Casa Inglesa celebrates 100 years in Portimão

Casa Inglesa, founded in 1922, is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Although it doesn’t have the spark and vigour of the past, it is still a meeting point and a living highlight of the town’s history.

It was founded by Alcantarilha-born Pedro Joaquim Dias (1888), a republican with an interest in anarchic ideas who died at the age of 55 on February 4, 1943 in Portimão.

According to historian António Ventura, he was a canned goods and nuts seller, traveller, sailor and member and treasurer of Portimão’s Freemasonry group.

From the start of Portugal’s first Republic to 1913, Pedro Dias was the owner of Havaneza de Lagos, which in September of that year was taken over by António da Silva Senna Peralta, an energetic and wealthy businessman who divided his time between Lagos and Vila Nova de Portimão – the town’s name at the time.

Meanwhile, the Havaneza de Portimão which was situated in one of the old houses in front of Dias Fotógrafo – now the Portimão Manuel Teixeira Gomes CTT post office – which have since been demolished, moved over to the building where Millennium BCP bank (the former residence of the Viscountess of Alvor) is located today, to the right of the space where Pedro Dias would open his new Havaneza in 1922.

Havanezas were places where high-end tobaccos and Cuban cigars could be appreciated. The idea came from two businessmen from Antwerpen, François Caen and Charles de Vendin, in Lisbon in 1864 with the opening of Havaneza do Chiado.

These establishments were linked to modernity, a certain artistic intellectualness and political debates, as Portuguese author Eça de Queirós notes in his works.

Casa Inglesa, situated in the formerly-named Visconde de Bívar square, was owned as a society with Augusto Mira Leal, editor of local newspaper Comércio de Portimão.

According to Mira Leal, in a statement published after his death, Pedro Joaquim Dias was a man with excellent moral qualities, being esteemed by everyone whom he interacted with despite being a man who did not communicate much.

Curiously, despite coming from opposing political fields, Pedro Dias became a partner of Augusto Mira Leal and Luís Moutinho at typography company Lúmen Lda, located on Rua Machado Santos, no.10 in Portimão in 1925.

This society with Miral Leal ended in 1927, when the only publication of the city which defended the regime for around 30 years was launched.

Casa Inglesa has occupied since its inauguration a part of the building of the Viscountess of Alvor where the stables and haystack were located.

In O Portimonense newspaper of October 5, 1922, we can read the following: “The new Havaneza, bookstore, stationery and office supplies shop called Casa Inglesa, has just been inaugurated in this town. The firm is called Pedro Dias, Lda. and features three partners with Pedro Dias as the manager, a man who is very knowledgeable about this line of business, because he has been developing it with much skill for some years in Lagos, where he owns the Havaneza of that town. This man has the best skills to develop the well put together displays of stationery and books that we were able to see in the inauguration. The installation of this establishment is very elegant, with a vast assortment of books (…). Owners spared no expenses, and we believe it is, in its genre, the most complete and well put together house of the province, which is also equipped with an impeccable restaurant service. This town is now gifted with another establishment rich in art and comfort courtesy of the artistic good taste of Mister Dias. Its visitors are all unanimous in giving it the best praise which confirms what we have said here.”

After Pedro Dias’ death in 1943, Casimiro Calvário and later Júlio Marreiros took over Casa Inglesa’s management.

In the decades of 1950 and 1960, it was the meeting place of Portimão. The existence of two tables for checkers and chess and two pool tables, book sections, stationery with illustrated post cards, perfumes and tobacco made Casa Inglesa the café and restaurant of choice of the Portimão clientele and its illustrious visitors.

Local Luís Anacleto said the fait divers of the town were discussed at Casa Inglesa, as well as the latest political rumours (PIDE – the police of Portugal’s Estado novo regime – agents and informants would watch and come closer and closer to these groups, which would prudently change the subject to football).

But not everyone attended Casa Inglesa. Women, fishermen and ‘blue collar’ workers rarely would enter. It was the meeting point for businessmen, teachers and office workers. There was a corner in the room that was reserved for chess players; these were people who spent most of their free time with a quiet and pensative attitude which intrigued those who knew nothing about the game, says one of Casa Inglesa’s oldest clients, Constantino Romão.

While it is not included, for reasons we do not know, in the publication by Fernando Franjo called 50 Cafés Historicos de España Y Portugal (50 Historic Cafés of Spain and Portugal), we are certain that Casa Inglesa is the oldest of its kind in the Algarve and the first to complete 100 years of existence without having ever closed.

Congratulations, Casa Inglesa!

Original article written by Carlos Osório for Barlavento newspaper.