A town’s population of 64,000, and a market permeating with booksellers, it was not a viable proposition to open another stand-alone bookshop
From being the first cinema in town, to a military dormitory, an ice factory and, a gas canister store for thirty years, before it transformed into a bookstore. It was the first structure in the town of Póvoa de Varzim to be built on masonry, in 1910, on the street of Rua da Junqueira. Changing hands, it was abandoned and left to become a ruin. That is when Alberto Bago and his partners stepped in and founded Theatro, to reassemble its identity. A powder-pink facade, Theatro stands as a center for culture, enclosed with a bookstore, restaurant, and bar. «We host events in music concerts, book readings, art exhibitions, wine tasting dinners, talks with authors over dinner and weddings. Apart from the organized events, the likes of industry natives, Álvaro Siza Vieira, Joaquim de Almeida, and Ana Moura have graced us with their presence», informed Bago.
In 1956, Livraria Minerva, a bookstore in Póvoa de Varzim, was founded by his grandfather. Brought up in an environment surrounded by the scent of books and literature, Alberto Bago pictured the bookstore as his kindergarten. For the self-confessed bibliophile; words remained his playground, and alphabets his building blocks. «I do not remember existing without books around me or spending a day without them. When I go on vacation, one suitcase is reserved for my books. Reading in the sun is one of life’s treasured pleasures», reminisces Bago.After completing management studies, Bago wanted to pursue a career in finance, but found himself gravitating to the world of prose and poems. He decided to expand his family’s legacy. «I realized that a bookstore is not commerce, it is a pillar of society, in towns like mine. I felt the urge to take the family business forward that was half a century old» says Bago.He concedes that books have had the potential to influence him. «I consider Daniel Pennac’s ‘The inalienable rights of the reader’ one of the milestones in my life», recounts Bago.He had been eyeing the Theatro for thirty years. As a child he would visit, what was then an electric store, with his grandfather. It was a matter of time before the shop closed, leaving the establishment abandoned, and in a state of dilapidation. A convergence of opportunity, inspiration, and courage led him to take the leap, and acquire the establishment in Póvoa de Varzim. «I say that places determine the business and not the other way around. This building had been altered several times, with no concern for its value». With a town’s population of 64,000, and the market permeating with booksellers, it was not a viable proposition to open another stand-alone bookshop. «I started thinking what could be the match for books and I manifested the triangle: books, food and wine. The bookstore had to be the soul of this project», pointed out the entrepreneur.
Following the inception of the idea, Bago roped in his brother who had a vision to build a restaurant and handle its operations. The other partners of the collective were Luis Milhazes, friend and wine connoisseur, and Jaime Oliveira, cousin and art aficionado. They were in the market for an architect who could transform their vision into reality. Mimool Arquitectura & Design de Interiores, a team of three architects and an interior designer, were brought on board, to take forward the restoration works of the building to develop the concept store. The goal was to recover the features of the building, through an intervention based on the restoration of its structure. There were spaces that inspired each section, but the challenge was to merge them in harmony. «The brief given to the architects was to create a space that links each of our perspectives: the restaurant, the bookstore and the bar, without losing the essence of the property. The blueprints were aimed to enhance the building with minimal intervention. Materials used were related to the concept of the theatre. Abstaining the interiors from walls or obstructions, that were not present. The second level is built on slabs that were present, while the stairs constructed are placed by the exit as incepted. A roof had to be constructed with wooden frames to match those of its identity. Keeping intact the alignments, the building seeks to separate from the neighbor through a vertical window. The tiles were cleaned and adjustments to the windows were made. «In order to pay a tribute to the building, we decided to expose the brick wall, along with the windows and frames made from stone that remain covered. The colors and materials used in sections, remind us of the gas canister store, and the factories that once lived in the space», Bago reflects.
Additions were designed with materials of contrast. The kitchen volume was treated with sheets that corrugate, simulating an industrial-container, reinforcing its character as an element to the pre-existence. The ‘container’ volume houses a service area and lavatories. The lateral hallway is distinguished by a bookcase that makes for the exhibition area. It inhabits the atmosphere of a home living-room, encouraging customers to maneuver. The decor characterized by lines, allows the Portugese book covers to take the center stage. Endowed with 30,000 titles, with romantic-literature being the genre in focus, the bookstore aspires to display covers that do not make it to commercial stands. The impact of the low-ceiling that opens into walls with wooden frames. On one side the books are arranged alphabetically in moving shelves, while titles are placed near the wine counter, with a glimpse of the bookshelf on the side hallway. The dining area is installed with the wine cellar. The exhibition stairs on the side hallway led to the upper floors, where lies the wine bar and the seminar room for events. On the ground level, the windows open into the outdoors with the green accent wall. «The flow enables clients to drift inside the building, assimilating the amenity Theatro has to offer», says Bago. Post the acquisition of the building in December 2013, it took four years of work and bureaucratic procedures, before it opened its doors in March 2017. The renovation itself was not rushed, but was completed in seven months, with fifteen days of delay.
Instilled with the theatrics of an open-kitchen, the restaurant at Theatro, promotes their motto of honesty, conviviality and integrity through its operations. The kitchen team, helmed by Chef Pedro Oliveira, specializes in Mediterranean and Portuguese cuisine, with shellfish, octopus and codfish. «Our patrons come for the classics» points out Bago. Execution at the kitchen level, apart from the use of ingredients sourced from the locality, each dish concept is filtered through the parameter of minimal waste. They hold a menu section focused on plant-based dishes, in their seasonal menu. Mise en place is done not over two days in advance, in order to avoid wastage and freeze processing. The wine selection exhibits the grape varieties from the wine regions of Portugal. Bottles from Douro and Alentejo, take up the wall-mounted cellar space. Dão, Bairrada and Setùbal make an appearance on their wine list which holds a selection of biological labels. «We have wines from commercial and potential producers. The wines start from 12€ to €200. Champagne is a part of the menu» adds Bago.
In the wake of the pandemic and the cultural shift to digital editions, running a brick-and-mortar bookstore requires nuances. «Printed books are transforming into gourmet products. The creation of Theatro was an adaptation to this market reality: books are presented to the public as a pleasure product, with gourmet-food, wine and art»IMAGE GALLERY
R. Santos Minho 10
Póvoa de Varzim