A View from the City: Lisbon

Alberto Pires, of Mojito bar catering, sheds light on the latest in Lisbon’s bar culture

Tell us about Lisbon’s drinking history.

The traditional drink that we have in Lisbon is Ginjinha, which you can have with or without the
fruit. Unfortunatly our fantastic port wine is not popularly consumed around here. Here almost everyone drinks high quality wine and plenty of beer. You could have a Caipirinha or a Mojito in almost all of the bars around town but do not take a chance with the classic cocktails.

When did Lisbon get into cocktails – what were the first bars and the pioneers behind them?

The first cocktail bars emerging in Lisbon were
the Foxtrot in 1978 and Pavilhão Chinês in 1986
that you can visit mostly to see the vintage decoration. Now the first real cocktail bar that we
can compare to the international level is Cinco Lounge that was opened in 2004 by Dave
Palethorpe. Currently you can also drink a good cocktail at 100 Maneiras, O Bom o Mau e o Vilão, Minibar and Pensão do Amor.

What are the current trends in cocktails in Lisbon?

The current trend in Portugal is part of an ‘Iberian Peninsula fever’ in which everything revolves around the Gin & Tonic. In any bar or restaurant that you enter in Lisbon you will see a shelf with at least a dozen brands of gin, not counting the bars that will present you with about 30. You will definitely find premium tonics, some of them unique in Portugal and Spain. Also in any bar or restaurant the bartender will suggest a perfect serve where he or she will combine fruits, botanicals and spices in your Gin & Tonic served in a large balloon glass. I think this gin trend will be opening new market opportunities so we can serve more premium products.

What’s the best drink you have had in Lisbon and who made it?

The best drink ever served to me in Lisbon was a Moscatel trilogy – a sweet wine (Moscatel de Setúbal) that combines the three best harvests of the last century – 1900, 1934 and 1965.

What are the new openings that excite you?
Recently I have been with some internationally renowned bartenders who showed interest in
opening a cocktail bar in Lisbon. 

What are the challenges for bars in Lisbon?

The greatest struggle in Portugal for a cocktail bar will undoubtedly be to convince the Portuguese people to drink bitter and strong drinks and leave the fruity and soft cocktails.

How has the economy affected consumerism?

The purchasing power in Lisbon has seen better days but in my opinion we are in an improvement phase. 

Is cocktail culture gaining momentum?

Currently a good number of bartenders are interested in Portugal. I hope ! contributed with the organisation of the Lisbon Bar Show this year, which will be repeated in 2015. About 40 Portuguese bartenders will attend Barconvent Berlin and London Cocktail Week this year.