The first botequins [a shop selling groceries and beverages] in Lisbon were opened in the 18th century by Italians, the very first being the Botequim do Nicola. Only after several changes in management did Joaquim Fonseca Albuquerque open it as Café Nicola in 1929, the name that has survived to today. Six years later, in 1935, the café underwent a renovation that introduced some of the charms that still today make it a sought-after spot: the paintings of Bocage and his times by Fernando Santos and the architectural vision of Raul Tojal, who modernised the space using the stylistic language of the day, Art Déco and geometric forms.
Famous for being Bocage’s home from home (and the poet is also still there in sculptural form), the Nicola was also a meeting place for other writers, artists and politicians, so much so that it gained the nickname the “Academy”. When war was raging all across Europe, Lisbon was the first place of shelter for recent refugees from further east, for whom Rossio square was the introduction to the city. The last European capital with light, and light also meant a certain amount of peace… In the 1930s and 40s foreigners flooded Rossio and its street cafés, and Nicola became the backdrop to espionage goings on and the stories they gave rise to, even though secrecy was an intrinsic part of the work of spies. If such stories do not whet your appetite, then why not take a seat and order the house specialty: the Nicola steak. On Thursdays to Saturdays there are also fado performances in the café’s downstairs room – one of Nicola’s lesser known attractions.