The Majestic Café was busy and noisy at breakfast time. The sounds of a coffee machine hissing, crockery clinking and voices speaking animatedly gave us a sense of what the café must have been like in the 1920s, when it became a hub for the fashionable elite, businessmen, intellectuals and bohemians. It opened in 1921 and its original name of ‘Elite Café’ was quickly replaced with ‘Majestic Café’, as it was felt that the word ‘elite’ had too many connotations with the former monarchy. Portugal had become a Republic in 1910 and in 1921 most sectors of society still had feelings of hatred for the former monarchy. The name ‘Majestic’, in contrast, conjured up an image of the belle-époque era.
The café fell out of fashion and into disrepair in the second half of the twentieth century, but in 1994 it was refurbished and reopened. It retains much of João Queiroz’s original opulent Art Nouveau decor of dark wood with ornate plaster sculptures on the walls and ceiling, leaded-light interior windows and large, slightly aged mirrors which give a sense of space, patterned-leather benches, marble tables, and metal and glass light fittings. The front of the building is elaborately decorated above the door with marble panels, sculptures, small wood-framed glass panels and the café’s name in gold. There is a small seating area on the pavement in front of the entrance to the café on the Rua Santa Catarina shopping street, which is always busy. There is also a very small courtyard at the back of the café with a pretty plants and more art nouveau touches, including a staircase flanked by two goddesses, a wrought-iron washbasin with filigree detail and a pretty stained-glass doorway and windows.
Nowadays, well-dressed customers sit alongside tourists dressed in shorts, T-shirts and baseball caps and carrying the obligatory ‘selfie-stick’, but the standards of the café are still high, with attentive, immaculately dressed waiters and waitress in crisp, white, long-sleeved jackets with silver buttons and long black trousers. The coffee was good and strong and the pastel de nata (custard tart) was large enough to be a meal in itself! Compared to similar breakfasts we had in other cafés in Porto it was quite expensive, but a visit to the Majestic Café isn’t just about the food and drink, it is also about a sense of stepping back in time.
Majestic Café, 112 Rua Santa Catarina, Porto
Open Monday to Saturday 9.30am-midnight for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner and cocktails.