan for its downtown area. After all, the city was left almost completely destroyed and its renaissance had to be carefully thought out. The final plan was completed in 1758, and it took decades to come to life.

For this year’s 250th anniversary of the project, the Lisbon City Hall has presented an exhibition explaining the evolution of downtown Lisbon as seen today, through official documents, photographs, and videos. The highlight is the huge model of the city as it was before the earthquake that was temporarily moved here from its permanent home in the City Museum.

The exhibition takes place in a gallery underneath the arches of Comercio Square, and can be seen until November 1st, the anniversary of the devastating earthquake. In addition to explaining what was Europe’s first neoclassical town planning using a grid of streets lined with uniform buildings, the exhibition also opens the debate of what should be done in the future in this historical district and presents the projects already in the works.

The city center is in urgent need of rejuvenation, with many of the buildings being given a new life. New residents that are seen as catalysts for a renewed Baixa district is the upcoming Design and Fashion Museum, as well as the conversion of many buildings into hotels. The hope is that with a lively, cleaned up Baixa, the area will be recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site for its singular architectural plan. After you see the “Lisboa 1758, The Baixa Plan Today” exhibition you’ll agree that it is a surely deserved distinction.

GoCars When You Go Lisbon

Wednesday, September 17th, 2008

Go Cars, Lisbon

Time magazine’s “cool invention of the year” has just arrived in Lisbon. Now you can tour the city in a fun 3-wheeler car with a GPS audio service to guide you through the streets and sights.  You’ll never get lost because the sophisticated onboard computer makes sure you follow the pre-programmed route.  What you are looking at is then described in English, French, or Portuguese (German and Spanish will be available soon), allowing you to see and understand Lisbon like in no other tour.

You can go at your own pace, and see much of the city in a short period of time. This service is ideal for those with only a limited time to see Lisbon, or simply for those who enjoy something different and fun.

It’s been available in San Francisco, San Diego, and Miami, and has now crossed the Atlantic to Barcelona and Lisbon. USA Today predicted this will be the next tourist sensation, and it’s in fact a smart choice for those looking for some freedom and independent sightseeing.

There are four routes available in Lisbon, and you can pick up your car right in the center of the city.  For all the information about the service or to book your car now, see GoLisbon’s GoCars Tours page.

Lisbon Underground

Tuesday, September 16th, 2008

Lisbon Cathedral

As you’d expect in an ancient city, Lisbon holds a number of treasures from other civilizations under ground.  Every time a hole is dug up for a new metro station, an underground car park, or for any new building, it is common to find artifacts from the Roman, Moorish, and other periods of Lisbon’s past. Some are taken to the city’s museums, other less important creations are buried forever.

One find that has been kept in its original location just as it was found are the “Roman Galleries” in the center of the city. They’re found on Rua da Prata right below a bank, and are only open to visitors once a year. This year they are open on the 26th, 27th, and 28th of September.

Entrance will be free, and taking place between 10AM and 6PM.  Experts from Lisbon’s City Museum will take you through the space that was only discovered during the Great Earthquake of 1755. It is believed to be a cryptoportico (a vaulted support for a forum or Roman villa) dating between the first century B.C. and first century A.D. when Lisbon was the Roman city Olissipo.

Stand by number 77 of Rua da Conceição and wait for your turn to be allowed in. You may not book in advance, and since only a few people can enter at a time, be prepared to wait a while.

If you enjoy archaeological remains, also visit the free Roman Theater Museum and the scant ruins behind it. Then go down the street to the city’s medieval cathedral which shows archaeological digs in its cloisters (see photo above).  Complete your archaeological lesson with a visit to the Archaeology Museum in Belem.

Day and Night in São Bento

Saturday, September 13th, 2008

São Bento Palace, Lisbon
São Bento is a residential neighborhood made up of only a handful of streets, but it’s home to one of the country’s most important buildings. That’s São Bento Palace, or the Portuguese parliament that you’ll see as you speed by in the unofficial tourist tram 28. You likely won’t step down to see it any closer, and won’t explore the neighborhood either. But those who love shopping, especially for antiques, will find plenty of reasons to do so down Rua de São Bento.

Lined with a number of antique shops, that street also hosts a street party every year in September called “São Bento Nights,” with street performances and concerts. The shops stay open until midnight during those three days, and in this eighth year there is a theme in all of the festivities — “Lisbon and the Tagus.” So if you’re Lisbon on the 25th, 26th, and 27th of this month, head to this street at night and you’ll hear the sounds of water, string instruments, and ballads. In the end, you may even end up buying an interesting old something at an antique shop to take back home as a reminder of your Lisbon visit.