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Brazil Nightlife

Armazém São Thiago
26 Rua Áurea
Santa Teresa
Rio de Janeiro
Tel: 55 21 2232 0822

This quaint drinking den, also known as the Bar do Gomes, has changed little since it opened in 1919. The faded sepia photos plastering the brick walls show the same dark-wood-and-marble counter, now stained with nearly a century's worth of nicotine, sweat, and condensation, and the same wooden shelves that stretch to the soaring ceiling, bending under the weight of a 100-variety cachaca collection. Regulars, many of them struggling artists with ateliers in the neighborhood, start to rock up in the late morning. There's a soulfulness as well as sadness to Santa Teresa's daytime drinkers: You're as likely to overhear a softly crooned samba or to spot a neat, bespectacled grandmother slowly sipping a chope in the mid-afternoon as the inevitable noisy male trio propping up the bar. By sundown, the decibel level rises appreciably, the steel fans start to whirr, and the industrial-size refrigerators—aggressively set at 25° F—have time enough only to get the beers "stupidly cold," not frozen, before they're whisked over to another thirsty customer. As the night progresses, the action spills outside into the steamy air, as passing friends mingle with customers, all struggling to protect their drinks from the rickety bonde tram that rattles noisily past, mere feet away from the bar and its steel shutters that never seem to close.

Centro Cultural Carioca
37 Rua do Teatro
Rio de Janeiro
Tel: 55 21 2252 6468

A campaign to push out the pickpockets, drug dealers, and prostitutes that congregate around Praça Tiradentes in Rio's Centro still has a ways to go, but a cultural revival is already underway, spearheaded by theaters and bars surrounding the square. Among them is this inexpensive and buzzing dance hall, which attracts an authentic Carioca crowd several nights a week. The two-story building started life in the 19th century as the Maison Rouge, a clothing store for upper-class matrons; after a period as a nightclub, it reopened in 2001 and now hosts visiting samba bands most nights of the week. Dance classes are also held before the main events start. Soundless video compilations play during performances, complementing the stylized Afro-Brazilian paintings that line the brick walls in the main hall. Don't bother trying to get a great table: All sense of order disappears when the tambores mark out a rhythm. The crowds press in, swaying to the beat, and within minutes, people are dancing all over the place. Passing waiters edge through the crush, marking orders on each guest's menu; you pay for your cover charge and drinks on exit.

Devassa Leblon
48 Rua Rainha Guilhermina
Rio de Janeiro
Tel: 55 21 2512 3578

The art of conversation is not dead in Brazil. Large groups can sit at tables for hours upon hours, drinking beloved tap beer (served "stupidly cold," as the saying goes) and talking about sports, the latest Big Brother Brasil season, who's cheating on whom, and so on. While there seem to be a million tables around town devoted to this very thing, Devassa's warm, vaguely bistro decor and friendly vibe make for an enjoyable time—even if you have no idea what your new friends are talking about. It brews its own draft beer, including a lovely lager (the louira—blond women are often referred to by the same name) and a hearty black. This outlet is the new Leblon location, but there are others around town, including in Ipanema and Centro.

Gay Rio
Rio de Janeiro

For one of South America's leading gay destinations, Rio is surprisingly straight. Or rather, gay life has become so integrated into the daily fabric of the city that you'll have to search hard for a gay ghetto or even gay-exclusive hangouts. Despite Brazilians' undoubtedly machismo culture, few Cariocas will raise an eyebrow at openly gay customers, particularly in areas popular with tourists, such as Ipanema, Copacabana, or Santa Teresa.

The nearest Rio gets to a "gay street" is Ipanema's Rua Farme de Amoedo, where a cluster of businesses cater largely to gay and lesbian customers. Many visitors stay at hip high-rise Ipanema Plaza Hotel (55-21-3687-2000), eat breakfast at the Colher de Pau café (55-21-2523-3018), and lunch on grilled chicken at Galitos Grill (55-21-2287-7864). Natter over strong coffee at Cafeina (55-21-2521-2194) or Tô Nem Aí (55-21-2247-8403), which edges seamlessly into a see-and-be-seen cocktail bar in the early evening. Around the corner is the Body Tech Gym (55-21-2287-8531), where the Barbies—as muscle marys are called here—pump iron before heading to the hopping gay section on Ipanema beach (look out for the rainbow flags between Posto 8 and Posto 9).

For hard-core nightlife, the place to go is The Week, an import from São Paulo that's located in a faded old warehouse downtown with a huge dance floor, several bars, and even a wading pool; big-name international DJs frequently spin on Saturday nights (154 Rua Sacadura Cabral; 55-21-2253-1020). Trustworthy Le Boy has been around for eons and can be a mixed bag, though its Sunday night parties are usually hopping (102 Rua Raul Pompéia; 55-21-2513-4993); the same owners also run the city's biggest lesbian club, La Girl (55-21-2247-8342). For up-to-date info on gay-friendly parties and events, look for flyers on Ipanema beach's gay section, or check out the comprehensive listings published by Rio Gay Guide and Rio Gay Life.

Rio de Janeiro

Located near Centro, Lapa is a neighborhood that was—and still is—pretty run down, but in pretty fantastic way. The warren of small streets and faded colonial buildings has a seedy/arty/downtown feel far removed from Zona Sul's burnished glamour, and is about 20 minutes away by cab. Even more unusual, you'll find the working class, artists, and professionals mixing to listen to live bands and drink cachaça, making for one of the most vibrant scenes in the city. Music seems to fly in the wind in Brazil, but you won't likely find better musicians playing traditional samba than at Carioca da Gema, where well-known sambistas often make an appearance, and the middle-aged crowd shows its enthusiastic approval in the space that only takes 300 people (55-21-2221-0043). Meanwhile, the Rio Scenarium is bursting the seams of its aging foundation with atmosphere (55-21-3852-5516). This former antique clearinghouse is comprised of three stories, and the top two floors have atriums cut into the floor so the audience can lean on the guardrail and see the band playing on the first floor. Every corner is stuffed with esoteric antique furniture, errant lamps, and knickknacks, and it gives off the vibe of a grandmother's house gone wild. The younger crowd prefers the Teatro Odisséia (55-21-2224-6367): A former porn theater, it also utilizes its three floors and the roof to showcase live bands and DJs playing at the same time in different sections.

Noites Cariocas
Pier Mauá
10 Rodrigues Alves
Rio de Janeiro
Tel: 55 21 9746 6867

After several shifts in artistic direction and sponsorship, what was once a yearly dance party has reemerged as a government-funded cultural festival with broader aims. For years, Noites Cariocas drew thousands of party-loving youngsters to its free, November-through-January weekend concerts on the summit of the Sugarloaf. Now, live Brazilian acts perform throughout February on a converted pier that juts into Guanabara Bay, not far from the Santos Dumont domestic airport. Workshops on street dance, theater, sports, and the visual arts are held during the week.

Hotel Photo
999 Avenida Armando Lombardi
Barra da Tijuca
Rio de Janeiro
Tel: 55 21 3575 6850

A classic Brazilian pickup joint. This two-story nightclub in the high-rise-condo section of Rio brings together young, moneyed Brazilians and foreigners. Other hot places come and go, but Nuth (sounds like NOO-tch) has managed to hang on to the crowds for the last five years, especially on Thursday and Sunday nights, when the emphasis is hooking up while dancing to the latest (mostly American) hits. The alfresco courtyard is a good place to escape for a bit of air when the cramped dance floor fills with couples making out. Rather bland food is served on the second story. Lots of beautiful people about, but expect lines at the door and attitude from the doormen.

Information may have changed since the date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.