Bar fly: The Azores

By Kevin Pilley

Kevin Pilley joins the gossips and listens to some tall tales.

Illustration / Rod Emmerson
Illustration / Rod Emmerson

Peter Cafe Sport in the Azores is an eavesdroppers' paradise.

On the seafront at Horta on Faial Island in the Azores you get the best gin and tonic and the best gossip outside Europe. And maybe the United States, too.

In the most famous bar in the mid-Atlantic you get to hear many things. Like how tacky Gibraltar is and how Fiji is finished. Relative to the Balearics. The Caribbean notwithstanding.

You are told that these days many places aren't worth knowing. You overhear how commercial many places have become.

Yachties provide the cabaret and life commentary. And travelogues.

You listen in fascination as modern-day corsairs recount tales of being mauled by timeshare salesman in Las Palmas.

You learn that if you have not smelled Manila on a hot day you haven't smelled anything.

You listen, rapt and a little inebriated, to how Cape Horn is no fun at all and how much easier it is to get on with the natives of the Cook Islands than it is with the natives of Hertfordshire.

Peter Cafe Sport is a magnet for round-the-worlders. The name came when a homesick petty officer on HMS Lusitania thought the owner's son resembled his own son.

The bar has been in its present site, decorated with yacht flags and sporting pennants, since 1983. The American eagle above the bar came from a whaling ship. The New Bedford whalers recruited their harpooners from the Azorean archipelago.

The second and third generations now run the place. The two "Peters" - both Joses - are on their 27th visitors' book.

"Singapore has Raffles, Paris has Harry's and the Atlantic has Peter's," Jose snr told me, slicing a lemon while maintaining eye contact.

"It used to be full of drunk cable-layers, lonely seamen, weary Dutch tug crews and bored tunny fishermen.

"Now it's escapists and incurable romantics. It's a bank, a met office, an accommodation bureau and a poste restante. It's a country in itself. It's the most cosmopolitan place in the world. An international meeting place."

Upstairs is a scrimshaw museum. Basques, not salty sea-dogs from Nantucket, started it.

"If you whittle it's worth a look."

"The Azores is a lay-by everyone pulls into. There's always someone looking for crew," said Claire from County Clare.

"It's perfect if you want to hitch-hike across the Atlantic."

She told me how she wanted to have fun before settling down and how her journey had already proved a life-changing experience.

Which I defined as not having contracted scurvy or been subjected to multiple indignities by nasty pirates. As something which left her with a greater appreciation of life as well as finding out how many apostrophes there are in "fo'c's'le".

She said that her sailing days had made her more open-minded and less judgmental. Especially about gin and rum and men and women.

She had a found the right direction for herself. She finished her drink in one go. And, after finding her land legs, chose her next sentence carefully.

"Travel has given me an attitude to live by," she said, before passing out in front of me.

And the rest of the regulars at Peter Cafe.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Cathay Pacific has special 2014 Earlybird fares from Auckland to Lisbon, for purchase by December 16.

Local carriers connect form Lisbon to the Azores.

Further information: azores.com.

- NZ Herald

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