We keep getting e-mail from all over the world with the very same question: where can I
meet locals, and make new friends (or maybe start a romance)? A good bet is a botequim, the Brazilian term for a bar or café. A good thing is that they tend to be located in certain areas, so sometimes they overflow to the streets - with tables or standing patrons.
The original botequins have a counter with finger foods and snacks, and the drinks (mostly beer) was served to stanging customers. These are the famous pé-sujos (dirty feet) where you are welcome even in your flip-flops after the beach.
Now there are sophisticated versions with tables, live music, the works! But if you run into a pé-sujo consider stopping by. A true Carioca would...
Ipanema and Baixo Leblon
Ipanema is our starting spot, and not without good reasons. It is one of the most afflluent areas in Rio, yet without losing its bohemian roots. Legendary bars like the Zeppelin (60's) and Bofetada (70's) have been followed by a diversity of venues. You can even drink draft Guinness in a pub, enjoy tapas or colorful drinks, try banana beer (it tastes better than it sounds) and make new friends.
Leblon is somewhat similar to Ipanema with about as many choices. Baixo Leblon surrounding Rua Dias Ferreira is still as popular as ever! The only difference is that now patrons prefer to go by taxi to avoid the zero-tolerance policy to drinking and driving in Rio.
Copacabana to Urca
In Copacabana, there's Av. Atlantica itself, with a succession of cafés, restaurants, and nightclubs. There are many venues on
cross-streets, too. Walk around and find gems like Cervantes in Lido (reputedly the best sandwiches in Rio), or Bip-Bip, with legendary jam sessions.
On our way to Urca we pass by Botafogo, that is also full of good choices - especially in the area around Humaitá. Lagoa also has excellent bars - including legendary Bar Lagoa. Jardim Botanico is another hub with sophisticated cafés and restaurants. Baixo Gávea, surrounding Praça Santos Dumont, is one of the best bets - especially on Thursday nights.
Lapa and Centro
Some of the city's most traditional cafes and bars are in Centro. Go
on a downtown historical tour,
and later stop at world-famous Bar Luiz for a hearty
German style meal. People love to get together in Cinelândia for a beer
after work at either Café Amarelinho, or
Lapa is another traditional spot that concentrates a number of cool bars and cafés.
It went through a revival in recent years with new bars with pocket
shows, live music and dance floors. The most popular sport is people-watching, and if you are broke you can do it sipping a beer on the street. This area can be very crowded on weekends. Be streetwise.
If you are coming from a country with tight drinking regulations,
note that the concept of brown-bagging is completely alien to Brazilians
(and laughable, if you try to explain it). Even simple street bars,
known as botequins or pés-sujos, are licensed - and you do not have to
hide what you are drinking! Beer and shots of cachaça or caipirinha are
available everywhere, even at the beach.
Use public transportation, as a zero tolerance for drinking and driving is enforced in Rio. Do not take drinks from strangers nor leave your drinks unattended. Do not take strangers back to your hotel room, especially if you are feeling dizzy. Use your common sense, be safe and have fun!