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There's no place like Peter's in Azores

Jan 1, 2003

Mariners who have visited the Azores over the years have undoubt-edly stumbled into the islands' world-famous gathering place for travelers: Café Sport.

Opened by Henrique Azevedo in 1918, this harbor-front café and bar has been welcoming tuna fishermen, whalers, boaters, and yachtsmen to Horta, on the island of Faial, for the past 80 years.

Today it is run by the new patriarch, Henrique's 72-year-old son Jose Azevedo (called Peter by those who know him, a nickname apparently given by a passing Dutch seaman when Jose "was just a tadpole"). Peter celebrates his own milestone this year50 years of continuous service at Café Sportand he shows no sign of slowing down.

Each day, he comes to the café early in the morning to post the weather and sea condition reports on which ocean voyagers have come to rely. He opens the logbook with entries by visitors from countries around the world, and scans the photos and ships' pennants bedecking the tiny 16-by-16-foot café. Messages in multiple languages are pinned over the bar in a service that rivals the post office. Upstairs there is a museum with intricate whalebone scrimshaw, gifts of handsome carvings given to Peter and his father by local artists.

Every day Peter opens the door at 9:00 a.m. When the first few customers trickle in, he greets them warmly in their language of origin, and they soon settle in for tipple and talk. Peter can speak six languages fluentlyFrench, Dutch, Spanish, German, English, and Portugueseand a dozen others enough to get by.

On this quiet spring morning the place is full: an attractive Swedish couple from a nicely trimmed yacht, a Dutch seaman with a bushy beard, a local fisherman chatting with Peter in Portuguese, a clutch of Canadians and two American sailors whose news rivets the patrons: They have made the run from the Bahamas to the Azores by sailboat in 18 days.

Peter stays at his post until lunch time and then saunters off for a meal and siesta. By 4:00 pm, he's back at the café and stays for the dinner rush. The midnight closing he trusts to his son, Enrico, and other staff.

Outside the bar, the majesty of Horta harbor greets the eye. Compact tuna boats built on the islands and several ocean-going yachts are berthed at the docks. On the beach, fishermen untangle their nets near large inverted wooden whaleboats. There are still the occasional whalers who risk chasing sperm whales in the traditional way, with open boats and harpoons. But their number, like the number of scrimshaw artists, is dwindling fast.

Nostalgia is dispelled by the first of the fishing fleet coming into harbor, their holds fat with grouper, whitefish, trout, rock crab, and tuna. They will offload their catch, barter with the buyers, and wash off the salt spray and debris before heading down to Peter's for a well-earned drink.