After long decades of being down and (very) out, Rio’s former bohemian quarter par excellence got a new lease on life by retransforming itself into the city’s undisputed hot spot to listen and dance to live music.
Starting Thursdays, its many bars, clubs, and narrow streets (particularly Rua Joaquim Silva) pulse with a variety of rhythms, revelers from every Carioca bairro, and an increasing number of tourists. Although not quite as edgy as it used to be, Lapa still rules Rio’s musical roost.
Like Centro, Lapa has some wonderful old botequins that have survived from its heyday, whose walls, if they could talk, would surely have a lot of stories to tell. Bar Brasil (Av. Mem de Sá 90, 21/2509-5943) is a neighborhood institution, serving German food such as eisbein, kassler, and sauerkraut—perfect between sips of frothy beer. The canvases on the walls are by Chilean artist Jorge Selarón, who is responsible for the mosaic-covered staircase that leads up to Santa Teresa.
Around since 1966, family-owned Boteco Carioquinha (Av. Gomes Freire 822, 21/2252-3025) recently emerged from a major renovation in which the decor and the drinks menu received an overhaul. You can now select some decent wines and homegrown microbrewery beers to accompany the finger-licking, gut-expanding platters of food named after various Rio neighborhoods.
Dating from 1903, Nova Capela (Av. Mem de Sá, 21/2252-6228) is the only one of Lapa’s old-time botequins that stays open into the wee hours. If you’re feeling hungry, try the house specialty: cabrito com arroz-de-brocolis (roasted goat kid with broccoli rice).
Live Music and Nightclubs
In Lapa’s streets and renovated old buildings you’ll encounter an astonishing diversity of music, and as revitalization of this bairro continues unabated, new bars and clubs are opening all the time. The majority are on Rua do Lavradio and Rua Mem de Sá. For listings and schedules of all performances and events in Lapa, check out Lana Lapa.
One of the city’s most enchanting bars, Rio Scenarium (Rua do Lavradio 20, 21/3147-9005) is perpetually packed, often with tourists. If it’s lost some of its cachet (lots of gringos trying to samba), it’s retained its unique charm. Located on Lapa’s antiques row, Rio Scenarium’s three floors are chock-full of antiques, which are rented out to film and TV productions—you can sit, sprawl, and lounge upon certain pieces while others are merely eye candy. On most nights, top names in samba, choro, and forró perform, inciting the mixed clientele to take to the dance floor. Arrive early (before 8 p.m.) or reserve a table because the place gets packed.
Carioca da Gema (Rua Mem de Sá 79, 21/2221-0043) is a classic spot to listen to top quality samba and choro performed by big names and rising stars. The ambiance is warm and rustic and there is a copious menu.
Clube dos Democráticos (Rua do Riachuelo 91, 21/2252-4611) has been around since 1867. Started by three friends who bought it with winnings from a lottery ticket, the Clube served as headquarters for one of Rio’s most high-society Carnaval clubs. Members were a forward-thinking republican and abolitionist bunch (which didn’t stop Emperor Pedro II from partying here) whose bashes were legendary well into the 1940s. Then gradually the animation faded as the house sank into dilapidation. In 2004, a young historian who fell in love with the facade organized a baile that became such a cult hit that dance soirées are now held regularly in the vast ballroom. Music ranges from samba to choro and the crowd is young and eager to strut their stuff.
Also located in a renovated old house, Six Electro (Rua das Marrecas 38, 21/2510-3230) features three floors where you can mellow out to the post-modern likes of trance, drum ’n’ bass, hip-hop, and electronica. The decor mingles medieval and industrial flourishes. Five bars and a pizzeria ensure you’ll have enough to eat and drink.
In Carioca-ese, “40°” refers to the temperature (in Celsius) that descends on the city in the heat of summer. The name is apt: Since Lapa 40° (Rua Riachuelo 97, 21/3970-1329) opened in 2007, this vast four-story building has become Lapa’s hottest spot. More than a bar or nightclub, it is a revolutionary concept—an entertainment complex outfitted with a bar, a ballroom, and a stage for live shows as well as a cybercafé, a tabacaria (for smoking cigars), a uisqueiria (for doing whiskey shots), and dart boards. Oh, and if you get bored, there is an entire floor outfitted with 30 pool and billiard tables.