A space with History

The history of A Brasileira do Chiado carries with it many other stories. It has been through many time periods, political systems and turning points in Portugal’s history. Through it all, it has maintained its essence and perpetuated the memories of many artists and anonymous patrons who have found here a place unlike any other, for over a hundred years.

a brasileira do chiado

A Brasileira opened on 19 November 1905 in Chiado, in a premises that had once been a shirt shop. The business was started by Adriano Telles do Valle (1859–1932), a Portuguese emigrant from Alvarenga who married the daughter of one of the largest coffee producers in Minas Gerais, Brazil, after travelling there in 1872.

Adriano Telles would go on to become a respected businessman and land holder, dedicating himself to the business of growing and selling coffee, and to journalism, one of his passions. His appreciation for the arts inspired him to organize cultural evenings at his own house and to host well-known artists and intellectuals of the day.

Telles returned to Portugal in 1898 following medical advice on account of his wife’s health. She would pass away shortly thereafter, and Adriano Telles later remarried. He brought with him from Brazil the coffee business. At the time, coffee was a beverage mostly unknown to the Portuguese and disliked due to its characteristic bitter taste. With firm faith in coffee’s potential—and mindful of the barriers that might hinder his customers—Adriano Telles created a network of establishments: the famous A Brasileira coffee houses at Porto, Lisbon (Chiado and Rossio), Coimbra, Braga, and Seville, Spain. There, he promoted coffee by serving free cups of the drink to those purchasing other delicacies imported from Brazil.

The design for the façade, which was to be luxurious and with a Parisian feel, was commissioned to Manuel Norte Júnior, one the most outstanding architects of his generation. The plush interior décor made A Brasileira a rendezvous point for the great and the good of the day: lawyers, doctors, teachers, writers, and artists. The revolutionaries who took part in establishing the Republic in 1910 also met here.

A Brasileira do Chiado had become a meeting place for artists and writers, and Ilustração Portugueza magazine stated in 1920 that the discussions held there were “calm and thought through”. In the days leading up to the first Futurist Conference, three years before, Almada Negreiros had acknowledged that since the creation of Orpheu magazine at the café, many regarded the “boys at A Brasileira as a troupe of harmless madmen”. Indeed, it was sometimes the setting for fist fights between Republicans and Integralists, as on the occasion when Aquilino Ribeiro and Alfredo Pimenta fought, and coffee cups and chairs were thrown about the room. However, what stands out from that time was the fact that “there was no literary or artistic problem that did not find in the group at A Brasileira the best experts”, as Alfredo Marques would later write in Diário Popular. It was said that “the marble tables always have art on display”.

Over the years, Adriano Telles continued to cultivate a taste for the press and the arts. He published the fortnightly paper A Brasileira, in which he continued to promote Brazilian coffee and commissioned the modernist painters of his day, Almada Negreiros, António Soares, Jorge Barradas, Bernardo Marques, Stuart Carvalhais, José Pacheko and Eduardo Viana, to paint a set of canvases that would hang on the café’s walls in 1925, giving Portuguese modernism space to breathe. Painter Columbano Bordallo Pinheiro, who had become the director of the newly created Museum of Contemporary Art, was not supportive of these younger artists and prevented their works from being exhibited at the Museum. Consequently, A Brasileira also operated as Lisbon’s first de facto museum of contemporary art.

Exhibiting those pieces reflected the daring spirit of A Brasileira’s founder and gave rise to much controversy at the time. Today, everyone who exhibited there is a renowned artist in their own right.

In 1971, a new renovation project was carried out at A Brasileira do Chiado, following a proposal set out by Joachim Mitnizky to the owners, and new artists were invited to decorate the space. Rui Mário Gonçalves said that the selection reflected “the typical trends of the 1960s”: “two abstract artists, one figurative artist, one half-way between figurative and non-figurative, one letterist, and six artists within or close to Neo-Figurativism, with or without the influence of pop”. And so it was.

From the day it opened in 1905, A Brasileira do Chiado became one of Lisbon’s most popular cafés. It was—and still is—the backdrop for intellectual, artistic, and literary discussions, and where writers and artists like Fernando Pessoa and Almada Negreiros found their inspiration for paradoxical concepts and ideas. Fernando Pessoa was such a regular patron that on the centenary of his birth, in 1988, a bronze statue depicting him and created by sculptor Lagoa Henriques was installed there. It shows the poet sitting at a table on the café’s terrace and is one of Lisbon’s most photographed statues.

