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The Majestic Café is the icon of Art Nouveau in Porto. It’s located in the pedestrianised Santa Caterina street in Porto’s busiest shopping area, and alone is capable of transmitting the essence of the whole city: beauty, art and melancholy.
You can’t go to Porto without visiting the Majestic Café. As you stroll along Santa Caterina Street the impressive marble façade decorated with floral elements, two elegant columns and three rectangular windows will call out to you. Over the entrance you’ll see a garland highlighting the name of the Majestic, held at each end by the figure of a child inviting people to enter. Inside, the luxurious decoration featuring mirrors, figures, marble and varnished woods engages the senses.
This tasteful atmosphere contrasts with a decadent past, which forms part of the establishment’s most recent history.
The Majestic Café opened its doors in 1921 under the name of Elite Café. Designed by the architect João Queiroz and inspired in the works of his master, José Marques da Silva, it was a building that generated high expectations among the city’s population. From the outset, the café attracted the attention of intellectuals, bohemians and people from high society, who would go there to take tea or eat ice cream.
Of particular interest among the café’s patrons was the Portuguese navy officer, pilot and historian Carlos Viegas Gago Coutinho, who always arrived with an entourage of spectacular women. On one of his many visits he appeared accompanied by the theatre and film actress Beatriz Costa, considered an icon of Portuguese popular culture.
Despite the success of its first year, the name Elite was being associated with the monarchy, and that put off the bourgeois and the republicans, who were thriving in those days. So the café’s name was changed to Majestic, more in line with the glamour of the time which was living the Belle Époque, a period that idolised the European past.
The café changed its name from Elite to Majestic to avoid association of the term with the monarchy and to connect with the values of the Belle Époque.
The café immediately began to receive a more illustrious clientele, such as the writer José Régio, the poet Teixeira de Pascoaes and the philosopher, professor and politician Leonardo Coimbra, among many others. The constant visits of intellectuals converted the café into a meeting place for discussion on the most important political, social and philosophical issues of the time.
Portuguese artists felt at home in an establishment personifying art as the Majestic did. Thus, students and professors from the School of Fine Arts of Porto filled the tables to sit next to renowned artists like Júlio Resende. They discussed art and set out to explore new artistic ways to change established procedures.
During the sixties and seventies, the café fell victim to the passage of time and Portugal’s overwhelmingly lethargic cultural manifestations, which led it into a period of slow but steady decline. In 1983, it was declared a “Public Interest Building”, but this did little to halt the process of deterioration.
So in 1992 the café’s proprietors decided it should close to make way for restoration that would recover its lost glamour. It re-opened in 1994 exhibiting an image of the bygone glory.
On its tables, J. K. Rowling wrote various parts of Harry Potter.
When she lived in Porto, the British writer J. K. Rowling would often frequent the Majestic. They say that on the tables of this café she wrote some of the chapters of her first Harry Potter book.
When you enter the Majestic Café, be bold enough to penetrate beyond the bar and the piano. You’ll discover the inside courtyard and a charming staircase that will guide you to the terrace, an ideal setting to enjoy the poetry recitals, piano concerts and art exhibitions organised in the café with certain frequency.
The establishment is, without doubt, a faithful reflection of the decorative style of the Belle Époque.
You can find further information on the website of the Majestic Café.