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Alexandre Martins
Ushering in the New Lisbon

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  • Words Allison Reiber DiLiegro
  • Images Alexandra Bruns, Stephanie Füssenich

Alexandre Martins is unafraid of being a beginner. The Lisbon-based hotelier and multi-hyphenate is constantly pursuing knowledge and seeking the most prestigious practitioners to learn from.

“I have a lot of passions: I love hotels, gastronomy, art. So whenever I have free time, I try to learn from the best.”

This quest has taken Martins far from his native Portugal throughout the years. He traveled to Japan for a sushi-making course at the Tokyo Sushi Academy (where an earthquake struck during class), studied marketing and advertising in Brazil, took a photography course at the New York Film Academy, and interned in the kitchen at the legendary Noma in Copenhagen. And now, with Hotel Hotel, Martins is creating a stage for the next generation of local creators to show what they’re capable of.

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Monument to the Discoveries located next to the marina in Belém

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The hotel's vertical gardens by landscape designer Michael Hellgren

“I’m very focused on bringing together young people and giving them the stage to shine,” Martins says, his enthusiasm infectious. To that end, the hotel has partnered with Underdogs, a Lisbon-based cultural platform and gallery, to bring in works by upcoming artists. Martins plans to highlight emerging talent through chef swaps, a diverse music program featuring DJ sets, bossa nova, and fado—the soulful Portuguese music tradition—creative wellness workshops, and more. “When I was young, my father gave me the confidence, the green card, to do what I love. That’s the energy I want to bring.”

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Curtain illustration for the hotel's Animal restaurant by Magdalena Feikusová

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Close up of wall art by multidisciplinary artist AKACORLEONE

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DJ Maddruga performing with a neon sign by artist Wasted Rita on the wall

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Life-size hand-drawn drawing by Teresa Esgaio behind the reception

With so many interests to pursue, how did you land in hospitality?

I come from a hospitality family. My father had a lot of experience and he passed some of that on to me. I got my start in Brazil, studying marketing and advertising when I was 25 years old. I think my father was afraid of me staying in Brazil because he called with an opportunity to manage the refurbishment and reopening of a hotel from the 1920s in Rossio, the main Lisbon square. I was very happy in Brazil—life can be very good there—but it was difficult to say no.

 

What about life in Brazil made you so happy?

Some of my friends were more focused on going to parties, but I wanted to find my tribe. I had a girlfriend who volunteered at a radio station in a favela. I would go with her, and we would go to specific bars and places that only the locals know. I’m always interested in that—I like to really know a country when I travel. Lisbon has a nostalgic soul, but Brazil has a very happy, openminded, energetic spirit.

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Colorful uniforms at the restaurant inspired by Brazil

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Al fresco dining with traditional painted ceramic tiles known as azulejos

Did you bring the Brazilian spirit back with you?

I tried. The idea was to bring the Brazilian energy to the hotel I was managing—the happiness, greenery, the color. I painted the façade in lilac and I put the staff in sneakers rather than dress shoes. I tried to shake up the energy.

I did that for five years, then opened some restaurants, and then found the building that would become Hotel Hotel. This time, 15 years later, creating something fresh has been an interesting challenge. I see a completely different Lisbon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I would love to have two lives in my life, at least.

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Traditional Portuguese bakery Padaria Italiana in Bairro Alto

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How has the city changed?

It’s more cosmopolitan and the younger people are in charge. Fifteen years ago, the power was in the hands of the previous generation, which had less world experience and less information. They were more focused on surviving, making money, and feeding their families. Nowadays, people in Lisbon are looking to add value—to change the city and the country for the better.

 

How are you hoping to shape the city?

My goal is to connect art, well-being, gastronomy, and music. I want to create a contemporary movement of young Portuguese artists—to give them a stage to share their work and show their capacity. When I was 25, my father gave me the opportunity to show what I could do. I want to do the same.

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The pool in the vertical garden is a quiet oasis in the city

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Artist Maria Ana Vasco Costa’s distinctive three-dimensional tiles on the facade

Can you tell me about your internship at Noma? What lessons have you taken with you?

I had holidays coming up and I thought, “I don’t want to go back to the same place in the south of Portugal with friends, hanging out,” so I sent Noma my CV. Luckily, the HR person was Portuguese and he called me back.

I was there to peel potatoes. I stayed at a hostel and woke up at 4:00 to be there at 5:00. We cleaned the restaurant and prepared everything before the next brigade arrived an hour later. The interns always do the dirty jobs. There were these big ants that we collected out in the field.

 

They sent the interns to collect ants?

Yes! It was really funny. They also made non-alcoholic juice pairings from strange things, like seaweed and Himalayan salts. Learning this—watching the creation process—was like going to Disney World for me.

The interns were from all around the world, so the kitchen had a specific room where they cooked and the chefs watched, sometimes choosing details to use in the dishes. It was a mindset of “everyone has ideas and the best idea wins.” This is what I truly believe.

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“Nowadays, people in Lisbon are looking to add value—to change the city and the country for the better.

Alexandre Martins

Any other particularly memorable moments from your travels?

Before starting the project, I spent a month taking the train through China without any plans. I would get off wherever I wanted to go out. I love this sense of “if I go to the left something happens and if I go to the right another thing happens.” That sense of controlling your life but at the same time putting it in the hands of destiny is amazing for me.

I travel alone because when you go with others, you are protected. You lose things that could have added a lot of value to the experience. You have the freedom to wake up when you want, to go wherever you want. It’s really a pleasure.

 

What are your dreams for the future?

I would love to have two lives in my life, at least. I’m now in the hospitality portion, but one day I hope to do something new—to change completely and learn from zero.

If I could choose, I would move to a hot country far away, maybe in South America or Asia. I want to be able to look back and say, “I was in Portugal, and I did something. And now I am somewhere else, and I did something.” It could be a bar, a bed and breakfast, a digital business—I’m not sure yet. Changing 180 degrees would be challenging and, I think, good for me.

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Street view in Alfama

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Supernova risograph print by André de Loba in one of the rooms

Images by Alexandra Bruns: 3-5, 7-9, 16-17, 19
Images by Stephanie Füssenich: 1-2, 10-15, 18

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