Rio nightlife is famed to be the best in the world. It’s definitely a good place to spend a lot of time going out but you’ll need to adjust your cultural parameters a bit to really get the best of it. Whilst there do exist some interesting clubs, many of the best scenes are all on the street in sporadic gatherings of samba blocos rehearsing for carnival or just street parties like in Lapa or Gavea.
Nightlife in Rio is not about getting drunk and picking a fight either, it’s a very light, buzzy affair where the idea is to chat and flirt to the maximum. Whilst everyone drinks beer and cachaca, you’ll rarely see anyone too drunk to walk here. Getting trashed isn’t the Rio way, getting laid is.
Brazilians will drink beer anywhere and just about anywhere is allowed to sell it so they concept of a bar isn’t always a given; many Brazilians prefer to gossip with some friends at a street café, a botequim and watch the passers by. Even most of the bars aren’t much more than some plastic tables and chairs on the sidewalk where people split a large bottle of beer.
If you want to find something more resembling an American or European bar then you’ll need to head uptown to Ipanema or Leblon where you find a few Irish bars and pubs. Around Praca General Osorio in Ipanema you have the Irish Pub and Shenanigans; the Irish Pub is kinda small and cosy and there’s a fair number of expatriates who hang out here.
Shenanigans is loud, crowded and vulgar and basically a money-making machine; the doors are guarded by huge apes and the waitresses are all gorgeous. Gringos come here because it’s an environment they recognize and Brazilians come either to hunt the gringos (remember all foreigners are gringos in Brazil) or just to pose in an exotic foreign setting.
Moving up along Ipanema you pass some more botequim and then you come to Rua Maria Quiteria where you find the Emporio bar. This gets going from around 10am onwards and its main advantage is that it’s open until 4 in the morning. It’s very cheesy inside but when there’s enough people the crowd spills out onto the street and then it can be fun.
Rather than buying beer in the Emporio though you should stroll down and buy from Luizinho, who sells beers from the back of his car. He’s a small, friendly and very wise man who knows the street inside out. If you speak Portuguese then a chat with Luizinho can be a very enlightening experience.
If you want to get drunk with the bourgeois of Rio youth then you can find a bunch of bars around the ‘Leblon triangle’ situated around Dias Ferreira and Ataulfo de Paiva. Wear your most expensive haircut.
If you’re looking for upscale nightclubs in Rio then you could try Zero Zero in Leblon. The crowd is fairly well to do and it’s one of the cooler places to hang out.
Ipanema has nothing to offer and whilst the Copacabana nightlife is mainly confined to strip clubs, there is Bunker 94 right at the end where it meets Ipanema. As the name suggests this is a claustrophobic basement but the music can be good and is a great place to dance on a drum and bass night. The music changes each night so check out the listings in the Globo newspaper.
Botofogo has the Casa da Matriz, a cramped club on a few floors. The lighting is dim, there are couches and chairs to relax on and it feels like you’re in someone’s house.
In Laranjeiras, near Flamengo, you have the Casa Rosa from Thursday to Sunday. This used to be a brothel and was converted into a club some years ago. It’s a beautiful setting and the samba sessions on Sundays are out of this world. It’s a dodgy area though and so it’s good to take taxis there and back.
In Lapa you can dance samba along at Carioca da Gema or blow your mind on the décor at Rio Scenarium, a club set on three levels with combinations of furniture, junk and art that were probably inspired by the spirit of Salvador Dali. Typically, you have samba, forro or alternative music here.
Dito e Feito is another club on three levels with cool decor and a variety of music. Again this is another club known only people who live in Rio de Janeiro and is found in the cool Arco d0 Teles Street, a good places to walk up and down and hang out at the sidewalk bars.
If you want to spend a lot of money you could go to the Hard Rock Cafe in Barra but you’ll only make yourself miserable gazing at the beautiful bodies of the spoilt brats who go there.
Gavea sem lei (without law) isn’t what it was but is still a good option on a Monday night. Lapa is the most democratic of the Rio nightlife spots as it draws people from all walks of life.
Some of the best Rio street parties though are when a samba bloco rehearses somewhere in the zona norte. You’ll not want to stroll too far away from the party but you’ll get a great percussion show and everyone will be on the feet, dancing.
You can find out more about Rio nightlife in a guide book called Rio for Partiers – it’s a bit smug in places but is a step in the right direction for the guide book market.