Risqué business: Love comes to town

Food, Nightlife, Things to Do — By Paul Bernhardt on November 23, 2011 at 6:35 pm

The latest café-bar to open in Lisbon is straight out of the bawdy era of burlesque. Pensão Amor draws on the naughty but nice image that defined theatrical striptease in the mid-19th century.

Pensao Amor

© Image: www.paulbernhardtphoto.com

Occupying a site where a bordello once stood, this former house of ill repute has been transformed into an extraordinary multi-faceted entertainment venue, a place where you can eat, drink, read, enjoy live revues and even get your hair cut.

Pensão Amor is not a guesthouse. Instead, the name, which roughly translates as “boarding house of love”, acknowledges the hanky panky behind closed doors (and probably on the stairs too) that made this downtown den of iniquity a red light favourite for visiting ships’ crew and other assorted low life in years gone by.

Gone now is the questionable reputation, but the new owner enthusiastically upholds the legacy of the risqué with a clever eye for period detail.

The abundance of crushed velvet so favoured by madames of the night characterises the interior in a glorious crimson hue. Gilt-framed mirrors and assorted prints and lithographs depicting voluptuous, semi-clad females festoon the walls. Feather boas, marble figurines, cracked vases and antique mantle clocks add to the lounge lizard ambiance. There’s even an old upright piano hiding in the corner – you can just imagine the yesteryear scenario: ale flowing, drunken singsong and the steely haze of stale tobacco smoke hanging in the air. Casting a beady eye over this glorious parlour room pastiche is a faux trompe l’œil ceiling dripping with mismatched chandeliers. Heaven’s above!

Pensao Amor

© Image: www.paulbernhardtphoto.com

Beyond the ornamented salon is a mirrored bar that faces a hall where poetry recitals and other cultural activities take place. Along the corridor is a library, its shelves stocked with, ahem, erotic literature. Facing this is a pole dance stage. Opposite, rather incongruously, is an old-fashioned styled barbershop.

Downstairs, a small club hosts fado concerts managed by the same team that run Music Box, one of Lisbon’s premier live music venues.

And what about the food? Right now Pensão Amor can offer a modest menu of wholesome soup starters, delicious petiscos (appetisers) and traditional Portuguese meat and fish dishes. The choice will widen as the kitchen becomes more established. Meanwhile, it’s probably enough to recline in a soft, plump armchair, check out those suggestive photographs and let the imagination run wild – all in the best possible taste, of course.

Tags: bar, cafe, dance, entertainment, food, live music, nightlife, restaurant, theatre, things to do, venue

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