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Historic Cafés of Portugal

    In the scope of the program “A Café on the Way to the Centenary,” which runs from May 2022 to May 2023, a set of initiatives have been planned with the objective of showcasing the long history of Café Santa Cruz.

    The realization of the seminar Historic Cafés: An Encounter of Ideas, which took place at Café Santa Cruz in May 2022, was one of these moments. In addition to the interventions of the speakers and moderators on the previously defined topics, there were several parallel activities. One of them was an exhibition (which extended until June) of 10 watercolors portraying 10 Historic Cafés of Portugal, all sharing the common element of their exterior architectural beauty. Thus, the following were represented: Café Majestic (Porto); A Brasileira (Braga); Café Santa Cruz (Coimbra); Café Paraíso (Tomar); Café Águias d’Ouro (Estremoz); Café Nicola (Lisbon); A Brasileira (Lisbon); Café Aliança (Faro); Café Calcinha (Loulé); and Peter Café Sport (Horta).

    This is the occasion to address the theme of Historic Cafés of Portugal.

    A Café is a welcoming space (not only for its furniture but also for its architecture and decoration), characterized by careful, friendly, welcoming, and attentive customer service. Many of today’s Cafés, whether historic or not, are places of encounter, democratic spaces, venues for sociability, public meeting places, and hubs for discussion and debate of ideas.

    These places should have a strong connection to the local community, its citizens, and preferably occupy a central location (cultural, commercial, and social) in the public life of their city. Cafés (Historic ones) should integrate their visitors (tourists/clients) into their daily lives, so that they do not become just a place where tourists interact with other tourists.

    Many episodes and/or moments of our lives also pass through Cafes:

    • They are places where we stop for a reading of newspapers, to check emails and social networks;
    • They are meeting places for celebrating happiness and friendship;
    • They are often our temporary offices when we schedule meetings away from our workplace;
    • They are spaces for public discussions and debates or for more private conversations;
    • They are spaces for individual reflection;
    • They are places of inspiration for artists of all cultural aspects;
    • They are places where we present our ideals, opinions (through discussions, conferences, books, etc.), or our artistic works (painting, photography, sculpture, etc.);
    • They are places where, often, we witness the social and human dramas that exist in our society;
    • They are places to which we return because we have been there before, for various reasons, with our grandparents, with our parents.

    Or perhaps most importantly, it is the place where we simply stop to have a coffee.

    But when ideas were not shared on the internet, on social networks, they were thought, reflected, debated, and often even put on paper, at Café tables.

    In constructing the Route of Historic Cafés in Portugal, we have identified some criteria that we believe are fundamental for distinguishing a Historic Café:

    a) It must be open to the public; 

    b) It must have been in commercial activity for at least 50 years; 

    c) We must analyze how these spaces are revitalized and energized over time, for example, by following their evolution through social networks; 

    d) It must have historical and cultural significance, must be a reference for its city, and must be present in the collective memory of its citizens:

    d1) Analyze (evaluate) the connection to the local community, its citizens, and its city,

    d2) Analyze (evaluate) the degree of notoriety and visibility in various domains (service, history and traditions, culture, art, architecture, decoration) and what degree of local, regional, and national recognition it has;

    e) Analyze who frequented the Café, what was the target audience, what social classes, where they sat, with whom they socialized, why they met, …

    It is important to analyze the typology of customers: tourists, traders, businessmen, executives, public employees, farmers, landowners, teachers or professionals, students, employees of commerce, agriculture or industry, …

    f) What are the artistic (painting, literature, sculpture, etc.) and cultural values transmitted by those who frequented these establishments;

    g) Interventions (rehabilitation, conservation, or maintenance) must, as far as possible, maintain and/or recover the old trace of the building both inside and outside;

    h) The decoration and furniture, while not identical, should be inspired by what existed (for example, this information can be obtained from old photographs);

    i) It must remain in reasonable state of conservation and maintenance, both inside and outside.

    There is a set of keywords that allow us to identify and recognize a Historic Café: 1) architecture, furniture, and decoration; 2) history, tradition, authenticity, and charisma; 3) experiences and memories; 4) longevity and resilience; 5) as a unique, distinct commercial establishment; 6) familiarity and hospitality, with a connection to the local community; 7) a space for gatherings, idea exchanges, and cultural events; 8) an identity mark of the city, a mark of its social memory; 9) the degree of local, regional, or national notoriety and visibility.

    It is the moments we spend in these Cafés that endure over time and translate the quality and richness of our memory.

    The longevity of Historic Cafés, their history, tradition, and charisma, their experiences and memories, their authenticity and genuineness, as well as their heritage (both material and immaterial), allow us to research, investigate, and study various themes associated with their activity. Examples of this include:

    • Their contribution to tourism (for example: Café Majestic and A Brasileira in Chiado often appear in the ranking of the world’s most beautiful Cafés);
    • Their contribution to the national gastronomic heritage (for example: Pastéis de Belém or the covilhetes from Vila Real (Pastelaria Gomes);
    • Their presence in UNESCO World Heritage cities (for example: Évora, Angra do Heroísmo, Tomar);
    • The artists who frequented them (for example: Fernando Pessoa at Martinho da Arcada, Júlio Resende at Majestic, or Cruzeiro Seixas at S. Gonçalo de Amarante);
    • The architects who built these establishments (for example: Cassino Branco or Joaquim Manuel Norte Júnior).

    One of the main objectives of the Association of Historic Cafés of Portugal is to integrate these Cafés into regional, national, and international tourism circuits. The certification of the European Cultural Route of Historic Cafés, supervised by the Council of Europe, can help attract new customers and promote tourism, in a cultural aspect, integrated into a network of 48 European Cultural Routes, which include Historic Cafés.

    In this sector, we can consider that there is a differentiated offer, with distinct products, such as: Literary Tourism, Architectural Tourism, and Gastronomic Tourism, aimed at more demanding segments. Historic Cafés can reinforce the portfolio of national tourism products and, thus, also contribute to the sustainable growth of the sector.

    These Cafés are also a heritage that we want to preserve for the future, adding value to the legacy of their predecessors. Historic Cafés are a landmark of the identity (historical, economic, social, cultural, and heritage) of their cities and are part of their material and immaterial heritage. Historic Cafés remain alive, dynamic, creative, innovative, and will leave a historical, heritage, and cultural legacy for future generations.

    Coimbra, May 15, 2022

    Some important moments associated with Historic Cafés:

    a. Presentation of the Route of Historic Cafés of Portugal (2014)

    b. Presentation of the book of the Route of Historic Cafés of Portugal (2016)
    Route of Historic Cafés of Portugal: A network of stories with a coffee flavor

    c.  APOM Awards 2017

    d. Portuguese Cafés: Gathering and Tradition (CTT – 2017)

    e. Conference: Historical Cafés as Cultural Heritage (Coimbra) 2018

    f. Conference: Historical Cafés as Cultural Heritage (Coimbra) 2018

    g. Presentation at The Best in Heritage (2021)

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    h. Seminar Historic Cafés: A Meeting of Ideas (Coimbra) 2022

    i. Presentation of the National Historic Café Day (2022) (from minute 3 onwards)

    j. Certification of the Historic Cafés Cultural Route by the Council of Europe (2022)