A Brasileira do Chiado was the birthplace of the term “bica”, now a Lisbon word for a shot of espresso, which is allegedly an abbreviation of “beba isto com açúcar” (“drink this with sugar”), an incentive used to make coffee (a novelty at the time) more pleasant for customers to drink whilst creating a habit and marking a ritual. Another version of the origin of this term relates that it comes from the coffee being served straight into cups from the spouts (“bicas”) of the coffee machines, rather than into coffee pots, because customers felt that the intermediate step caused the coffee to lose some of its flavour. The term was adopted as synonymous with coffee, and it remains so to this day.

Classified since 1997 as heritage of public interest, A Brasileira is one of the oldest cafés in Lisbon, and one of only three that survived the entire 20th century and remain open. In 2017, Lisbon City Council distinguished A Brasileira with the award “Stores with History”, awarded based on the interest of its activity over the years and the existence and preservation of material, cultural and historical heritage.

Fernando Pessoa is still there, more so than ever, and not just because of the statue that portrays him. His personal eyeglasses are on display there and A Brasileira released its own bilingual edition of Message, sharing Portuguese History with the world in a tribute to Portugal’s most universal poet.

In 2021, MNAC, the National Museum of Contemporary Art, opened an exhibition about the modernist painting in the café and in 2023 illustrator Nuno Saraiva portrayed A Brasilieira on a canvas that captures life in Chiado, in homage to Lisbon’s residents and the many tourists from around the world who have livened up the Café for over a century.

Today, A Brasileira holds on to its identity: it remains closely connected with culture through the Mensagem de Lisboa newspaper, which has its emotional headquarters there, and has a regional newspaper stand, bringing the country to the coffee table.

Throughout more than 100 years of history, A Brasileira has provided a stage for culture and for those who make it, promoting the kind of progress that only art can drive. A Brasileira do Chiado and its History are proof positive that economy and culture can and should come together for mutual benefit. Both improve when thoughtfully combined, getting art to more people (thus making it more valuable as it touches more and more hearts) and raising the economy to a whole new, widely embracing level that is far beyond mere money.

Today, as before, A Brasileira continues to fulfil its purpose as a driver for culture and a stage for artistic effervescence. It does so at each new encounter around one of its hexagonal tables, at each conversation, and at each bica.

Stories in A Brasileira

Orpheu Magazine

Anti-Dantas Manifesto

The origin of the word «Bica»

Fado do 31

Lisbon's first Museum of Modern Art

Pátio das Cantigas

A Cup of Coffee in Madrid

Vasco Santana

Dressed to the 9's

a missed rendezvous at A Brasileira

The visit by Kubitschek de Oliveira, President of Brazil

Cultural Heritage

Beatriz Costa

Statue of Fernando Pessoa

Fernando Pessoa's spectacles at A Brasileira 

Lisbon 94, European Capital of Cultur

The intimate life of cafés

a neutral zone during the dictatorship

A Brasileira on your passport

Forever a meeting point

Columbano Bordalo Pinheiro

A Brasileira in exhibition at MNAC Jun-Set 2021

A fun dialogue at A Brasileira

a brasileira do chiado on
exhibition at mnac

In 2021, the MNAC – National Museum of Contemporary Art hosted an exhibition about A Brasileira do Chiado, telling the story of an artistic revolution through the modernist paintings of the café, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the second generation of paintings. The museum showcased some of the paintings from the 1925 decoration and a collection of largely unpublished documentation from the 1971 decoration, including photographs of the paintings being placed on the walls.

The Brasileira took the place of the MNAC as Lisbon’s first modernist museum, welcoming on its walls the tremendous generation of Almada Negreiros, Stuart Carvalhais, and Eduardo Viana.

Throughout its over 100 years of history, A Brasileira has played the role of showcasing culture and its interpreters, promoting the progress that only art is capable of driving. The Brasileira of Chiado and its history are, indeed, clear evidence that the economy and culture can and should merge for mutual benefit, as both improve when combined intelligently, reaching more people with art (gaining more value as it touches more hearts) and bringing the economy to a transcendental dimension far above mere monetary reasons.

Today, as yesterday, A Brasileira continues to fulfill its purpose as a driver of change and as a stage for artistic effervescence. It does so with every encounter that happens at one of the hexagonal tables, but above all, it does so with every story told in the Message of Lisbon, born in the same place where Almada once wrote part of the famous Manifesto. Today, as then, we believe we can be part of the change.