“Is this a bar? No, it looks like someone’s just hosting a party at their house”. That’s what some French tourists say to each other, while passing by Lisbon’s newest trendy spot. Because that’s how CoCasa makes you feel. Like you’re at a friend’s party. It is intimate, chill and refreshing. No invitation needed, just follow the fairy lights down the road of Lisbon’s highly frequented Miradouro de Santa Catarina, in the Bica district. There you’ll find a yellow house which used to be the Oasis Backpacker Hostel. Today, it is a coworking space, a café, and a bar with a different pop-up almost every day.
The Oasis Backpacker Hostel used to be the place all travelers would go to, when visiting Lisbon. However, when Covid-19 hit the city, the Oasis, like many hostels all around the world, was closing and heading towards bankruptcy. One of the many foreigners to have set foot in the hostel was Jackson Irwin, who had come back to Lisbon to work there for a brief period after living abroad for nine years. The 32-year-old Australian arrived in the city on the first day of lockdown. “Hostels are on a declining scale” he tells me, and the reason for that according to him? It’s not because of Airbnbs or the pandemic, but mainly due to “phones and wifi”.
“People used to come to hostels to meet other people, other travellers”, Jackson explains, but now all of that is pretty much obsolete. With wifi available everywhere and a phone in everyone’s pocket, we are constantly connected online and to people through social media. So what’s the point of a place like a hostel in these times? Well, Jackson came in as “an outsider looking in”, as he says, trying to “stop the bleeding”. That’s when he had the idea to create CoCasa. A place that would bring people together, allowing us to disconnect from technology and reconnect with each other.
“We need human contact.”
“The goal is to bring locals and foreigners together”, Jackson says, but contrary to a hostel the point is to keep people here. Basically, “they do everything here: work, eat, drink, and then go home to sleep”. The CoCasa team has created spaces very inviting for technology… and also not at all. On the second floor, there are three rooms, with four tables each, to rent per month (€200 a desk, or €250 with a regular desk, a standing desk and a ceiling of €100 to spend on food). These spaces are meant to “connect with work, with no distractions”. If you’re looking for a little break from the wifi, the floor has a room meant for disconnecting, where they have events, workshops and showcasings like of the documentary “Can Art Stop A Bullet”, during their launch week.
The former hostel lounge is also a place where people can disconnect from work for a few minutes and drink coffee from their partner Buna Portugal, or one of the craft beers they have to offer. You can casually cowork in the lounge for 10 euros a day and collaborating with others is always encouraged. For an after work drink between friends or a tasty meal from one of their many collaborators, head outside to another “disconnection zone”.
From work, to play, to collaborate, the goal is to “elevate each other”, says Jackson. “We want to be the centre that connects people”, he insists. “Covid was like the straw that broke the camel’s back, it showed we need human contact”. By regrouping all these brands and creatives under one roof, the CoCasa team shows what communities will look like in the future. Collaborating is not just in their name, it’s their motto. Jackson is the dreamer behind the project but there is a whole team working alongside him to make that dream a reality.
“Nothing can be done on your own”.
When the idea of CoCasa started to come together everyone thought Jackson was crazy, but in his mind, “it was all very clear” he says. “I just put vision out there, let’s see who grabs onto it”. So far, many people have. During the day from 9am to 3pm, the coworking space is also a café for the brand Buna Portugal. Every night, you can try tasty food from a different CoCasa collaborator such as Hungry4Pasta, Beauty Burgers, Bonitas Burritos, Kendrick Kendrick’s vegan kebabs or OysterPoint. Bonus point - many of these brands are plant based!
Besides food, the house has hosted a Turkish disco, a clothes sale/swap and is home to the Janvier shop, owned by Claire and Noemie, who sell indoor and outdoor plants. You can find them on the right side of the street, in the house’s garage, now turned into an indoor jungle. Their flower pots are made in Portugal, handmade by Portuguese ceramists that they also promote on their website.
Soon, CoCasa plans on hosting poetry reading nights, comedy nights, concerts with live musicians and DJs, and even events with activists. By the end of the summer, the goal is to collaborate with around 50 brands and really “accelerate the vision” Jackson says, because “nothing can be done on your own, if not, you are not building a community”.