Here’s a pickle: it’s after 2 am in Lisbon, you’ve been out in some bar or other and you feel peckish. What can you do? You might go to Bairro Alto and see whether any of the bars or restaurants there are desparate enough to still serve some mediocre food or you just might try your luck and have a bad take-away pizza or something like that and hope that your guts will make it through the night. If neither of these options seem particularly appealing to you in this city that magically transforms into a dead pumpkin as soon as the clock strikes two after midnight, try your luck in “Gayola”, one of Lisbon’s best and most beautifully decorated bars and restaurants for a very memorable burger.
“Gayola” is a bit of a rare find in more than one way. Aside from its “unusual” opening times (for Lisbon at least), there’s also the way the room is arranged which really makes it the kind of place you can suit to your need or mood at the time. You can either stand by the bar, drink a beer and chat to the very kind owners or sit down at one of the wooden tables in the middle of the room or while away the evening in the 70s styled green couch with a glass of the great “Solar dos lobos” wine from the Alentejo on the pink table next to it. In any case, it’s a very eclectic but also relaxing kind of place, what with lounge music or Dire Straits or something else in good taste continuously playing in the background at a very acceptable volume to keep conversations going. Just right.The decor borders on the right side of the extravagant. On the back wall near the window, there’s the (not-culinary) hallmark of this place created by Ivo Moreia Bassanti: a beautifully drawn peacock, dressed up for the occasion, with a fluorescent illuminant rainbow colored tail behind it. On the opposite wall next to the bathroom there’s a very fitting poem about a city bird wanting to escape from its cage (“Gayola” means “cage” in Portuguese, although it’s spelled “gaiola”) with the individual verses written in smaller boxes, which is not only a very touching piece of art but also conceptually makes total sense without it being too intellectual or aloof.
In case you should still wonder, what with the rainbow, the cage and the wordplay in the name and all, yes, “Gayola” is technically something you might call a gaybar but, most importantly, offers just as warm a welcome regardless of your sexuality or your hair color for that matter. It’s probably one of the few (if not the only) gay, lesbian or queer spaces in Lisbon where no matter how straight you might think you are or no matter how much you might think that matters, you’ll always feel welcome and never awkward. It’s just the kind of space that specifically wants to be open to as many people as possible and with its great selection of wine, it’s worlds away from most of the gaybars here in Lisbon, which mostly excel in wine, music and atmosphere all in equal amounts of bad taste.And style “Gayola” has to offer in spades. Especially the food. Aside from hamburgers and steaks, there’s really not that much on the menu to choose from and vegetarians aren’t really spoiled for choice, though they have two very, very honourable and simple vegetarian burgers which blew most of the vegetarian burgers we had so far in Lisbon out of the water. The beef is “maroneza”, a Portuguese race, grown and butchered in Portugal though some of the matured steaks come from Spain. In case you’re wondering: not every burger or steak joint here in Lisbon serves you Portuguese beef (well, as long as you’re wondering, it’s a restaurant chain whose name is the way an Italian maffiosi would pronounce “I tell you”), let alone matured beef which really flavorwise is a thing of its own.
In other words: “Gayola” goes for simplicity and quality. The steaks don’t necessarily come cheap but when the meat is that good, it doesn’t matter. The steak here is great and the “prego” (a piece of steak on a bread) is done here very simply with some cheese (my favorite, the São Jorge from the Azores) and rocket and your teeth just sink into it as if it was a ripe tomato.
They know how to leave well enough alone here. There’s only four hamburger toppings to chose from, all very simple, and whatever you choose, none of the toppings get in the way of the fabulously tender, juicy, melt in your mouth chuck steak. Plus, the olive oil fried potato chips sprinkled with oregano shatter very satisfyingly between the teeth, making for a seriously indulgent treat. Ask for some of their gourmet sauces to accompany your burger and prepare yourself for a wave of umami. It’s simple, spare and possibly our favorite burger in the whole of Lisbon.
So this is “Gayola”, one of our long time favorite bars, so conveniently open until late at night in the weekends. From Tuesday to Thursday, they’ll serve you food until 2am but from Friday to Sunday it’s all hens on deck until 4am. It’s probably one of the only classy places in Lisbon that is open that late, still serves you food and all the while manages to remain cozy and comfortable and luckily doesn’t fall back on any snobbery or nightclub atmosphere. It’s exactly what this city needs and of what there’s too little of here. A diamond in the rough.
Opening hours: Tues-Thurs: 19h00-02h00; Fri-Sun: 19h00-04h00
Address: Rua da Imprensa Nacional 116b, Lisbon
Phone Number: +351 21 397 4493