by Doug Gray, The Telegraph, November 16, 2018
The traditional Rio bar scene is alive and well, where small establishments remain the pretension-free places to be, serving up ice-cold chopp (draught beer) by the tray-load, accompanied by some of the best bar snacks going. Tap rooms are trendy, the variety of beer now matching that of the indulgent snacks, while a cocktail explosion has seen mixologists curate elaborate drinks menus and local distilleries craft small-batch gins, unashamedly taking the best of London, New York or Paris then pouring it through an unmistakably Brazilian filter. And, of course, there's always the caipirinha.
Astor occupies a strategic corner on the waterfront where Ipanema beach meets Arpoador, so it's suitably busy every night of the week. The post-work crowd morphs into the pre-dinner crowd which blends into the party people, supping a ready supply of excellent draught beers and strong caipirinhas, while the occasionally distracted bar staff mix one of the best Bloody Marys around. Astor has embraced the recent gin revolution, so sample one of several regional spirits to cool off after a hard day's beaching. The varied food menu has something for everyone.
Contact: 00 55 21 2523 0085; barastor.com.br
Opening times: Tue-Sat, midday-11pm; Sun, midday-5pm
Copacabana’s discreet beer specialist lies deep under an apartment building. Named in honour of Escondido, California, this is no British pub recreation (although Magners cider and a few fruity old faithful ales are present and correct), but rather a vaguely industrial celebration of American pale ales and the trusty hamburger. The list of beers is almost overwhelming so be led by the in-depth descriptions, alcohol percentage and the price – some pints top the R$50 (£10) mark but rest assured there is always a trusty session IPA to be found for a fraction of that.
Contact: 00 55 21 2522 9800; facebook.com/pubescondidoca
Opening times: Tue-Sun, 6pm-1am
When it comes to bar snacks, cold beer and the simple pleasures of the Rio barfly, Pavão Azul is up there with the best. It’s highly unlikely there will be any tables available and the place is certainly not much to look at, but a waiter will almost always drum up at least a stool to rest your bottle on. Order a bottle of Antartica Original and shrimp pastel on arrival, along with the molho malageta, a chilli sauce that need only be used sparingly, or try the juicy bolinho de bacalhau cod balls.
Contact: 00 55 21 2236 2381; facebook.com/pavaoazuloficial
Opening times: daily, midday-midnight
Copacabana's Bip Bip bar might not look like much, but its place in the firmament of Copacabana's samba, choro and bossa nova scenes is undisputed. A constantly changing, always informal arrangement of local musicians sits crammed around the only table, leaving barely enough room for anyone else inside. Service is literally non-existent, so customers must find their own table or chairs and set up on the pavement, grabbing beers, a glass of wine or the sweet, ready-mixed cocount and cachaça 'batida' cocktail from the fridges at will. Wonderfully eccentric and strictly for music lovers.
Contact: 00 55 21 2267 9696; facebook.com/barbipbip
Opening times: daily, 7pm-11.45pm
Smack in the middle of Copacabana is the unusual, endearing and downright delicious Adega Perola, as unassuming as bars come and all the better for it. What at first glance appears to be a no-nonsense deli is in fact one of the neighbourhood's best-loved botecos (bars). For 60 years the long glass counter has been laden with all manner of traditional Portuguese fancies, from exquisite lamb sausages and incredibly juicy olives to fresh octopus and marinated sardines. The brave can choose from over 20 types of cachaça, but the ‘bull’s blood’ wine is best left well alone.
Contact: 00 55 21 2255 9425; facebook.com/AdegaPerolaRiodeJaneiro
Opening times: Mon-Thu, 11am-midnight; Fri-Sat, 11am-1am
Flamengo & Laranjeiras
This Uruguayan-run wine bar is a relaxed and unpretentious place. The shelves are lined with the owner’s choice bottles from around the world, the very best of which are held back in the climate-controlled room to the rear. The selection isn’t overwhelming, and informed staff are on hand to help when required, while regular wine-tasting sessions help educate those after a little more know-how. The Europeans are well represented but naturally the collection is skewed towards Chilean and Argentinian wines, though the growing reputation of Brazil’s own vineyards makes the national selections well worth a try, too.
