When Lisboetas are looking for a night out on the town, Lisbon’s Bica and Bairro Alto neighborhoods aren’t as high on the list as they used to be – the area is crowded with tourist traps and expensive menus that make locals roll their eyes and run away. But António and Bruna Guerreiro saw an opportunity to upend the current state of things and bring a breath of fresh air to this corner of Lisbon.
Both are artists, as well as seasoned consumers of culture and good food. Intent on marrying these two passions, the couple set out to create something that connected gastronomy and the arts while also paying homage to their Portuguese regional culinary heritage, which includes Alentejo on António’s side and Trás-os-Montes and Algarve on Bruna’s side (although she was originally born in Rio de Janeiro to Portuguese parents). The end result is Lapo, a café and bar, a restaurant, small concert venue and a shop, occupying two floors in upper Bica, near Santa Catarina and Bairro Alto.
“[Lapo] really tells a lot about our intimate world, of our roots and origins, from the menu to the vinyl records and books in the café, they are like an extension of our home, and we want people to feel at home here,” António says.
It’s a place for eating and drinking but also for coffee and a chat, or a drink after work. On the cultural side of things, Lapo also hosts art events, music and theater performances, and DJ sets. António and Bruna always used to go out to the same places in Lisbon, mainly Braço de Prata and Hot Club, as they love jazz. But they struggled to find a spot that offered good music but was also inviting. “Some cultural associations have good shows and events but they’re not really comfortable places,” Bruna says.
The couple had a lot of space to work with – the first floor is home to the café and bar, while the ground floor, which used to be a bakery and a shop selling Bruna’s artwork, mostly tiles and irreverent T-shirts, as well as sculptures from other artists such as Carolina Garfo, is now home to Lapo’s restaurant, named Sala Provador. The renovation took a year and a half, but now there’s a stage where the bakery oven used to be. Currently the restaurant offers a tasting menu for €40 whenever there’s a show scheduled (if you arrive after 10 p.m., entry is only €10 and includes a drink). However, António and Bruna hope to open the doors to more people in 2020 with an a la carte menu.
Fermenting artistic talent seems to be the new purpose of this old bakery.
Lapo had a soft opening in June, to iron out any kinks before the official opening on September 28. Neighbors and other business owners in the area are slowly visiting and connecting with the newcomer, which aims to function as a small cultural center, one that supports local artists.
The couple admits that besides the arts, they are also very fond of food and how sitting around a table to enjoy a meal sparks such good conversations. So it was important to them to get the menu right.
“We consider ourselves as professional amateurs and we’re doing this with love, we want to offer the same quality that we demand as customers,” António and Bruna tell us. Together with their chef, João Pronto, they took a road trip to Alentejo (where João hails from) and Algarve to research more about the dishes they wanted to offer.
The menu in the café has more small plates and petiscos, including classics such as pea stew with chouriço and a poached egg, a steak tenderloin sandwich, salt cod dishes, cheese boards, and scrambled eggs with asparagus. We ordered the first two, and cleaned our plates – it’s been a long time since we had such a delicious pea stew or such a tender steak sandwich. For drinks, the rosemary lemonade is a nice alternative to the comprehensive wine list.
While the menu focuses on traditional dishes, the décor is more contemporary. The handmade tiles on the first floor were designed by Bruna and pay tribute to such important individuals as Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. The café’s beautiful light and big wooden tables (recycled from the former bakery) are quite inviting, but when the weather allows it, we are drawn to the tiny white-washed terrace with an olive tree and decorated with rural objects from Tavira, Bruna’s father’s hometown.
Ana Câmara, Lapo’s creative director and a long-time theater and TV producer and director, observes that their events are becoming more popular and many young artists are interested in working with them: “People are seeing a new space that provides something different, an alternative to what’s on offer elsewhere.”
At the same time, they are cognizant of the people living nearby and make sure the noise doesn’t get too loud. “This is a neighborhood, it’s not a resort – we want Lapo to be enjoyable for everyone. We hope to make a difference in the arts, without forgetting the fundamental food for the soul,” they explain.
The Portuguese are not an easy audience, so it’s still early to tell how Lapo will fare. Rain, cold weather, hot weather, a football match on TV – all of these things (and more) often keep people at home. But for now, there are concerts and other events scheduled on Lapo’s calendar, and their comedy club is happening twice a week with some really clever people taking the stage. Fermenting artistic talent seems to be the new purpose of this old bakery.