Lisbon is undergoing a renaissance, and drinking is at the heart of it. Revellers, both tourist and locals, pour out of tiny bars and gather on cobbled streets to toast the town, with impromptu parties getting underway at any given hour. Strange, then, that its most famous drinks are little known outside Portugal. To remedy that, we’ve returned from a tasting tour in Lisbon with a holiday’s worth of libation recommendations. Here, then, are five drinks giving this resurgent city its irresistible buzz and distinctive flavour.
At A Ginjinha, Praça do Rossio
You would be doing yourself and this fine city a disservice if you didn’t sample ginjinha, Lisbon’s trademark tipple. It was invented by a Galician friar (with clearly more than holy sacraments on his mind), who put sour cherries, sugar and cinnamon into a bottle of aguardente (Portuguese brandy) to ferment. The result is a syrupy liqueur that Lisboetas queue for (and mingle over) outside A Ginjinha, a tiny bar on Largo São Domingos, just off Praça do Rossio. It’s a cheap and cheerful diversion on your stroll towards nights out in Barrio Alto – so cheerful in fact that we recommend taking the funicular instead of walking fuzzy-headed up the hill.
Ginhinja might be the city’s drink of choice, but that’s not to neglect the country’s most famous export. In Portugal there are four distinct and popular varieties of port, all produced in the Douro Valley to the north. White port is made with white wine grapes and is a lighter, drier version perfect for an aperitif; tawny is aged in barrels and offers a richer body and a full, oxidised flavour; and ruby is typically younger and scarlet-hued. Your port of call (sorry) in Lisbon is Solar do Vinho do Porto in Bairro Alto, a tasting room overseen by the government’s port wine agency, where you can explore stocks of the country’s best bottles. For an atmospheric sip, decamp to Chafariz do Vinho, a vinoteca set in the wellhead of an 18th-century aqueduct on Praça da Alegria that serves 30- and 40-year barrel-aged ports.
Drink Vintage cocktails
At Pensao Amor, Rua do Alecrim, Cais do Sodré
It’s no surprise that the retro-cocktail movement has landed in Lisbon. To experiment with these historic potions, head to Cais do Sodré, the once-seedy port area that’s been reinvented as the city’s hipster hub. Pensao Amor, a former bordello, is a suitably debauched setting for Blood and Sand, a piquant 1922 blend of Famous Grouse, Cherry Heering, Martini Rosso and orange; or the Corpse Reviver No.2, an 1895 elixir of Plymouth gin, Grand Marnier, Lillet Blanc, lime and absinthe. Find a seat on the antique chaise lounges or move to the back room where banquettes circle the bar’s last surviving dance pole.
If ginjinha is a local treat and vinho do Porto more an export, what is the staple on Lisboetas’ tables? Translated as ‘green wine’, vinho verde is a light and ever-so-slightly fizzy wine made from young grapes – highly guzzle-able in Lisbon’s clement weather. This is port’s cheaper cousin; a mainstay of traditional working-class tabernas in hillside neighbourhoods adjacent to the port. One of these neighbourhoods is Bica, a little downhill from Bairro Alto but decidedly hipper, whose quiet streets and low-key restaurants hit the sweet spot between shabby authenticity and certified cool. One of the more popular establishments is Estrela da Bica, which dishes up inventive, wholesome tapas such as beef cheek taco, cod bruschetta, garlic chips and tuna-steak avocado sliders, all washed down with tumblers of refreshing vinho verde.
Drink Pisco sour
At A Cevicheria, Rua Dom Pedro V
Peruvian cuisine has gone global and, with it, the pisco sour (even if the cocktail was invented by an American). At A Cevicheria you’ll find it mixed so finely – oh those frothy egg whites, those tangy Angostura bitters – that you might imagine yourself in a Limeño taberna antigua. Except here you buy it from a hatch and drink it on the street. It’s this alfresco quaffing that gives Lisbon such appeal, but peer into A Cevicheria, where a giant octopus hangs over well-heeled clientele tucking into citrus-scented ceviche, and you might feel the urge to ditch the curb and bring your pisco sour inside.