how one of the oldest bars in Lisbon has survived almost everything

He jumped among the rubble and broken walls that had grown into one of Lisbon’s historic bars when he was a child. This is one of Maria Joao Pinto Coelho’s oldest memories of Procopio, who is now 50 years old.

He vividly remembers a Sunday afternoon when the family at the table was washing small pieces of glass “bought for little money at Feira da Ladra”. Cleaned, painted and assembled, they gave rise to the glass curtain that is still preserved in the bar next to the Jardim das Amoreiras.

His father, Luis Pinto Coelho, was an antiques-obsessed decorator, and his trait has carried over not only to Procópio, but to the other bars he designed and created throughout Lisbon, from Foxtrot to Pavilhão Chinês and A Paródia. Procopio was the first and arrived at the right time to serve in pre-revolutionary Lisbon as a social bar for high society. Two years later, the April Revolution came, and its tables became meeting places for politicians, journalists, and intellectuals.

Five decades later, much has changed both in the world and in Procopio, which still retains intact the decor and the dark, intimate and welcoming atmosphere. Interestingly, Luis Pinto Coelho got rid of his creation shortly after the inauguration. A divorce in the hot summer of ’74 put the bar in the hands of Alice Pinto Coelho – and it took a lot of dexterity to lead the nightclub to success in the world of men.

“If it wasn’t for the lady with the iron fist, the bar would not have crossed, for example, the desert of the 90s. She never let the bar fall,” her daughter Maria Joao, 61, recalls to NiT. continues to insist on playing an active role in the cult institution built by her parents.

From the good old days of Procopio, he remembers his grandparent’s trips to antique shops. “My father was very nice, he made his children participate in the business. Since I was the oldest, I took it very seriously,” she recalls.

Error free Procópio environment

“We traveled with him on the weekends, buying junk in Feira da Ladra, the old shops on the Rua de São Bento that gave rise to these superb antique dealers, but which at the time were real dumps.”

He remembers his father as a man “obsessed” who “loved what he did”. Nothing was wasted. I liked taking mundane items and turning them into decorative pieces. “I had a passion for female figurines, I bought everything – busts, full-length ones. The bars he created are full of them, but I think Procopio has the most.” Some of these figurines have been turned into lamps that “radiate the famous golden light of the bar” and “create a unique atmosphere.”

In the family home, “it was the same,” he recalls. “There were paintings from floor to ceiling, swords in the hallway, metal objects. Small collections are everywhere. My father was an avid collector.”

Maria Joao says she inherited her father’s passion for interior design, as well as for bars and hotels. He still dreamed of graduating from Porto’s hotel school, but he didn’t succeed. He studied law and had a successful career in communications and advertising. And while things went on as usual, he watched from afar as his mother guided Procopio – until more difficult times came.

The boom of bars in Bairro Alto and clubs on July 24 attracted young people. Only the oldest customers resisted at Procopio’s tables, which was not enough for the business to survive.

“In those 90s, the clientele was just old people, from 45 to 50 years old. The house was full of flies,” he recalls. He felt that at this moment it was necessary to intervene and provide all the necessary assistance to the mother. With the support of her sister Sophia, she joined forces to get Procopio back on the map.

While working in the field of communications, he realized that he had the perfect tools to revitalize the business. “My mom was still thinking about selling it, but when we started working on communication, everything changed from one moment to the next.”

“We never worried about the type of service, that was secondary. In fact, the problem was to survive, we were completely absorbed by other bars, ”he says. “Later we realized that many of these new bars closed after a year or two. We never closed.”

Maria Joao with her mother Alice and sister Sofia.

Even though Luis Pinto Coelho moved away from the bar he helped build, he was interested in all the spaces he created. “He was tired of talking to me about Procopio,” recalls Maria Joao. “I rarely went there. He came once or twice a year, but I remember how we talked a lot in the 90s, because I saw that the house was in trouble. He especially loved Procopio because he stayed in the family.”

The advent of the new century energized Procópio, and María João even contributed to the publication of a book about the bar to mark its 35th anniversary. “We have overcome this difficult stage once and for all.”

The advent of the Internet and social media has changed the rules of the game. “At that time, my mother was already 70 years old, and at that age it is difficult to run a business in the same way, especially such a dynamic one that has to adapt to so many changes in the market,” he notes. . “It was impossible for her to be alone taking care of him.”

However, this emphasizes that Alice was the driving force. “It takes a lot of vision, willpower, knowing what you have in your hands to do what my mom did,” she recalls of the difficulties of running a nightclub in the 70s. for these purposes. That’s how he spoke to them – with respect and attention. I thought they had great taste, but I didn’t need that kind of environment.”

The pandemic has become another setback in Procopio’s long and colorful history and forced a change of strategy. They closed in March, but Maria João took advantage of her knowledge of the law and realized there was a legitimate way to avoid the bar’s mandatory closure: turn it into a diner.

Cocktails are the bar’s new big bet.

“We had an asset that turned out to be an advantage over most other bars — we could open as a restaurant,” he recalls. Either that, or you will face a possible fatal debt. “By June or July we were open again.”

Another transformation followed and, he believes, will be another golden age for Procopio. “We have a much younger clientele without fear of a pandemic. The business has stayed healthy and now we’re back in power as a bar.”

This dynamism is also found in one of the great new bets, cocktails. “We used to serve them, and now we have a specialist in their preparation, a professional who has been working on this all his life.” It is from the hands of the new bartender that the final tributes to the women who have carried the historic bar counter over the years have come.

Alice, of course, in honor of matriarchy. Maria Joao already has one too, and the only thing missing is her sister Sophia, who is “under study.” After fifty, will there still be the same number? “I will no longer be here to celebrate them,” he admits, not forgetting to mention the third generation that can follow this path. The eldest son “already knows everything there is to know” about the business, while “the youngest has been with Procópio for three years.” Now the goal is: “preserve a solid home for the third generation.”

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