Soon he'll be 70 years old, says Helder Bailote. Until ten years ago, he was not suspected of being artistically ambitious. Today, he is the man who has transformed an old commercial building in Albufeira, the tourist capital of the Algarve, into a dazzling, colorful, shell-studded piece of art hard on the verge of kitsch.
Whether that has already been exceeded? A matter of taste. "We've been telling him for years that it's enough," says his nephew Ivan, son of Helder's brother João. The three men run the Portas da Villa Antiquity Bar together. Ivan is to inherit the bar once, continue the family business. But Helder is not ready yet: "He keeps on going, every winter."
Helder listens silently to our conversation and smiles softly. He scribbles patterns on a notepad. When I look at what he is doing, he points to the counter: "That's the next one, there's room!"
True, if not much. The bar is a curiosity in Albufeira, a building unparalleled. The two visible outer walls are completely covered with large, heavy shells, where they are not decorated with images of shells, ornaments, reliefs or abstractions. Kings are smiling from the walls, flowers sprout from organically designed lime material.
Anyone who finds this shrill or overloaded was not yet in the bar. The guest can expect a sheer, decorative flush, and of course the material of choice is the shell. Small, large, brown, white, red, colorful, natural or painted shells. In between are or hang ancient axes, knives, muskets. Fishing tools, typewriters, dolls, irons. Family pictures hang on the walls: the grandmother in adolescence, a beautiful woman, her mother, her husband.
Colorful glass breaks light, and behind the counter stands Ivan, 30, smiling broadly and enjoying the reactions of the guests. A Brit informs her husband about what she finds particularly great and what he should do in the summer in their garden. "Well, I hit the jackpot when I came in here," he says at some point, and everyone laughs.
That's the way it is often, says Ivan. People would come to the bar because it was so different. Some thought it was a kind of museum or a historic building. But she is not. And then the guests sat with a glass in their hands and stared at the ceiling, the walls. Ivan: "The first reaction is always a wow!" That alone makes sure that the atmosphere is completely different than any other bar in the city.
The building is located on the Rua da Bateria, exactly where once one of the gates stood by the fortified city wall, on the edge of the old town of Albufeira. Today it marks the area where the party zone meets the quiet part of the old town. You can rest, warm up or relax here.
The small corner house has been in the family for a long time: "We were all born up there, above the bar," says Helder, and his brother nods. Below, says Ivan Bailote, the grandfather mended the nets of the fishermen and salted cod, then air-drying it to taste Portugal's strong Bacalhau to process (because of the salting is Bacalhau way more of a mild Klipp- than a classic Stockfisch). Above, the big family lived in a small space.
"I also went to sea first, but that was too hard for me," says Helder. Instead, he learned a trade that would at best be considered a lighter job by direct comparison: "So I went to construction for 25 years." Stone instead of sea.
Tourism changed everything
Then came the travelers and with them new ways to earn the necessary money. The family began renting their apartment in the summer: "We slept downstairs, in the workshop, in the nets!" Helder laughs, and his brother nods with shining eyes.
Then the two had the idea to expand the old, tiny little network tinker workshop into a bar. It was 1981, you could feel how tourism has become an increasingly important business in the Algarve. It was going, but it was not going well yet.
And then Helder remembered the shell house. Until the middle of the seventies, the brothers now tell each other by turns, that was up in the old town, where today the lift goes down to the beach. Covered with mussels from top to bottom, generations of those who had been caught grew up with them. When it was demolished to replace it with a larger, sober hotel building, many residents of Albufeira felt that this was a loss.
Helder started collecting shells. For two years he searched the beach, then in 2012 he began to "mumble" the first outer wall. He did not ask anyone for permission, and no one stopped him until he completed the second wall in the second winter. "Then came mail from the city," says nephew Ivan and laughs, "Helder has no permission for the structural change, he should stop immediately."
But the small, quiet heroes did not stop: "I have paid the penalty and just continued." And then?
João comes over from the counter and puts an old brochure on the table. It was initiated by the local tourism promotion after the small corner house on Rua da Bateria had begun to become the "House of Shells". The title page features Albufeira's most colorful bar.
When it comes to Helder, the year after year will continue to transform, as long as he can still collect and stick shells. Nephew Ivan, meanwhile, is planning further: At some point, there will be his own Portas da Villa merchandise, he hopes. The next winter will come, then there will be time for ideas and changes. For the next "Wow!".