In Lisbon, in the square that everyone knows as Rossio, in the heart of the city, there is a tavern, which keeps the memory of a time when this square was full of cafes and taverns, one of the favorite meeting points of the Portugueses.
It’s the Tendinha, which since 1840 continues to represent one of the landmarks of Lisbon and beyond, for those who want to take a break and eat something while drinking a cold beer or a glass of wine.
And when we say Tendinha, we say Alfredo.
His image and Tendinha’s are closely linked.
Alfredo, alfacinha doc (a nice way of saying authentic Lisbon), has been working in this place for over twenty years. He saw time pass, places and tastes change, many customers, each with their own history, and he is present in this place, which he perfectly knows, since 1998.
I am sure that anyone who has been to Lisbon has been to Tendinha at least once. And you will certainly remember Alfredo.
Many hours of his day are dedicated to work and no doubt this can be tiring, even if Alfredo always finds a way to give space to his interests, such as visiting new places, as well as photography and dancing, a passion discovered 20 years ago. His personality is certainly versatile, and a friendliness that make him a real point of reference in this place. Alfredo says that a writer also mentioned the Tendinha in one of his books and, obviously, he didn’t forget to mention it too.
And if you want to know the history of Tendinha, there is no better person.
Alfredo tells us that Tendinha had only three owners in its long history: the first family was from Viseu and remained the owner of the place until 1974, passing this place from father to son, then the last heir, who dedicated himself to other things, decided to sell the tavern. And 12 years ago the current owner bought it and became the third official owner.
But ten Tendinha, despite the passing of the years, hasn’t changed much. The only major change occurred in 1974 and then it remained almost completely the same.
In its original appearance, it had an upper floor where the ginjinha (traditional cherry liqueur) was produced, which was later sold on the lower floor where the tavern existed and still exists.
The Tendinha was never a tavern where people came just to drink, but it also always sold sandwiches and snacks (traditional croquettes based on cod or meat or shrimp, etc.).
When Tendinha was founded it was in 1840, although recently a newspaper article reports its inauguration as early as 1818. Lisbon was very different from what it seems today, the city limits were not far from Rossio and, where today stands the elegant Avenida of Liberdade, were gardens.
People did not eat at home, among other things in many houses there was no kitchen, as charcoal in wooden houses would have been the immediate cause of the fire. For a long time eating in taverns or in the so-called “casa de pasto” (old taverns) was a common habit and this also explains the low cost, in the old taverns, even today. Eating out wasn’t a luxury, it was a necessity. And in the past, says Alfredo, people came here to heat or cook food and in exchange they bought wine.
Over time, people’s tastes have also changed and certain “recipes” no longer exist. Alfredo tells us, for example, that until a few years ago, sandwiches with cod croquettes and quince paste were bought at Tendinha, or ham with meat or cod croquettes were combined in the same sandwich. Today the offer is more modern and better suited to current tastes.
But the menu was not Tendinha’s only big change. Ten years ago, in a tavern managed by a man and frequented by men, a woman arrived: Margarida.
It seems strange to us to think that only ten years ago a woman could have had difficulty in being welcomed, but the Tendinha has always been a place out of time and has always been a very conservative place, where regular customers went for a drink and, drinking a bier or a glass of wine, they talked to Alfredo, man to man.
When Margarida started working at the tavern, she tells us, sometimes they told her that they were waiting for Alfredo to be available, to ask him directly.
Margarida had to face many difficulties to integrate in this environment, but she doesn’t lack character and that’s why today there is no Tendinha without Alfredo, but neither without Margarida.
It takes her a while to start, but when she start to tell, she opens up a truly irresistible memory box. And here we find that many clients, witnessing the irresistible fights between the both, often think they are married and Margarida confesses to us that when she started working there, to defend herself against unwanted suitors or to assert her presence in the tavern, she and Alfredo actually pretended to be married.
Today they really look like an old couple: they mess with each other, tease each other, joke. And when doing that, they create a truly unique work environment, made up of a lot of work, but also a lot of laughs.
Among the episodes she tells us, she also tells us that at the beginning of her presence there in the tavern, many customers, used to having a typical “bar” conversation and comments not appropriate to the presence of a lady, for example about the animatographer of Rossio, now dedicated to peepshows, began to invent a code, to talk about planes and boings so as not to be understood by Margarida, or so they thought. Sometimes she went to the kitchen to make them more comfortable.
But there are also poetic memories, like mister César who wrote poems on the napkins that Margarida still keeps in a box. Once, a group of Angolan poets gathered inside the tavern and spent the night not consuming, but reciting poetry for hours and hours, creating a moment that Margarida remembers as truly magical.
Of course, there is also someone who has already had a lot of drinks or who comes to drink after going through many bars and then Alfredo has his way of avoiding serving more: “Do you have a membership card? Not? Sorry, I cannot serve to you more alcohol ”
La Tendinha is a unique place of its kind and everything guarantees that the old environment is preserved: the place, the menu and even the glasses that the new owner carefully guards for being part of the history of this place.
It is obvious that over time Tendinha’s clientele has changed. Before, one tourist arrived a week and now there are more tourists than locals. Before, they went to Tendinha because it was a reference, now they stop because in the heart of Lisbon it’s still a cheap restaurant.
But whatever the reason, you will certainly be fascinated with the place and, above all, with the atmosphere that one breathes here.
Tendinha is a place full of history.
One of the few places that can be proud of having a fado that was dedicated to it (Velha Tendinha).
And it is precisely the verse of this famous fado that is now clearly marked on the entrance to the tavern and on the aprons of those who work there: “Old Tavern in this Modern Lisbon”.
Alfredo and Margarida continue to make this place unique, happy, facing the hard work with a smile and a joke, which cannot fail to engage those present.
And they both love being in contact with people and the fact that working in this place allows them to connect with different people and cultures every day.
Those who pass by Tendinha leave a dedication, a thought in Alfredo’s notebook that now has more than one notebook, testimony of the passage of those who, even for a few hours, were part of the history of this place.
After all, says Margarida, the charm of this place is just going in alone and talking to someone, because just like in the old taverns of the past, between a sandwich and a glass of wine, you start talking to strangers who, before the glass ends, they are no longer unknown.
And when someone tries to interfere in this tradition by asking “Is there Wi-Fi?”, they answer “No, there’s talk” .
Because the Tendinha is not just a tavern, but a place for meetings, stories and lots of laughs