Time at the bar - Issue 173 - Magazine | Monocle

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What makes a restaurant dependable? In Galeto’s case, it’s simply that it is always there: this Lisbon institution is open 20 hours a day, seven days a week, 364 days a year, only closing on Labour Day. It is more of a city service than a mere restaurant – open to all whenever they need it. “The way I see it is that Galeto is almost like a hospital or post office,” says owner Francisco Oliveira.

The restaurant’s roots are both Brazilian and European. The Italian diaspora who settled in South America in the mid-20th century founded a genre of informal canteens in smart surroundings that served the unfussy chicken dish that gave Galeto, which opened in 1966, both its name and inspiration. The six Portuguese partners who brought the idea to Lisbon (one of whom was Oliveira’s father) wanted their new restaurant to feel modern. That meant including a snack bar offering quick bites, attentive button-bright service and space for both solitary diners and bigger groups in a way that wouldn’t make the former feel lonely.

Galeto’s wood counters
Staff work around the clock
Hearty dishes
Hive of industry

Dining feels communal even for solitary visitors

Brass details

While the simple chicken dish didn’t particularly catch on with the Portuguese, this new approach to dining, as well as the uniquely grand interiors and maze-like counters of varnished wood, became an instant hit. While Lisbon has seen constant 

Date founded: 1966
Signature dishes: Bife à Galeto and Combinado número 8, plus the snacks pregos and croquettes.
Covers: 120 at the counter, 60 in the dining room and an additional 60 on the terrace.
Employees: Mario Gonçalves is part of the furniture: he has run the counter two for more than 40 years.
Known for: Late-night bites and accommodating everyone from Lisboetas to tourists.
How it held out: Vast menu, on-point service, an all-embracing public and gruellingly long hours.

Come nightfall the crowd changes to louder groups of youngsters, couples exiting a cinema and an impossible- to-predict mix of regulars

change, Galeto has remained consistent. And this steadfast adherence to its original formula has somehow kept it on trend and beloved by the city’s residents even as other food fads have blossomed and faded. “It’s a modern, atemporal classic,” says Oliveira.

By day, Galeto is filled with families and walk-ins enjoying a leisurely lunch, as well as a few suited office workers snacking between meetings. The menu is vast but the house staples are still bife à Galeto (beef with fried egg, ham and pickles) and number eight on the set menu: a hamburger with French fries and creamed spinach.

Come nightfall the crowd changes to louder groups of youngsters, couples exiting a cinema or theatre and an impossible-to-predict mix of regulars, from politicians after a late session in parliament to escorts enjoying a quick prego (beef sandwich) and a last imperial (small beer) before calling it a night. From breakfast, which starts at 07.30, until 03.30 the next morning, Galeto’s 130 staff keep service running smoothly; some have more than 40 years’ experience on the restaurant’s floor. “This is a family-owned business with a mission,” says Oliveira. “It’s a kind of effort that we no longer see in hospitality today.” Well, almost never. — L galeto.pt

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