Contact: 00 55 21 2205 3122; symposiumbistro.com
Opening times: Shop Mon-Sat, 4pm-10pm; Bistro Mon-Sat, 6.30pm-10.30pm
Spanish favourite Garoa made a splash when it opened in Leblon, not least because it completely eschews tapas-bar norms in favour of a distinctly European cool that is fuelled by a global tour of unusual and unlikely cocktails, some great snacks and DJs who keep the atmosphere bubbling along until long after midnight. Embark on a tasting session of gins including Brazil's first London Dry, Arapuru, and the award-winning (in England!) Amazonni, served in huge glasses with Costa Rican tonic water and pink peppercorns for a truly South American take on the classic G&T.
Contact: 00 55 21 99506 2674; facebook.com/garoarj
Opening times: Tue-Sat, 7pm-2am; Sun, 7pm-midnight
The Belmonte chain always did the simple things well; non-stop cold beers made sure the evening flowed nicely, trays of mini-pies kept the wolf from the door and a lively boteco atmosphere was guaranteed. The Leblon branch then pioneered a bold new era with a facelift that aped the more stylish bars of São Paulo and what was once a fairly busy locals' bar is now perennially packed, the crowds spilling out into the street. In fact, there’s really no need to venture inside, just grab one of the street tables, order a caipirinha and settle in for the night.
Contact: 00 55 21 2294 2849; facebook.com/botecobelmonte
Opening times: Mon-Sat, midday-3am; Sun, midday-11.30pm
Hammocks line the ceiling and intriguing beers fill the fridges at Aconchego Carioca, one of the most endearing bars in the city. Its location a few blocks from the Maracanã stadium is ideal for a pre-match stop-off, but the atmosphere and excellent bar snacks make it well worth the short trip away from the Zona Sul region any day or night of the week. There are no draft beers, so grab a bottle of Terezopolis along with a portion of the small, fried balls of feijoada (pork and bean stew) that come complete with a little shot of caipirinha.
Contact: 00 55 21 2273 1035; facebook.com/aconchego.carioca
Opening times: Mon, midday-4pm; Tue-Sat, midday-11pm; Sun, midday-5pm
Praça da Bandeira, awkwardly set between Centro and Tijuca, has reinvented itself as a beer lovers' paradise. Botto’s twenty taps are dedicated to the best-loved beers from the UK, USA, Belgium and Germany, each chalked up on the huge, ever-changing blackboard by the bar. This being Tijuca, what the bar lacks in refinement it makes up for in atmosphere, with live rock and blues regularly taking over. If there’s a new local drop emerging, be it from as far afield as Buzios to the mountains of Terespolis, you will find it here.
Contact: 00 55 21 3496 7407; bottobar.com.br
Opening times: Mon-Thu, 5pm-midnight; Fri, 5pm-2am; Sat, 3pm-2am, Sun, 3pm-midnight
The interior treads a fine line between gaudy and boho-chic at Do Horto, a cocktail bar/restaurant next to the botanical gardens. Invariably buzzing from sundown, trendy types from nearby media offices can be found supping anything from a glass of champagne to the signature Caipilé – a vodka caipirinha that comes complete with ice lolly sticking out of the top. Classic caipirinhas are made with a wide variety of fruits (from kiwi to strawberry and passion fruit), and the food menu offers great snacks like moreish, herby arboreo rice balls with parmesan, as well as more substantial meals.
