Rio de Janeiro: The Botequim

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When I want to know the social character of a city, I go where the people drink. In Paris, it’s the café. In London, the pub. In Rio de Janeiro, it is without a doubt the botequim, the little corner bar that is a local institution, as immortalized in the Noel Rosa samba “Conversa de Botequim.”

Characterized by its small size, tiled walls, ceiling fans, and above all its neighborly feel, the botequim is a place where you can feel instantly at ease, soothe over a glass of beer, and have a bate-papo (chat), perhaps to the sound of a television rattling out a soccer game. The standard beverage of choice is the basic cerveja (bottled beer), or a cut above, chopp – draft beer, cultivated as a national shrine.

The botequim began as the botica, a small neighborhood grocery you could run to for those few items that you suddenly realized you needed to complete the evening meal or your Saturday feijoada (see Eating Out and Nightlife).

The botica offered those little essentials that make the kitchen go round – salt, sugar, coffee, and the like. It was a frequent stop after a trip to the open market, a place to finish off the shopping rounds. Additionally there were a few tables or a counter where you might have a cafezinho (little coffee) or a glass of wine and an appetizer, turning the shopping into a little event in that nice way Cariocas have of making a social occasion of just about everything. It was not entirely a grocery nor a bar, but a happy hybrid of the two, a tradition that has only been preserved in a few botequins.

For eventually, as is wont to happen in Rio, the social side held sway, the botica was reduced to a bar, and adopted the affectionately diminutive “botequim.” The genre encompasses a range from the even smaller boteco, a standing room only affair sometimes referred to descriptively as a pé sujo (dirty foot), to a more ample space with tables and chairs. The main thing is that a botequim should be simple, relaxed, and reasonably priced.

Although botequins are ever-present throughout the metropolitan area, the listing below concentrates on areas easily accessible to the visitor. The heart and soul of botequim Rio is the downtown area, known as Centro, and the adjoining district of Lapa. These are the neighborhoods that hark back to the old Rio of white linen suits, straw hats, and cigars. It is here that Rio began, even before its official founding in 1565, and the musty flavor of the past is still present in the graceful curves and pastels of the ageing buildings with their cake frosting trim.

If you have decided that life is a botequim and must try every one in Rio, you certainly have your work cut out for you. Should you undertake such a task, then do pick up a copy of the Rio Botequim guide (in Portuguese), which will lead you to some of these classic joints I have mentioned, as well as some truly where-no-tourist-has-gone-before locales. The latter are best undertaken with the assistance of a local, which by now you just may have met in a “Conversa de Botequim.”

Alvaro’s
Rua Cupertino Durão 87. Leblon. (294-2148).
Located in one of Rio’s best bar-hopping neighborhoods.

Carlito’s
Rua Álvaro Alvim 36. Centro. (262-6567).
Specializing in batidas de cachaça, a fruit drink made with the national firewater.

Goaibeira
Largo das Neves 13. Santa Teresa. (232-5751).
Located in Rio’s most bohemian neighborhood.

Penafiel da Gamboa
Travessa Cunha Matos 3. Gamboa. (253-7593).

Adega Pérola
Rua Siqueira Campos 138. Copacabana. (255-9425).

Bar Brasil
Av. Mem de Sá 90. Lapa. (509-5943).

Bico Doce Uisqueria
Rua do Rosário 74, loja 3. Centro. (263-8409).
Tucked away down an alley, the specialty here is not beer, but as the name suggests, whiskey.

Bar Luiz
Rua da Carioca 39. Centro. (262-6900).
A grand classic, this German restaurant was known as Bar Adolfo until the WWII era necessitated a name change.

Arco do Telles
Travessa do Comércio 2-6, in the oldest part of Rio. Centro. (242-9589).
Said by some to be the oldest botequim in Rio. Carmen Miranda grew up across the street at no.13.

Nova Capela
Av. Mem de Sá 96. Lapa. (252-6228/508-8493).
Open until 5am, the best hang for the late night munchies. Portions of food are huge. Canja (chicken soup) is a tradition here. The author’s personal favorite.

Paladino
Rua Uruguaiana 226. Centro. (263-2094).

Amarelinho
Praça Floriano, Cinelândia. Centro. (240-8434).
A popular sidewalk café-style place for the happy hour crowd. A good spot to watch the Cinelândia action go by.

Bar Bofetada
Rua Farme de Amoedo 87. Ipanema. (522-9526).

Café Lamas
Rua Marques de Abrantes 18. Flamengo. (556-0799).
Botequim in the front and restaurant in the back, open until 3am. If you’re quick, you can hear mention of this traditional place in “Rio Antigo” as sung by Alcione. Marvelously located for those staying at the budget hotels in Flamengo or Catete.

Bip-Bip
Rua Almirante Gonçalves. Copacabana.
Located on a tiny street between Rua Sá Ferreira and Rua Djalma Ulrich, this miniscule bar hosts a choro jam on Tuesdays and samba on Sundays, when most of the action spills out onto the sidewalk.

Bracarense
Rua José Linhares 85. Leblon. (294-3549).

Petisco da Vila
Av. Sete de Setembro 238. Vila Isabel. (576-5652).
Located in one of the most time-honored samba neighborhoods, the one Martinho da Vila took his name from. Vila Isabel was also home to one of samba’s originators, Noel Rosa. To get an idea of how closely the samba is associated with this neighborhood, observe the sidewalks on this street. They’re inlaid with music. Around Carnaval, the Petisco hosts a samba jam session on Saturday evenings, a good stop before heading off to one of the samba schools.

Lift a glass and say “saúde!”

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