South America has been a special part of my life for four decades. I have lived many years in Brasil and Peru. I am married to an incredible lady from Argentina. I want to share South America with you.
When Comuna was a club it was the coolest in town. When those days ended, the commune kept its clientele and concentrated on being a bar. Now it is one of the best in town, as well as being an arts centre, shop and restaurant. It is inland, in Botafogo, housed in a narrow building with a steel-sheeted door, low ceilings and scrubbed-back walls giving it a more urban feel than many places in Rio. Inside it serves craft ales and imported beers to throngs of hipsters, as well drinquesthat, at the moment, have been inspired by the slightly surprising theme of pirates. The Buccaneer is made with Absolut infused with pear and apple, with added ginger syrup and finished with Comuna’s homemade ginger ale. It is the burgers, however, are what really winning the place accolades. Big, sloppy and best dipped into the house wasabi mayonnaise, they are well worth a trip for. As the evening rolls on, the courtyard fills up with student types lounging, smoking and gossiping away.
Ask any young gap year traveller in Rio where they are off to and they will usually answer - with unabated excitement - that they are off to Lapa. The area, underneath a spectacular 18th century white aquaduct, shed its no-go status about a decade ago and has instead turned into a party hot-spot. With an avenue of bars and some top samba venues, locals and travellers swell the streets at night. However, despite its revival the one thing the area has lacked has been a place to go for something other than beer and traditional Brazilian fare.
Casa Momus, when it opened in 2014, changed that. Three energetic and enterprising Italians with a keen eye for design channelled their efforts into restoring a large antiques-shop-cum-warehouse in order to open it as a Mediterranean restaurant. A splendid bar, backed by old library shelves complete with a sliding ladder, fills half the ground floor, and restaurant tables the rest. It hosts regular events and brings together an eclectic crowd: market-goers on the first Saturday of every month, ticket holders for famous venue Rio Scenarium opposite and plenty of Europeans nostalgic for home.
The Fasano family have been bringing old-school Italian style to Brazil for decades via their hotels. Working with French designer, Philippe Starck, this Rio venture embodies a modern aesthetic rarely seen in the city’s hotel scene. The Baretto-Londra bar on the ground floor honours Rogério Fasano’s favourite city, London, with a huge Union Jack in Italy’s colours hanging on the back wall. Low-slung sofa in the small space encourage intimate colluding but DJs spinning rock and pop keep the atmosphere lively later on. Frequented by international guests, as well as some of Rio glitzier locals and the odd celebrity, Baretto calls for smart dress - and patience in the queue.
The beachfront sister of São Paulo establishment Bar Astor sits on a crucial corner in Ipanema, opposite the Fasano hotel and with a view of waving palms and the setting sun. A covered terrace provides one of the few spots along Avenida Vieira Souto where cocktails and crowd-watching can be enjoyed simultaneously and locals, post-work posses and tourists fill up the bar nightly.
Astor is distinctly art deco, with a white-tiled floor, red-leather- covered silver bar stools and lemon-coloured light tubes hanging from the ceiling. Its long bar – something of a rarity in Rio – retains white-jacketed barmen behind it who turn out a comprehensive selection of classic and contemporary cocktails, including many takes on Brazil’s national drinks, the caipirinha.
Rio has recently opened SubAstor, a speakeasy, on the same premises. In a quiet room out the back the lights are lowered and the vibe takes a distinctly more loungey turn. There are seats for just 35 and only twenty cocktails on the menu, ten of which have been created by mixologist Fabio La Pietra. The bar itself is a marvel of under-lit alabaster and translucent bottles decorate the shelves behind.
Paris Bar is the grand dame of the Rio cocktail scene. Opulent and intimate, it occupies the second floor of the Casa de Arte e Cultura Julieta de Serpa, a once-private 1920s house on Praia do Flamengo that has been preserved as an over-the- top arts and events venue. Crystal chandeliers, gold leaf, tropical fronds and the occasional flash of zebra skin all add to the flamboyance of the place and it more than hints at the decadence days gone by.
Racy décor aside, in the hands of Alex Mesquita, one of Rio’s champion mixologists, the bar has turned into one of the best and most sophisticated in the city. He recently handed over to protégé Daniel Milão who has been perfecting his own European-inspired drinks. The Milano, a play on his own name, is a mix of Ketel One vodka, lemon, tangerine, maple syrup and red chilli jam, while the Mercredi begins with Lemon Grey Goose vodka, adds brut prosecco, a lychee reduction, raspberry syrup and finishes with Persian lime. Be warned though, things can get experimental here. Look out for the “aged, smoked and intense” section on the menu.
Copacabana Palace Piano Bar
The Copacabana Palace is a must-stop for visitors to Rio. A spectacular white 216-bedroom art-deco hotel, it sits at the centre of Copacabana’s gently arching beach and has for almost a century served the famous and fabulous. Aside from its three restaurants, semi-Olympic sized pool, tennis court and ballroom, it has a secret penthouse with its own, private pool on the roof. The hotel was immortalised in the 1933 film, “Flying Down to Rio”, which first paired Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Since then it has Marilyn, Elton and Madonna, among many others, to stay and remains still the pick of pop stars, presidents and models when they come through town.
A trip to the Piano Bar at the back corner of the internal courtyard gives a good opportunity sneak a peak at both the hotel and its clientele. Walk through the carpeted corridors, past the shimmering aqua pool, and settle down, sip on a stiff cocktail and enjoy jazz and bossa nova classics slipping off the ivories. Though the choice of drinks is extensive and the bar staff will whip up whatever you fancy, such grand surroundings call for the classics. Only a martini, mixed with the slight saltiness of the sea air, will do.