Andre Saraiva'The Mailroom' preview, New York, USA - 24 Aug 2017

Café Henrie was never intended for the long haul. The Lower East Side coffee shop and eatery, which closed for good earlier this week after two years, was simply the latest concept from the artist André Saraiva, who closed things out with a neighborhood block party before he sets his sights on Lisbon.

“My real job is not to be food and beverage. I always liked to put together a place and arrange it,” Saraiva said on a recent afternoon, from his studio. “I always say when I do a place like a club or restaurant, I want the same energy or creativity as a painting or a drawing. It’s time to move on — and I have lots of other things going on.”

Immediately he is working on a commercial for John Paul Gaultier, in which he dresses up as the designer in a kilt, as well as a book he is doing of his graffiti from the mid Eighties through today, for Rizzoli. His work will take him to Hong Kong, Singapore and Mexico for art shows as well.

The big project is in Lisbon, a city he calls “one of the most exciting cities in Europe right now” because of how “open” it is. “A lot of people are getting art studios and art spaces, and it’s very creative and it’s still very free. Drugs are not controlled, life is cheap and you’re on the ocean — there are lots of things that make it fun and special,” he said. “I don’t want to compare it with Berlin, but it has that energy.”

It’s an energy he found on Café Henrie’s corner, but one that otherwise he feels is dwindling in New York.

“Most of the neighbors are Dominican; there is a hairdresser next to us who has always been there. Then there is Ramon the tailor, who is the best tailor in New York. Then there is the bodega, the deli. It’s kind of ghetto, but nice,” he said of the block.

Working in Lisbon allows for a more creative approach to hospitality, logistically speaking.

“To be sincere, for food [concepts] that I like, the city doesn’t make it easy,” he said of New York. “They only want corporations and big groups, and for little individual people to do projects that are more artistic is very difficult. It will kill New York — they don’t let you do anything where there is a little bit of freedom.”

In Lisbon, he’s ready to experiment with such freedom, and is about to purchase a former luggage factory that takes up an entire city block, which will be turned into a kind of “world of André.”

“I found this little beach town a half an hour from Lisbon where I got a little fisherman’s house that is literally on the beach,”Saraiva said. “The most fun thing, [though, is] I found this old factory. Lisbon is on an estuary, so it’s a bit like New York, and I crossed the other side — it would be a bit like Brooklyn, but smaller. I’m going to do a kind of private museum, the André museum. It will be a place for all the projects that I want. I could have a cafe, I could have my nightclub, I could have a friend doing a show, I could have my hotel. And it’s five minutes from maybe the best surf spot in Portugal.”

It’s a destination he sees as on the rise. “Lots of people in Europe are starting to go to [Portugal] and are rediscovering it. For a long time it’s been very under [the radar] — only a few people knew what the cool places were,” he said. “But today it’s starting to be cool tourism — not mass tourism — but a lot of cool, young kids go there now. My idea is to bring lots of friends from New York out there and have them work. You have so much craft and so many people who know how to work — ceramics, wood, you can have people make things with amazing skill.”

And it won’t be long before it’s up and running.  

“I like to do things fast — by summer,” Saraiva said. “I almost wanted to do a party for New Years, but legally it takes time.”

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