“Peter Café Sport, Stopover to the World” by Lélia Pereira Nunes

“Peter Café Sport, Stopover to the World” by Lélia Pereira Nunes

(Peter Cafe, Horta, Fayal) 

“Peter Café Sport, Stopover to the World” by Lélia Pereira Nunes

(Originally published on the Comunidades blog on 23 Sep 2011 as
“Peter Café Sport, a paragem do mundo”
Translated into English by Katharine F. Baker)

Don’t ask me which island in the Azores archipelago is the most beautiful. I don’t know how to reply by naming just one or another. I get lost in the endless descriptions of these islands that are plural in their diversity and so singular in their differences. It’s impossible to speak of “this constellation of islands where each complements the other.” I assert this with conviction, recalling the dazzling description in As Ilhas Desconhecidas [“The Unknown Islands”] by Raul Brandão, who was fascinated by the “luxuriousness of their verdancy,” by the Azores’ light that “possibly attains perfection,” with its colorful pungency and each island’s pace of living that the writer encountered during a trip undertaken back in 1924. No one remains immune to the magnitude of that landscape so lush that it embraces people’s souls, leaving a delicious sense of fullness, intoxication, a taste for wanting more, for another round. It's like the gin and tonics served at Peter Café Sport, Peter’s Bar, on the island of Faial. The best in the world! It’s impossible to drink only one of those G&Ts.

I can’t even answer you which is the most beautiful island, or which I like best. I like them all, that’s for sure. But certainly one of the places where I most like to be, and that reminds me of Brazil’s Santa Catarina Island – more precisely the Bar do Arante [Arante’s Bar] in the humble fishing community of Pântano do Sul – is Peter’s, which has as an address Angústias parish, in the heart of the elegant and cosmopolitan city of Horta on the island of Faial

The Bar do Arante is located at the far south end of Santa Catarina Island in a beautiful cove facing the Ilhas Três Irmãs [Three Sisters Islands] and the Moleques do Sul [Southern Moleques], where fishermen live amid the bustle of the sea with their colorful Azorean-style whaling boats inspired by the old type of American whale boats and adapted to Santa Catarina’s waters, as Arantinho – owner of our most famous award-winning bar, with its thousands of pennants from around the world hanging from the ceiling and walls – explains at length to tourists.

Peter Café Sport – voted the world's Favorite Yachting Bar (and it’s not just for sailors!) in a 2009 competition sponsored by Wight Vodka to mark the milestones of travelers from around the world who cross oceans and link hemispheres – is the stopover to the world, meeting place and post office for mariners calling at the island of Faial. Located on Horta Bay, this beautiful gem set between Ponta da Espalamaca [Espalamaca Point] and Monte Guia opens its door and windows to the panoramic vista of Mt. Pico constituting, with the city, the “cabin in front of that year-round stage,” in the words of Vitorino Nemésio’s novel Mau Tempo no Canal [“Stormy Isles”] (1944). It neighbors Horta’s marina, a port built in 1876 that serves as a strategic stop for a great many vessels sailing the Atlantic. There, mariners under all flags find safe harbor for a short respite during their adventures – and at Peter's Bar, in its cozy and unique ambience, they celebrate the joy of (re)encountering one another.

On the marina’s walls is the record of the passage of sailors in hundreds of paintings and multicultural drawings tracing routes, signatures, dates, poetic dedications – testament to a belief in good luck, a custom of the people of the sea that has become as much a tradition as Peter’s Bar in its obsession to be the world's post office.

The history of Peter Café Sport weaves the history of the city of Horta with the life of the marina, and above all with the life story of the Azevedo family.

In the late nineteenth century the Bazar do Fayal was first opened by Ernesto Lorenzo de Azevedo as a small regional craft shop on old Neptune Square, now Largo do Infante [Prince Henry the Navigator Plaza]. Then in the early twentieth century the store moved to its current address and came to be called Azorean House, combining regional craft sales and the operation of a bar. Years later the founder’s son, Henrique Lorenzo de Azevedo, transferred the establishment to a nearby building and, given his passion for sports, changed its name to Café Sport. Thus was born the bar that would one day not only project a global reach but become a truly international institution.