Contact: 00 55 21 3114 8439; dohorto.com.br
Opening times: Tue-Sun, midday-2am
Lapa & Centro
Anybody serious about their beer will find plenty of previously untapped bounty at Lapa Café, where the list of tempting options travels the length and breadth of Brazil and beyond to unearth some of the hottest new artisanal brewers around. Try the Tres Lobos from Ouro Preto, the excellent Noi from neighbouring Niteroi, and Rio’s own Mistura Classica, all of which stand up well against international heavyweights from Germany, Belgium, England and even Cuba and New Zealand. The space itself is a straight-up Lapa drinking hall with high ceilings and exposed brickwork, so focus on finding a new favourite.
Contact: 00 55 21 3971 6812; espacolapacafe.com.br
Opening times: Mon, 10am-6pm; Tue-Thu, 10am-11pm; Fri, 10am-midnight
Meza's calling card is beautifully presented, well-thought-out cocktails, served with a friendly authority by well-versed mixologists. The list of ingredients at play makes it almost impossible for even those with the pickiest of palates not to find something to their liking, while for the adventurous, Meza quickly becomes an alcoholic playground. The drinks' list features six different martinis and eight exotic caipirinhas using unusual ingredients such as cardamom, rosemary and lychee, and bartenders create original and personalised libations perfectly suited to the wildest whim. DJs spin electronica at weekends.
Contact: 00 55 21 3239 1951; mezabar.com.br
Opening times: Sun-Thu, 6pm-1am; Fri-Sat, 6pm-3am
Solar de Botafogo hosts a mixed bag of cultural events, from off-the-wall performance artists to live music and theatrical productions. But it is the downstairs bar where the most consistent fun is to be found. Though quiet on weekdays, Saturday nights roll through until 3am with guest DJs playing pop and rock to keep things lively. More than 40 different bottled beers and a good selection of cocktails are on offer, and decent bar snacks are available. It’s always worth grabbing a booth by the bar as the side room can be soulless unless it is brimming with people.
Contact: 00 55 21 2542 9458; solardebotafogo.com.br
Opening times: Mon, 6pm-1am; Tue-Fri, 11.30am-1am; Sat, midday-3am; Sun, 3pm-11pm
Bar do Gomez
The quintessential neighbourhood bar in arguably the city’s prettiest region. There are no airs and graces at Gomez, also known as Armazém São Thiago. The beer is ice cold, the atmosphere endearing and the locals never less than entertaining. Make no plans beyond sharing a few 660ml bottles of Antartica Original beer between small glasses, accompanied by salty cod balls (best drizzled with the house hot sauce), and settle in for a long, late-afternoon stint. The place is almost a century old, and you get the distinct impression that the first people through the door probably did something very similar.
Contact: 00 55 21 2232 0822; armazemsaothiago.com.br
Opening times: Mon-Sat, midday-1am; Sun, midday-10pm
Bar do Mineiro
Very much in the style of the classic Rio boteco (bar), Mineiro is the simple, late-night spot of choice in Santa Teresa, with a strong reputation that pulls people from all over the city. House traditions well worth following are the weekend feijoada (hearty pork and black bean stew) accompanied by a nip of the honey cachaça to reawaken the senses, and several large bottles of Original beer. Stories are told loudly and customers spill out onto the street, making for a perfect introduction to the world of Rio’s pub culture.
Contact: 00 55 21 2221 9227; bardomineiro.net
Opening times: Tue-Sat, 11am-2am; Sun, 11am-midnight
Picturesque Urca remains in something of a time warp while the rest of Rio has been dragged into the 21st century. Walk along the waterfront from the main road and take in a harbour of rickety fishing boats, chess-playing locals in the square and a tiny beach backed onto by an old school house. Ten minutes beyond and the sea wall becomes packed with folk perched along it, slugging cold beers accompanied by pasteis (small fried parcels of beef, cheese or shrimp) from Bar Urca - some of the best around. It's an essential spot, albeit little more than a well-placed counter top.
Contact: 00 55 21 2295 8744; facebook.com/barurca
Opening times: Mon-Fri, 6.30am-11pm; Sat, 8am-11pm; Sun, 8am-8pm