Opening A Bar in Affordable Lisbon, Portugal

Night has fallen in the Portuguese capital and U.S. expats Jennifer and Brian Patterson are enjoying a drink in one of their favorite kiosk cafés. Located in the Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara, an elegant square that overlooks Lisbon’s twinkling Old Town and 11th-century hilltop fortress, the kiosk’s setting is unparalleled.

Jennifer and Brian, along with their dog, Bear, moved to Lisbon two years ago, after spending much of their married life in New York City and Seattle.

“We moved to Portugal to have an adventure, mix things up, live our lives a little differently, and try new things. We’d been traveling to Portugal for about eight years when we decided to move, so we already felt very comfortable here and had an appreciation for the culture,” Jennifer says.

Currently, the couple is preparing to open a cozy bar called Black Sheep, which will have about 10 seats. Situated next to Lisbon’s first craft beer bar, just down the hill from the city’s upscale Príncipe Real area, Black Sheep will be in a prime location.

“We are going to have great music, small-producer Portuguese wines, and uncommon spirits such as rum and mezcal. Our goal is to be a place that attracts locals, neighborhood people, and tourists, and caters to all price points. We want to sell wines that have a story, and we want to have relationships with the people who make them so that we can share the stories with our customers,” says Jennifer

Brian, originally from Savannah, Georgia, had several life events that helped pave the way to opening a bar in Lisbon. He was first introduced to Portuguese culture via a college roommate with Portuguese roots. Later, when Brian was working for an American wine importer, he made his first trip to Portugal to scout for wineries and fell in love with the country.

“We’ve had a lot of good people willing to help us with the logistics and bureaucracy [of opening a business in Portugal],” says Jennifer, “so we’ve been very fortunate in that regard. Having an accountant for this process is invaluable.”

Jennifer also says that their opening costs are manageable, especially when you compare them to what they would pay back home. “There are a lot people here starting both brick-and-mortar and online and tech businesses, especially because the digital nomad community here is so large.”

In addition to helping Brian launch Black Sheep, Jennifer, a native of the Philadelphia suburbs, is a counselor who works with English-speaking clients from all over the world.

“I work mostly with people dealing with anxiety, life stress, managing their adjustment to a different culture, family of origin issues, and past trauma experiences. My clients are people who have moved here for work, trailing spouses, entrepreneurial nomads, and retirees. I also work for an online therapy platform called 7cups.com that offers subscription-based counseling via messaging with an assigned therapist,” she explains.

Jennifer and Brian live in a 645-square-foot apartment in a central Lisbon neighborhood that is home to tourist rentals, foreign residents, and locals.

“There are a few cafés and restaurants on our street, and we also have a great little local market. Close by are several parks and more pockets of cafés and restaurants. It’s a very dynamic but still local and self-contained area of the city. Black Sheep is also located in the neighborhood, and we are excited to put down more roots here,” Jennifer says.

The couple’s apartment has a patio, which doubles the size of their living space.

“We are the only Americans in the building, everyone else is Portuguese or Brazilian. There is a pharmacy on the street level and they are one of the epicenters for our street. They know all of the gossip, will receive packages for you, and you can leave your keys with them. Our dog insists on going in to say hi every time we come back from a walk. He only gets treats from them on Saturdays now because he was getting too spoiled,” she adds.

Jennifer and Brian purchased a car, but don’t use it inside the city much because parking can be challenging.

“We walk most places, or do a combination of walking and bus or metro. There are a lot of hills to get used to, as well as the traditional stone sidewalks, which are made up of stones called calçadas. They’re really pretty but slippery in all weather and very uneven,” she explains. “Lisbon is easy to get around and most places outside of the city are easily accessible by train or bus.”

When they’re not working, the couple makes the most of Portugal’s pleasant weather—either enjoying Lisbon or exploring what greater Portugal has to offer.

“Lisbon is a place where life is lived outside when the sun is out. We go to the park, meet friends for drinks at one of the many park kiosks, go to the beach, hang out at our local craft beer bar, eat out with friends, or have people over to our house. Sometimes we go to the beach or country for the weekend. We basically do all of the same things we did when we lived in Seattle, just in more sunshine,” Jennifer explains.

In addition to traveling through Portugal, Jennifer and Brian have driven to southern Spain and explored other countries.

“Outside of the Iberian Peninsula, we’ve been to Morocco twice—once to Marakkesh and once to Fes—Paris, and Southern Italy. Of these trips my favorite was going to Fes. The food there is incredible as well as the textiles and learning more about the history,” she says.

Jennifer says that they are living a more relaxed lifestyle in Portugal.

“We really live in a similar way, minus constant stress. I think that the biggest difference has been being able to take a break from work and to take that time to reimagine what we want work to look like. Opening a bar won’t be easy but it will be different to anything than we did before. We’ve been afforded an opportunity to work for ourselves instead of working to pay a mortgage and make money to be able to do things to destress. Life for us is calmer here and less about how fast we can get from A to B in order to accomplish C, but more about why we want to do something and how it fits in,” says Jennifer.

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