About 1,500 kilometers from the west coast of Portugal, is one of the most remote archipelagos on the planet, the Azores in the North Atlantic. It is almost midway between Europe and North America, an ideal stopover for yachts and ships crossing the Atlantic, and has been so for more than 300 years since the Jesuit missionaries visited the islands on trips between Brazil and Asia. Today, thousands of sailors who anchor in the port of Horta, on Faial Island, walk into Peter’s Cafe Sport, a famous yachting pub, for drinks and merry-making. But the pub happens to also be the one-of-a-kind post office in the archipelago.
Sailors around the world have been picking up their mail from the pub for over a hundred years now. This tradition was the brainchild of Ernesto Lourenço S. Azevedo, great-grandfather of current owner Jose Henrique Azevedo. The place was originally called “Azorean House” when it opened in 1901 by Ernesto, to sell traditional handcrafted goods such as baskets, straw hats, embroidered lace, and rope, in addition to drinks. Everyone knows sailors love to drink. As a young man, Ernesto would visit anchored yachts and ask the sailors if they needed any provisions or assistance. It turns out a lot of them asked if he could hold their mails for them. And the rest is history as they say…word spread out to the yachting community that you could have your mail forwarded to this small watering hole, and when you arrive, you most likely will have a pile waiting for you.
In 1918, Ernesto’s son, Henrique, took over and renamed the pub to “Cafe Sport” to express his passion for sports. He is responsible for the great features the pub is known for, like the eagle symbol, the rustic furniture, and gin and tonic, the most popular drink in the bar. It became Peter’s Cafe Sport due to a story during the 2nd World War. A badly damaged Royal Navy battleship arrived in Horta and spent the rest of the war moored there. The supply and ammo officer saw a great similarity between his son, Peter, and Henrique’s so, whom he also began to call Peter. Well, the name stuck.
There are several traditions that have developed at the pub through the decades. Jose Henrique Azevedo explained: “There are three things sailors do when they come to this island. The first is to leave a painting in the harbor.” Legend has it that whoever doesn’t leave a painting attracts bad luck during the journey. Aside from the superstition, the pleasure of leaving one’s mark on the island has filled Horta’s harbor with small paintings all over the walls, and pavement. It gives the place its own unique charm.
“The second is to leave a flag here in the cafe,” Azevedo continues. A multitude of different flags hang from the ceiling from the thousands of sailors who have stopped by for a drink, or exchange mails. “The third one is to sign our book,” Azevedo explained to a BBC interview. He even showed the first ever log book. There are countless thank you notes, such as “If I ever forget your kindness, may I go straight to hell – Bill and Adriane, 1966.” Azevedo Said, “ I feel very proud of everything people wrote here about my family. This was actually the reason that made me want to keep the family business.”
But the most important, and original tradition, was for the pub to act as a post office. Unlike the island’s official post office, Peter’s Cafe Sport remains open many hours a day and night, and sailors can get their mail as soon as they arrive. Of course nothing beats having a cold drink while you get your mail. Azevedo does not charge for the mail service, neither did his father or grandfather. It is the simple joy of building friendships which kept the unique family tradition alive. In 2004, Portugal postal office honored Azevedo’s grandfather and the cafe by issuing 3 special stamps dedicated to the cafe. This was in recognition of the service to international correspondence. It seems this traditional family service will continue, even though many sailors can use emails instead. Maybe it’s the lure of a cool gin and tonic while you get your mail.