Lisbon's nightlife is a puzzle of a thousand pieces. Maybe more. There's one difference: when you start a puzzle, you have an idea of what the final product looks like. When you go out in Lisbon, you don't. Even if you're going to the usual bar, you know that the possibility you end up going home after breakfast is always there. Here's why:
1. Lisboners start their nights out pretty late, often after lengthy, wine-loaded dinners. In Lisbon, getting the last subway to go out at 1 am is not that late. If you're going out with a group and you're all meeting in a bar in Bairro at, say, 11pm, it will take ages until you're all together: the first ones will arrive at 11.30, the second wave will get there between midnight and 00.30 and there will be always that last guy arriving at 1am the earliest.
2. You may have an usual bar, but you never stick to it. You go there often – maybe every time you go out – but before or after being there, you will probably stop at some place before. Maybe because there’s a new place that just opened and you want to check it out. Maybe because it has really cheap drinks and you want to grab one 'for the way'. Maybe because a friend of yours is working there (he has probably three degrees and speaks five languages, but couldn't find a job elsewhere). Probably, just because.
3. Lisbon embraces bohemia like no other city. Let's face it, there's not those many cities who have a nightlife district as lively as Bairro Alto. There's definitely a thing going on between bohemia and Lisbon. The atmosphere for drinking and partying is as inviting as it gets. It's like all the nightlife districts are telling you to join the party.
4. Your options are endless. Apart from all other places spread around the city, Lisbon has mainly four nightlife districts: Bairro Alto ('Bairro' for friends), Cais do Sodré (or just ‘Cais'), Santos and Alcântara. If you look at a map of Lisbon, they take an L-shape: Alcântara lies at the southwest bank of the city, Santos is a bit further to the right, not that far away from Cais. Bairro is a 10 minutes walk north of Cais. That is not to mention three of the main clubs in Lisbon: Lux, in Santa Apolónia, Urban and Main (both near Santos).
5. So, where to go? Bairro has dozens and dozens of bars and its streets get filled on a weekend basis (see picture, courtesy of thirdcultureconcierge.wordpress.com). When in Bairro, feel free to visit Real República de Coimbra and Loucos e Sonhadores. 'Real' (yes, Portuguese tend to shorten names by simply mentioning the first one) is a purely student bar, with cheap beer, loads of University students and a general good, partying mood like few places have. Occasionally, you'll get to hear and watch University 'tunas' (completely unrelated to the fish that is also very dear to Uni students, 'tunas' are a sort of University band – youtube it) playing live there. 'Loucos' (first name, don't forget) is more of a leftfield bar with a great, calmer atmosphere, perfect to start a night with a good talk between friends. The €1 wine glasses will keep the conversation flowing. There is a very liberal atmosphere and rolling tobacco available for free for those who just ran out of it – use it, don't abuse it. You may also smell something funny in the air – check it out for yourself. Both places are in Rua da Rosa 253 and 257, in the most northwestern point of bairro. And before leaving Bairro, before leaving Lisbon, or just when starting a tour to Bairro, or whenever, you must go to Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara. Take a few beers (or buy them at local vendors that will be passing by), take a few friends and enjoy the night and the breathtaking views. That will most likely be the starting point of your love life with Lisbon. It was certainly mine – besides everything else.
Cais has also plenty of options you can choose from – from sitting bars to smaller clubs playing reggae or rock classics all night long, or drum'n'bass just the door to the left. Sailing through most of Cais bars can very well be a sail through any given iTunes genre playlists – probably with better quality. In Cais, you may try Povo, an afternoon-till-late bar which has a decent wine list for equally decent prices. If you're more into dancing/not-sitting-and-sipping-wine, you may try to oldie goldie 'Jamaica', just a few doors away, 'Europa', 'Liverpool', 'Viking', 'Copenhagen'…they're all unique and worth a shot – you'll be surprised. In Cais there's also 'MusicBox', a place favorited by many Erasmus students and locals alike. They're all in Rua Cor de Rosa, Cais' main hotspot.
Santos is usually the place all 15-16 year olds living in Lisbon started going out. Everyone who lived in Lisbon at that time has a story relating to one night where they've drunk too much in Santos when they were younger. Still, the area appeals to all crowds and ages and there are some nice places you might as well check out – Plateau is a decent club. Santos is also the place where you might be heading to if you're feeling like recharging your batteries either to go on partying or before heading home: try 'A Merendeira' (Avenida 24 de Julho 54) and have some 'caldo verde' (a typical, green cabbage soup) with bread with chouriço (or 'chorizo'. Spanish made it go international). If you're more into Sushi, Estado Líquido Lounge (at Largo de Santos) is open till 4 am on weekends.
Alcântara is arguably the artsy district of Lisbon, the 'East London' of the Portuguese capital. If you're heading there, explore Lx Factory (Rua Rodrigues Faria 103), a former industrial complex turned into a, well artsy one. There's several bars and libraries definitely worth a visit.
Of the clubs, Lux is by far the most eclectic one. Let's put it like this: Lux is music-driven, Urban and Main are fun-driven. And then there are other clubs, which you may check out for yourself – but there's much more to Lisbon then clubs.
There's also a few bars outside/in the periphery of these areas that are definitely worth checking. Pavilhão Chinês (Rua Dom Pedro 89) is a great, if pricey, place to start a night. FoxTrot (Travessa de Santa Teresa 28) and Cinco Lounge (Rua Ruben A. Leitão) are great for a calmer night, just having a drink and enjoying the company of who might be you. You may also try Pharmácia (Rua Marechal Saldanha), near Miradouro do Adamastor, a great sightseeing place).
The bohemia, all the possibilities (these are just my favorites, but there's hundreds more) all the places offers, the likelihood you'll end up talking to people that you had not met before that night, all that and all that goes unwritten will, I'm sure, make you love Lisbon's nightlife. Have a drink. Here's to Lisbon!
P. S. – oh, and taxi drivers are trust worthy. One time I took one from Lux to home and he convinced me to instead go to a open-air, probably illegal party organized by his uncle in a random field in Alcântara. I was going home by 5 am, I ended up only arriving at 9.30 am. That is one of the most nonsense stories (if really rare) I ever experienced, but which portrays the craziness that can go on in Lisbon.