Fado is unquestionably the song of Lisbon, but finding true fado in Lisbon can be difficult–especially when your stay is short. In this spirit, here are some suggestions for fado in Lisbon’s most storied neighborhoods: Alfama, Mouraria and Bairro Alto.
“A Muralha“–or “The Wall”– is so named because it abuts a section of Lisbon’s oldest defensive fortification. The Muralha is a restaurant that has, over time and quite naturally, begun to offer fado.
Every Thursday, Paulo Machado, The Muralha’s owner, hosts the “tertúlia do fado”, with music by a dozen or so friends and acquaintances who happen to be fado singers and musicians.
Next door at Muralha Tapas e Vinhos, every other Wednesday the fadista Tânia Oleiro invites one other singer to join her and her musicians for the evening. This program is steadily becoming one of the “must do” events within fado.
The Muralha’s cuisine bears out the devotion of its clientele: the food is fresh, impeccably cooked and presented, and can be paired with a wide variety of Portuguese wines.
A Parreirinha de Alfama–Alfama
Parreirinha de Alfama is the longest-running fado house in Alfama. Its interior is framed by gracious arcade ceilings and is loaded with fado memorabilia, collected over its 80+ year history (much of it under the leadership of the legendary Argentina Santos).
The performers are a rotating group of younger and older male and female singers, accompanied by the current proprietors–Bruno Costa and Paulo Valentim. The menu is traditional Portuguese food and drink, very competently prepared and presented by an attentive waitstaff.
Maria da Mouraria–Mouraria
Just up the Rua do Capelão sits the home of Lisbon’s first great fado singer, Maria Severa. Her home is now the setting for the fado house “Maria da Mouraria,” run by the fado singer, composer and lyricist Hélder Moutinho.
The house has an evolving lineup of singers and musicians, many of whom have toured nationally and internationally, and who often return here for a “refresh”. The fixed price menu reflects Hélder’s lifelong devotion to Portuguese cuisine. For intimacy, immediacy and sheer depth of experience, nothing in Lisbon is quite like it.
Mascote da Atalaia–Bairro Alto
On the Rua da Atalaia, you’ll find one of the most exciting fado prospects in Lisbon: the Mascote da Atalaia. The house rarely (if ever) has the same singer two nights in a row. This is a radically different model from that of typical fado houses, and it is producing exciting results.
If you wander by the Mascote and can’t find a seat, come back: the relaxed atmosphere means that people come and go over the course of the evening. There are both fixed price and à lá carte options on the menu. The crowd tends towards the younger side, often with plenty of Portuguese (especially in the later hours).
Reservations: absolutely essential for all of these except perhaps the Mascote
Dress: none are particularly formal
Ambience: for the best experience, talk during the breaks–but please keep quiet during the performance.
How to listen: try to hear the difference between fado-fado (no chorus) and fado canção (verse/chorus/verse). Also try to follow the improvised dialogue between the fadista and the Portuguese (12-string) guitar–supported by the viola do fado (the classical guitar).
A Muralha Casa Típica and A Muralha Tapas e Vinhos.
Rua Jardim do Tabaco, 112, 1100-288 Lisboa (Alfama).
Tel. +351 21 886 7089.
Check Facebook or call for precise schedule.
Parreirinha de Alfama.
Open every day except Monday, 20:00-02:00.
Beco do Espírito Santo, 1, 1100-000 Lisboa (Alfama).
Tel. +351 21 886 8209.
Mascote da Atalaia.
Open every day, 18:00-24:00 (fado 19:00-23:00).
Rua da Atalaia, 13, 1200-036 Lisboa (Bairro Alto).
Tel. +351 211983973. www.mascotedatalaia.com
Maria da Mouraria.
Open Tuesday to Sunday, 20:00 until 02:00.
Rua do Capelão, Largo da Severa, 2, 1100-341 Lisboa (Mouraria).
Tel. +351 21 886 0165, +351 93 445 0130.
Check Facebook or call for a precise schedule.
By David Mendonça, Contributor (*) a Luso-American with roots in the Azores, is a contributor to the Feel Portugal Digital Magazine. Passionate about fado, his articles also appear on his blogs Fado Today(English) and Fado Hoje (Portuguese). He lives in New York State. David is also the president of Portuguese Amecican Cultural Exchange, Inc (PACE), a 501c3 corp.