In the Mouraria, the neighborhood that was granted to the Moors after the Christian conquest, what is considered one of the most mystical and ancient places in Lisbon, the cradle of Fado, where the spirit of Maria Severa hovers among the narrow streets, there is a place which is now part of the spirit of the Mouraria: the tavern “Os Amigos da Severa”.
In this now legendary place, where it is said that Maria Severa herself (considered the first fado singer in the nineteenth century, Ed.) sang, we are welcomed by Mr. Antonio, who everyone call Antonio da Severa.
Antonio was born in Beira Alta in 1953, he moved to Lisbon with his family, who arrived in the capital for work reasons.
At that time Antonio was 10 years old. He himself begins to work very early. He tells us about a job for the water company, in which he physically distributed water to people. Hard work, but getting busy was necessary.
Then, returning from military service, the big change: Antonio was just over twenty years old and decides to invest his savings in buying a tavern, his place, in which to start building his future.
And so in 1976, 45 years ago, he became the owner of the “Os Amigos da Severa” tavern.
This place is an incredible, original and out of time (and out of this world). Landmark of the neighborhood, many traditions come together in it: ginjinha, fado, Our Lady of Fatima …
No, I am not confused. I actually said Our Lady of Fatima
Because when you enter in this tavern, between bottles of wine and ginjinha, photographs and ancient paintings, she, Our Lady, stands on the counter to bless the place and whoever enters it.
Antonio tells us that it is a gift from a customer, which dates back to many years ago. This person had proposed to Antonio to offer him a statue of Our Lady of Fatima to protect him and this place, which for this client was a special place. And Antonio accepted, giving this statue a place of honor on his counter. It has since become a small sanctuary. It may sound irreverent, but it is an interesting example of how official and popular religious devotion come together. In the hands of Our Lady many rosaries and Antonio explains to us that many people pass by to ask for a grace and, when their prayer is answered, then they leave a rosary as a thank you in the hands of Our Lay. And even Antonio, when he makes a toast, never forgets to dedicate a word to Our Lady and invoke her blessing on him.
But in addition to this corner of faith, in this mystical place you can really find everything.
On the walls old record covers, of fado, of course. There are Amalia and Fernando Mauricio, a myth for the people of the neighborhood. Actually, Fernando said that as a child he would sit on a barrel, right outside this tavern, to listen to fado. And even today, fado is never lacking here. The “vadio”, vagabond, the most popular and spontaneous one. And when there is no one who sings, then there is radio Amalia, which broadcasts fado at any time and which never fails in Antonio’s tavern.
Antonio proudly displays the ancient paintings on the walls of his tavern, those representing Maria Severa, but also the inevitable Santo Antonio, to whom the June festivities so loved by the neighborhood are dedicated.
And then there are the photos, lots of photos, from different years. But the one who always has the most important place is Antonio, the spirit of this place.
Just follow the photos along the walls to reconstruct the history of this place.
There is Antonio younger, in the company of musicians, who usually animate the tavern’s evenings, there are more recent photos and even a comic that represents him.
Antonio is not only the owner of “Os Amigos da Severa”, Antonio is “os amigos da Severa”. Anyone who passes by, looks out even for a moment to greet him, or to have a quick drink, preferably with him, who is always available to keep you company.
At Antonio’s you go in for a cold beer, or a glass of wine without too many pretensions, or a ginjinha, which unlike the other bars here is served in a less alcoholic and cold version.
Antonio is very proud of it. He shows us a sentence stuck to the refrigerator which reads “Of Severa and Antonio I remember a good thing, there is a famous ginjinha which is the best in Lisbon”
And Antonio’s ginjinha is really famous, as it is also mentioned in a book of wines and spirits.
And if there were still doubts as to whether Antonio’s life is closely linked to this place, he continues to tell us how he now knows each of his clients. There are the regular ones he doesn’t even have to ask what they want, because Antonio already knows. And even with people passing by, he can figure out what he would like to drink. Years of experience, contacts with people. After all this is what most him like it. In this place Antonio has combined the need to earn with the pleasure of being among others, in the neighborhood that he loves most.
Antonio has been living in Mouraria for some years. Before, he lived in the Benfica neighborhood, but he had always been a “resident of Mouraria”. “The house is what we choose, where we feel good” he tells us. And he loves this place; it is no coincidence that he welcomes us proudly wearing the neighborhood shirt.
It is now part of the “Bairro” (neighborhood), a real institution. He knows it, has lived it, has seen it change, passing from the poor and infamous neighborhood to the neighborhood finally recognized as historic and authentic.
And Antonio’s tavern is part of this place that the Moors have left us. It was there, according to history, already two hundred years ago. And in the last 45 years the life of this place has been intertwined with that of Antonio, who proudly shows us the documents of the time, to attest to a link between him and that place that has lasted for a long time.
When you decide to walk through the Mouraria then, right next to the house of Maria Severa Onofriana, which now is an important fado house (Maria da Mouraria), stop for a glass with Mr. Antonio. Take advantage of it to breathe an air of authenticity, without letting yourself be impressed by the rather original aspect of the place, but enjoying a unique atmosphere.
After all, at the tavern “Os amigos da severa” it’s like having a drink with friends.
And as the sign that looks at us from above says: “Drink, without fear, until you drink one glass too much, we will keep the secret and take you home”.