6 Jun 2016

The Russia House - Barley's bar, Lisbon

In 1991, Sean Connery starred in the spy thriller The Russia House based on a book by John le Carré.  The Russia House is one of only a few western film productions that were shot largely on location in the Soviet Union, before the fall of the eastern bloc and the end of the cold war. However, the story begins in Lisbon, where quite a few scenes were filmed. Barley is found in Lisbon by Mi6 where he is getting drunk at a local bar.

Connery plays the publisher Bartholomew "Barley" Scott-Blair, who gets involved with Mi6 as a young Russian woman tries to deliver to him a secret manuscript for him to publish. The manuscript turns out to be a document detailing the Soviet Union's capability for waging nuclear war. As the manuscript is of vital importance also for the CIA, Mi6 wants Barley to find the man who has written the manuscript and find out whether the information is genuine.

British intelligence officers track down Barley in Lisbon, where he has a holiday flat and occasionally enjoys quite a few drinks at his local bar. After finding Barley, Merrydew brings him to Mi6's secret house in Lisbon, under the pretense that Barley has an urgent message at the embassy, but in reality to secretly interrogate him about the manuscript.

Barley's bar is located at Rua Jardim do Tabaco number 5, in the Alfama district in central Lisbon. This is actually quite a credible location for Barley's local bar, since his flat is located at the street Escolas Gerais which is only located a few hundred meters away from the bar. Barley's flat will be covered later. The tram tracks that used to run along Rua Jardim do Tabaco (seen in the film) have been removed.

Igreja Ortodoxa Russa

Quite appropriately, coinciding with the film's title, a Russian Orthodox church is visible from the bar and seen behind Barley in the scene. The church is called Igreja Ortodoxa Russa in Portuguese.

The place is still a bar/restaurant today, although it has not always remained open since Connery's visit in 1991. After being closed for many years the place is relatively newly opened and is definitely worth a visit when in Lisbon! The place is called Agulha no Palheiro, meaning "needle in a haystack" which quite well symbolises the place, since it is quite hard to stumble on in Lisbon.

However, this place is definitely worth visiting, not just for the location but for the food and drinks. We had dinner at the place and enjoyed among other things their own cured salmon and baked goats cheese with honey. All courses were to die for.

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