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I feel like I could be José Saramago. Why Saramago? Because he’s the only Portuguese novelist that I can conjure up and the Majestic Café in Porto feels like it’s where Portuguese novelists should sit and sip coffee laced with brandy whilst conjuring up poetic plot lines.
It is that sort of place.
The fact that the décor is over the top Art Nouveau (to the point of kitsch) helps with my artistic pretensions. Theatrical marble faces smile down from atop their gold pillar pedestals whilst antique looking Flemish mirrors lend the long and quite narrow interior the illusion of width.
I can imagine bohemians gathering here to wax lyrical about their latest work of art, stage performance or epic romantic poem. It is theatrical and… well, majestic.
Even the curved, studded wooden chairs ooze class. In a city where faded grandeur is worn like a warming overcoat on a chilly December day, the Majestic Café is the perfect place to sip a coffee… laced with brandy.
The Majestic Café is a guidebook ‘must visit’ but its patrons are not in the main wide-eyed visitors (yours truly excepted).
Most of the inhabitants sitting at the tables around me seem like affluent tripeiros (tripe eaters – a not very sexy nickname for people who live in Porto). In fact, a chauffeur-driven car pulls up outside as I sit sipping my ‘strong’ coffee and a smartly dressed, sunglass-wearing elderly gent with a younger female companion on his arm alights from the limo. They make their way into the Majestic; is he escorting her, or is she holding him up I wonder? As the Majestic is in a pedestrian zone I figure the man must be ‘somebody’. But as they enter the café, the waiters treat them exactly the same as everyone else. They’ll have seen their share of famous names over the years.
My neighbours fascinate; they are oblivious to the decadent surroundings. The lone man at the next table sits motionless, frozen in time as the golden nib of his pen hovers over a crossword puzzle, unsure of what to do next. Opposite, in-between bites of cinnamon sprinkled apple tart, a middle-aged couple question their exasperated looking twenty-something daughter over her latest choice of waster boyfriend. Okay, that’s probably total fabrication as I don’t speak Portuguese. However, who’s to say it’s not true, the Majestic Café deserves flights of fancy.
You can spot the non-tripeiros amongst the nibblers and sippers; they’re not dressed quite right for their surroundings – being decked out practically for hoofing it around the city as opposed to stylishly suited to compliment the café’s grand character.
In some ways it feels as though time has stood still since it opened its exquisite doors in 1921. The waiters in their white linen jackets would look equally at home serving the rich and famous on the cream of Cunard’s liners. But for all it’s pomp and circumstance the Majestic Café is not fussy and stiff.
It’s a lavish but eminently comfortable place to warm your hands around a cup of coffee on a cool day. And it isn’t as expensive as you might expect. An American coffee costs €2.25 and a toastie will set you back €4, although eating something as simplistic as a toastie at the Majestic Café would border on criminal. Sombrerini pasta with tuna, anchovy, egg, olives and Bloody Mary seems much more in keeping with the surroundings and style.
The coffee is cheap enough, and the added brandy warming, so that there’s a temptation to linger longer on the grounds that the surroundings and atmosphere prod the creative juices.
I pull the neat napkin on the table closer, take out my pen and start writing.
“It was a dark and stormy night. Suddenly, a shot rang out! A door slammed. The maid screamed. Suddenly, a pirate ship appeared on the horizon!’
On the other hand, maybe it was time to leave.
The Majestic Café fact file: Rua Santa Catarina, 112; www.cafemajestic.com; open Monday to Saturday 9.30am -midnight; snacks and sandwiches cost from €4 to €15.
Jack is co-owner, writer and photographer for BuzzTrips and the Real Tenerife series of travel websites as well as a contributor to lots of other places. Follow Jack on Google+