Graça do Vinho must be the most relaxed wine bar in Lisbon. Set on a steep slope of the Graça neighbourhood, climbing up its cobbled ground on your feet in a turtle speed organically fuses into its slow-food philosophy. Once called Alis Ubbo “the delightful shore”, Lisboa authentically whiffs the chaos of its 18th-century earthquake in a charming puzzle of the new, the abandoned and the resistant.
Connecting past and present in rapidly gentrifying Lisbon
As with the tremor, times are changing rapidly in Lisbon these days. Graça is one of the last central strongholds of the locals. Yet, the Alfama and Castelo backyard is hip now with trendy young Lisboetas moving in and the older generation upset that prices are climbing higher than the capital’s mythic seven hills. I was staying at one of the loveliest, homy, cosy and cool, boutique hotels in Europe. A labor of love of its owner, a Portuguese journalist who knows local food scene better than any guide, and her hands-on guardian. The tip to go to Graça do Vinho came from her.
Hungry and with a whetted appetite for some local wine, I asked where to lunch around casually. My sister, a sommelier would not settle on any bar, so an authentic, ideally local, approach to the wine selection was key to pleasing us. Sadly, with gentrification looming and rents hiking up, the park-side building is changing hands. Every personally curated design or vintage peace is being currently sold out in an Instagram auction. Hopefully, the cosy wine bar survives the boom and bust.
Graça do Vinho strongly claims its sense of place. Local artists exhibit here regularly, cheeky old movie posters fit in the cinephile city, while street life photos by Vagabundografia, tell the stories of the easy-going yet rough life in Lisbon. I could not resist buying the polaroid postcards. My parents probably did not appreciate the retro look as I did, but remembering while on the road counts.
Graça do Vinho: slow-food wine bar: local, seasonal and authentic
Whatever is in season appears in baskets and bowls around the cheese, cold cuts and fresh oysters “kitchen” counter. Preserved olives, fish and seafood conservas stacked up on the shelves, marinated or smoked fish and creative dips accompany your wine for a small change. Ordering a generous tabua mista or a mixed plate of whatever is around is then a natural choice.
Like most food in Lisbon, it’s cheap for the quality you are about to savour. Ripe persimmons, swollen grapes like cows’ udders calling to be juiced out (in the electric extractor de sumos set next to the coffee machine and sturdy toaster), crisp celery, a pea shoot, even edible flowers, all accompanied my Portuguese cheese plate. Preserved jam sweetened the dairy treats. Unspoiled by experience and knowledge, always more open in a new country where I am not familiar with local food, I ordered whatever the only waiter suggested – unpasteurised semi-soft sheep’s milk cheese made at the foothills of the Arrábida Mountains – Queijo de Azeitao D.O.P. and a blend of goat and sheep milk by Joaquim Duarte Alves. Sheep cheese is most typical, but the harder goat’s blend was decent.
A terracotta bowl of vegetables and fruits suggests what the daily options are. The millennial chef merged with a dreadlocks-haired waitress sliced a mixed salad topped with green shoots to go with my bread, cheese and fruits. The bread is bought at local padaria, wrapped in paper bag, some of it toasted if not from this morning batch. No wasting of great food, please. You hardly find plastic at Graça do Vinho, polluting and wasting is not trendy within the natural wine community. The meat and cheese though came wrapped in foils, so if you aim for zero plastic in your life, go directly to the farmers.
Organic and natural Portuguese wines
Starting with a refreshing half bottle of local sparkling vinho, the Murganheira brut by Tavora-Varosa “super reserva” 2014 was not bad. I would say like an average cava. She treated us to other wines by the glass currently opened in her coolers while chatting about the Portuguese vinous potential. An organic Albarinho from the northern Vinho Verde region where these super-dry crisp wines pair with the seafood and the scorching heat of the summer was my choice. A red Macanita from the Douro DOC was too strong for a midday cuppa, but the fingered t-shirt clad young lady gave me a sample at least, so I knew what she liked. Obrigada! I thanked her in Portuguese, quieting my Spanish speaking sister with her “gracias“. I heart that they are quite sensitive to language mixing here. English or French seems more accepted by the worldly locals.
The rustic, bare-stone-walled Graça do Vinho relaxes your soul like chilling in your living room. There are is a lamp in the darkest corner, even books to borrow, so if you are solo, dive in. Leather sofas in one corner tempt to slow sips and a conversation with a friend, while a delicious, quick and simple, locally sourced lunch (daily changing soups and salads next to the small regular menu) or tapas can be served at the tiny bar counter. The spinning stools are comfortable just for that quickie.
Eye-catching bottled IPAs from small Portuguese breweries all lay by the feet of sexy beach girl in a bikini. In an orgasmic pose facing the sun, the flower-nippled beauty, her hand from writs down missing, was spared of her dignity is a straw hat someone placed over half of her face. A weird decorative piece, whose attire is subject to change, but it suggests the bohemian indulgence you are about to relish.
If you drink too much, do not panic – the salvaged flying chairs indeed hang upside down from the ceiling. So much vintage ‘crap’ decorates the quirky wine bar. From dial phones, large glass spirit and wine carafes, to useless travel souvenirs of the owners (charms and necklaces).
The coffee is almost always superb and cheep in Portugal. Unlike at the ubiquitous cafeterias, each of you might sip from a different cup. Uniquely distinguished in its shape, colour and the overall design – blue-haired fairy, floral paint, a wide white mug, an ochre thick glass… as if these were leftovers from what was left over after the earthquake. The ease and friendliness of this wine bar is so attractive in today’s copy-cat style of globalised design cafes and bars. Go before the tremor shakes the metropolis once again.