Braga's Old Cafes

06/04/2018 08:44

In the old town of the Portuguese city, neighbour of Oporto, three coffees are preserved as we usually call with no hidden satisfaction, those of lifelong. In this case lifelong began at the second half of the XIX century.

They are A Brasileira, Vianna and Astoria, three classics that have maintained, with few changes, the appearance of their first days, before the proclamation of the Republic. All of them are located very close to each other, near precisely to Republic Square and two of them, Vianna and Astoria share the same building known as the Arcada da Lapa, which referred to the arch that existed there since sixteenth century and that would be replaced in 1715 on the initiative of Rodrigo de Moula Teles, city archbishop and Coimbra University rector. This is one of the most emblematic buildings, with its nineteen arcades, it was supported by the medieval walls of the old castle and one of its towers survives. In 1761 a temple dedicated to Nossa Senhora da Lapa was opened in the middle of the building.

A Brasileira is just behind Arcada building, in Largo Barão de São Martinho, in the ground floor of four stories building covered with blue tiles. Curiously, the second floor is the only one that lacks balconies. Below, a sign with a character sipping a coffee cup decorates the corner with the message: A melhor café é o A Brasileira.

A Brasileira is not unique. Adriano Soares Teles do Vale, a businessman born near Porto, in Casa do Cimo d'Aldeis, spent a good part of his life in Brazil making fortune with the coffee trade. He returned to Portugal due to an illness contracted by his wife. Contacts and experience in the sector prompted him to open a new business, a place to sell at retail and where tasting coffee. These establishments began to become fashionable in Europe already in the eighteenth century, in Vienna, in Venice, where the famous Florian opened its doors in Piazza San Marco in the year 1720, in Trieste, the city that wrote its history in those tables frequented by Joyce and Svevo, among others, in the San Marco or in the Tommaseo, although today Caffè degli Specchi, in Piazza Grande, become more fashionable. But, returning to Portugal, Adriano Teles opened his first café with the name of A Brasileira at Rua Sá da Bandeira in Porto on May 4, 1905. It has a magnificent facade protected by a large wrought iron and glass canopy before it became a great hotel. Also, in Porto a competitor arose in the year 1921: the outstanding Café Majestic at rua Santa Catarina.

To the one in Porto followed, in 1905, A Brasileira de Lisboa, located on Garrett Street, in the neighbourhood of Chiado, frequented in its time by the writer Fernando Pessoa it has ended up being considered architectural heritage. Outside, on the terrace a table has been occupied since 1988 by a bronze statue dedicated to the Portuguese poet.

A Brasileira was opened in Braga on March 17, 1907, so it has already celebrated its centenary. The business sold coffee in grain to weight, offering the tasting of a cup with the purchase of one pound. To attract more customers, wines from the Parceria Vinícola dos Lavradoures do Douro were also offered. In 1937, during the fascist regime of the Estado Novo, it was acquired by Joaquim Queirós who maintained ownership during the following four decades. At that time was open the Nova Brasileira, trying to make the concurrence and where the supporters of the regime met while in A Brasileira the opposition made it. In 1997 the property changed again and in 2008 started a deep restoration of the premises that would last about one year, preserving old elements of the art deco decoration and the signs with the name of the cafe in its original typography. The initials decorate chairs and tables and a long leather bench runs along one of the walls, under a large mirror. Behind the box are some coffee samples.

The three coffees extend their chairs and tables to the street, on Republic Square, behind the fountain where the light casts a rainbow in the air and behind the large white letters that form the name of the city.

Under the porches of the Arcade building are, one at each end, the Café Vianna and the Astória. The first, located on the left was opened in 1858 by Manoel José da Costa Vianna, from whom it took the surname and was frequented by writers Eça de Queirós and Camilo Castelo Branco, it still has lovely marble tables supported by wrought iron legs and a large mirror that seems to double the space of the dining room. In a corner, near the television, there is a date written in Roman numerals, 1858. The Café Astória is the one that looks like newer, losing part of its old charm, but looking up, the filigrees on the plaster ceiling and the figures of the cherubs that attest to a past existence are discovered. Meals are reasonably good.

© J.L.Nicolas


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