After a full week sampling the best booze, beaches, and boys that Portugal has to offer, we are dragged kicking and screaming to Lisbon International Airport.
The reasons to love Portugal are numerous. In 2017, the Global Peace Index ranked it the third most peaceful country in the world; in 2010, Portugal became the eighth country to legalize same-sex marriage; it is one of the few countries in the world to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation in its constitution; and its temperatures average a balmy 63 degrees in winter and 79 in summer.
And, of course, it’s beautiful. Its two major cities, Lisbon and Porto (where Port wine comes from) anchor its Atlantic-facing seaboard. In between them are charming towns and villages, too numerous to count, and then there’s the Algarve Coast, a magnet for sun seekers featuring cerulean blue waters, impressive rock formation, and secluded coves galore.
A friend and I spent a week visiting Lisbon and the Algarve Coast last summer.
Exhausted from the flight from Los Angeles to Lisbon, I meet my friend Michael (who arrived one day earlier) on a sunny afternoon at Noobai, a multi-level outdoor café that’s tiered like a wedding cake and offers panoramic views of the city and the Tangus River. As we play the game “European or gay” with the hot guys surrounding us, I find myself breathing in the Mediterranean salt air and breathing out LA traffic, work-related stress, and Donald Trump.
Through the foggy haze of jetlag, we wander the narrow streets of the buzzing capital city. We watch visitors like ourselves hang on tightly as rickety trams (No. 28 is the most famous) lumber up impossibly steep hills, and we saunter past buildings dressed head to toe in colorful azuelos (elaborately painted tiles). From every café we pass, we are enticed by the smell of pasteis de nata, flaky custard tarts that when cooked to perfection are slightly burnt on top and absolutely irresistible.
We soon arrive at Castelo St. George, a hilltop castle perched atop barrio Alfama. Lisbon’s oldest neighborhood, Alfama is famous for its twisty, cobbled streets, ancient dwellings, and, more recently, selfiewielding tourists. As we stand at the lookout where Portuguese soldiers would’ve once kept watch for enemy ships, we notice an abundance of cute queers (World Pride in Madrid just wrapped up and Lisbon is thus full of LGBTQ visitors like ourselves). But the first conversation we strike up is actually with a lovely opposite-sex Brit couple from Sheffield who offer to snap a few photos of us reclining upon the Moorish turrets. They surely think we are a couple (we are not), but they are practically bowled over when I tell them I know Sheffield because I’m a longtime fan of synth band the Human League (Remember the song “Don’t You Want Me?”).
Mercifully, Lisboans do not keep the same late-night schedule as Spaniards, so when we arrive at Bairro de Avillez, a three-diningrooms-in-one concept from chef José Avillez at around 8 P.M., the restaurant is already full enough that patrons eager to sample the Portuguese fare from this noted Michelin-starred chef are huddling in the doorway and spilling out onto the streets. At Taberna, one of the restaurant’s more casual concepts, we peruse menu items like beef croquettes and horse mackerel tarter cones. Everything is spectacular and a harbinger of more good food to come.
Like the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain each year, young people fill the cobblestone streets of Lisbon’s bairros Alto and Principe Real on weekend nights with wine in one hand and cigarettes clutched between the forefingers in their other, in search of trendy bars, discos, and, no doubt, a hookup. In our quest to discover the city’s queer nightlife, Michael and I join them.
At Woof X, we laugh at the site of a glass case full of teddy bears; a nice touch for a cruise bar. The space itself is tiny, and we can barely hear ourselves over the oomph, oomph techno beat, but the real action happens in the backroom where Michael almost bumps his head in the darkness. It’s quiet here in part because it might be too early, so we decide to drift elsewhere.
I can only assume that the man who dashes through the breakfast room, kisses me on the cheek, and dashes off is one of the owners at men only, Late Birds Lisbon, a gay-owned hotel where we rise and shine the next morning. In fact, the man’s name is Carlos and as Michael and I scarf down a lavish breakfast consisting of made-to-order omelets, meats and cheeses, freshly squeezed juices, cereal, coffee, and fresh fruit, Carlos explains that he wants Late Birds to feel more like a home than a hotel. Mission accomplished.
Our room features a terrace overlooking a narrow pool and the lawn below. Outfitted with blonde wood, white walls, sexy portholes, and simple guest rooms, Late Birds is the kind of hotel that begs the question: Why can’t we have places like this back home? Standing on the terrace, I see a beefy man lounging in the sun in a tiny bikini while a professional shutterbug snaps madly away. When I later inquire about resident felines Mia and Lioa, Carlos lets out a yowl and says, “they’re always running around meowing like some guys in bars.”
The sun is playing peek-a-boo behind a stubborn cloud layer this morning, but we’ve nevertheless designated it as our one Lisbon beach day, so with Speedos and sunscreen in hand, we hail a rideshare for famous Beach Number 19, Lisbon’s gay nude beach.
Beach No. 19 is about 20 miles south of the city and the wisest way to reach it is surely by car. Located within the Paisagem Protegida da Arriba Fóssil da Costa da Caparica nature preserve, nobody is wanting for space along the long and expansive stretch of sand backed by dunes and shrubbery at this legal nude beach. The beach is by no means deserted (there are patches of groups, lots of couples, and the occasional solo sunbather), but we figure a nicer day would’ve brought larger crowds. Regardless, we strip down to our birthday suits and enjoy the afternoon.
En route back to the city after a full day of beaching and cruising, we prod our driver for dinner recommendations, and yet again hear a ringing endorsement for the Time Out Market. Owned and operated by the same folks behind the weekly city magazines (and a former employer of mine), the Time Out Market is a sprawling food hall that opened in 2014 to instant acclaim. In fact, it’s pretty amazing. We are positively spoiled for choice as we sift through more than 35 kiosks in search of the perfect meal. I go the full Portuguese route and opt for salted cod and, naturally, a pasteis de natas for dessert.
Afterward, I think to myself: “It must be the running of the bears tonight,” because they’re out in full force at Bar 3, a corner bar that actually attracts men of all stripes (and a few women) and is bustling both inside and out onto the sidewalk. Michael and I love it mostly because it’s a non-smoking bar (and the eye candy is rock solid). It’s also a nice touch that the Wi-Fi password is YouAreABottom.