With nightclubs and bars sprouting up to meet the demand of northern European city-breakers and stag trips, there’s no denying that Lisbon is becoming overrun with young groups of tourists. Yet it is, nevertheless, one of Europe’s most talked-about startup cities; essentially Berlin but with sun.
Cheap rents have seen a surge in the number of creatives and aspiring tech firms setting up base in the Portuguese capital. Some Lisbon residents worry about the speed of this change, epitomised by concerns that the city is in the early stages of the Airbnb stampede that’s caused such controversy in Barcelona.
Away from the crowds, though, lies the district of Marvila. Located on the north-eastern banks of the Tagus river, there are few tourists here. Even speaking to locals in the city centre, the standard response is often, ‘Marvila? Really? That place is scary?’ But there’s an undeniably creative buzz in the air.
Here, there’s none of Alfama’s quaintness or Intendente’s rough mid-century buildings; if Intendente is Lisbon’s Shoreditch, Marvila is its Hackney Wick.
At Marvila’s heart is the industrial port with its decades-old warehouses. Once-derelict buildings now host spots to eat and drink, and young Portuguese creatives are taking advantage of the area’s character – and its large, cheap spaces.
‘This entire area was completely abandoned,’ says interior designer Rita Estanislau. ‘Now everyone wants to work here.’ She moved into a studio space in the area four years ago before opening a cafe in an old pub last year. Her neighbours now include restaurants, breweries, a climbing wall, a CrossFit gym and several studios.
‘We first looked at Marvila a year ago and it was empty,’ says Nuno Dantas Melo, who is in the process of opening the area’s second brewery and taproom. ‘Then, after spending eight months looking for a space downtown we came back here and suddenly the place was full of restaurants and artists, so we signed that same day.’
Cafe com Calma
This cafe-restaurant is interior designer Rita Estanislau’s second opening following a cafe in LX Factory, a more developed industrial complex on the other side of the city. It’s quickly become a go-to spot for lunch, serving salads and homemade lemonade.
El Bulo Social Club
The enigmatic Argentine chef known as Chakall chose this vast, light-filled factory in Marvila as the site for his second restaurant in the city. The food is a mixture of Argentine and Peruvian, while its colourful bar stays open late into the night.
Lisbon’s first craft beer brewery and tap room provides an alternative to the country’s ubiquitous Super Bock lager. Expect various pale ales, stouts, blonde ales and even a traditional Finnish sahti.
Cantinho Do Vintage
This former wine production factory turned furniture store is crammed with vintage German and Scandinavian pieces from the 1960s and 1970s. The four founders venture to northern Europe once a month to stock up on mid-century furniture and accessories.
The Place That Does Not Exist
The latest addition to Marvila is a restaurant and bar that serves pizza and Indian food. Founder Alexander Assunção renovated the venue and even hand-crafted the three grand pool tables that sit at its centre.
Lisbon’s first bouldering wall was opened a year ago by doctor Nuno Batista and his friend Tiago Martins. As well as its two long walls, Vertigo also features a gym area and a cafe overlooking the port.
Fábrica Braço de Prata
The veteran of the area, Nuno Nabais is a radical left-wing philosophy professor at Lisbon University, who squatted in Marvila’s former gun factory in 2008 to create an arts and culture centre complete with an illegal bar. After surviving almost a decade of repeated court summons, the space is set to acquire official status this year.
This story features in Courier Aug/Sept 2016.