As for the name Peter, it originated as the affectionate nickname bestowed upon Henrique Lourenço’s young son José Azevedo by an officer of the Royal Navy ship Lusitania II, on account of reminding him of his own son Peter – a name that José Azevedo would carry indelibly for the rest of his life and would add permanently to the bar’s name. Features like the brightly painted blue and black of the façade, the charming furnishings, and gin and tonics as the signature beverage became trademarks of this place that’s so special that from father to son it has been synonymous with good hospitality and service. Starting in the 1960s, “Mr. Peter” became a focal point for all the sailors he helped and received with open arms. A space that’s more than a family business or trade is viewed by the sailors of the seven seas as a temple where hospitality has made its home – a spot where the world finds, around a small table, a good conversation, friends and a chance to recharge their batteries for new adventures. On those walls full of flags, pennants and photos, many yachtsmen who passed through left a bit of themselves. At the end of the bar connected to the left counter, a box serves as “universal general delivery,” receiving letters, postcards, messages and information sent to sailors. Thus, little by little, the fame of Peter was built and his myth spread worldwide.

In 1978 Peter’s son José Henrique Gonçalves Azevedo assumed management of Café Sport alongside his father, perpetuating the family tradition. Under his administration the Museu do Peter [“Peter’s Museum”] was founded in 1986, located upstairs, where it displays a valuable collection of works in ivory and whale bone, considered the world’s most important private collection of scrimshaw art.

On November 19, 2005, José “Peter” Azevedo died. A citizen of the world. One of the most emblematic figures I’ve had the pleasure of meeting on my many visits to Café Sport, sitting at his table at the left corner of the bar. A man who ran a bar on an island in the North Atlantic, a free territory for sailors, residents, artists, writers, patrons from all latitudes and geographic locations. A place like no other, above all the Stopover to the World!

Finally, it is fitting to say that this famous bar is located on an island also famed for its prodigious nature that overflows with beauty in such indescribable and unexpected scenery as an extinct volcano’s massive crater called the Caldeira; landscape born of volcanic ash that covered houses and fields during the eruption of Capelinhos in 1957-58; the beach at Porto Pim; the fields tinted the shades of green pastures; and, crops separated by immense rows of hydrangeas. From the earth, a blue flows in torrents that washes our gaze with immense beauty in its trail of dreams, full of twists and turns as if filled with bars of a waltz that’s blue as well. Here one’s soul turns blue, solid blue. Faial, the Blue Island, rendered Raul Brandão ecstatic with its bluest of blues.

However, the island’s soul resides in its people, in their way of life, creating the gentle daytime pace in the amphitheater-shaped city of Horta. Its spirit makes it unique. It’s no coincidence that on maps of yore, the island of Faial was named “Insula Ventura” [“Fortunate Island”]. The Portuguese and Flemish made this island and the city of Horta a “fortunate” land. It suffices to look at the richness of its cultural heritage, to stroll slowly along its mosaic pavements with white patterns on dark basalt, to admire its urban architecture, charming homes, manor houses that still retain protective peepholes on the porch where marriageable young ladies would be courted. Mementos of customs are retained in the cultural memory of a city that was the birthplace of Manuel José de Arriaga, the first constitutional President of the Republic of Portugal (1911-1915), and inspired Vitorino Nemésio to re-create in his novel Mau Tempo no Canal, considered the masterpiece of Portuguese fiction, the social and cultural atmosphere of 1918 Horta, the year that young Nemésio completed his general course of secondary education there.

Noted native Graciosan writer, educator and man of the theater Victor Rui Dores speaks passionately about his adopted island: “My seafaring island, its hair disheveled by the wind. You are inviting like the keel of a boat. Or a mouth that knows its beer. Or the gin and tonic of universal friendship. Tourists will never understand the settled ashes of your volcano, or your Caldeira’s cathedral of silence. Your deepest truth lies in your city of Horta’s maritime light” (from “Faial,” in Visões das Ilhas [Visions of the Islands], 2004).

Need I say more. I long to return to Horta, to sit amid all that murmuring at Peter’s Bar, trying to catch sailor Genuíno Madruga’s sea stories while savoring a gin and tonic and gazing at the ocean and Mt. Pico, majestic and violet in its sunset light, and my illuminated Horta surpassing itself in beauty.

Peter Café Sport, Stopover to the World, could only have as its address the lovely island of Faial.

 Katharine F. Baker
is of Azorean descent on her father’s side, with roots on Flores and São Jorge. She is a graduate of the University of California-Berkeley, earned a Master’s degree at the University of Maryland-College Park, and studied Portuguese at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania. She translates Portuguese books, essays and poetry into English.