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June 20, 2012 , On the road, Spotlight on ...
Lapa – Photo: Fora do Eixo on Flickr
This week the world’s gaze is on Rio de Janeiro as it hosts the UN +20 climate change summit. We all know about the city’s dazzling beaches, hot bodies and designer bars – but, says our local expert Lucy Bryson, for the authentic heart of Rio and its most bewitching nightlife, visitors should look elsewhere…
Visitors seeking to uncover the hedonistic heart of Rio would be wise to avoid the expensive and often dull late-night lounges in the city’s affluent beach zones and instead head for the downtown party district of Lapa.
The historic centre of the city, Lapa’s crumbling colonial buildings had until the late 1990s been famous for housing less-than-salubrious bars attended by an equally questionable clientele. But a hefty injection of city council cash over the last decade has led to scores of hip new bar openings and facelifts for the historic buildings, and now the district is the essential destination for serious partying in Rio.
The city is synonymous with samba, and there’s plenty of it to be heard in Lapa, much of it live and of extremely high quality. Head to spots such as Carioca da Gema, Clube dos Democraticus or Rio Scenarium to find the locals hitting the packed dance floors with great aplomb, while skilled local musicians and singers belt out samba classics from decades past.
While the clubs and bars are busy every night of the week, far and away the best time to visit Lapa is on a Friday night, when the main traffic route through the district is closed to traffic and the area around the Arcos da Lapa (a tall and imposing whitewashed aqueduct) fills up with hundreds of street vendors selling every kind of alcoholic concoction imaginable.
Aside from gigantesque caipirinhas, the vendors mix together all manner of tropical fruits with sugar cane rum, vodka, or even tequila, adding extras such as condensed milk, chocolate powder and energy-boosting ingredients such as guarana according to customers’ wishes. Be warned, these drinks may taste like milkshakes, but they pack a knockout punch and are so dangerously drinkable that you’ll be woozily flirting with locals before you know it.
- Our new Rio de Janeiro guide is out soon. Watch this space…