The basement “tavern” in the Portuguese restaurant Alfama is the only place I know in New York where you can go on a weekly basis, Wednesdays at 8pm, to hear fado. I made a point of going on the occasion of the restaurant’s one-year anniversary at its current location. The distinctive lilting melodies, which have the unusual ability to alternate between the melancholic and the festive, were sung by Nathalie Pires, a darkly attractive Portuguese-American whose work has captivated me before, and by one of the restaurant’s owners, Miguel Jerónimo, whose straightforward renditions had great appeal.
The previous time I saw Pires was in November at the Manhattan Camerata’s Tango-Fado Project. She was accompanied in equal parts by the great Daniel Binelli on the bandoneón and Pedro H. da Silva on the Portuguese guitar. That was only part of a beautiful chamber concert which included a duet of Piazzolla’s “Verano porteño” played by Binelli and the notable pianist Polly Ferman and concluded with a fado unamplified in voice or instrument that filled the vaulting Blessed Sacrament Church with a lilting, desperate sorrow.
The fado at Alfama is sung without amplification throughout. The lighting is dim and the food authentic (and therefore delicious), creating an ambiance not unlike what I experienced during my one trip to Portugal. I will be back to the fado at Alfama, and hopefully to the country of its birth as well.