How To Do Rio Like A Local

By coincidence, I bought my ticket to Rio de Janeiro on the same day, last April, that the Brazilian senate voted to impeach embattled President Dilma Rousseff. In the months leading up to my move, I witnessed the image of the country turn from one of partying, tiny bikinis, caipirinhas, and samba to one of political coups, violence, mosquito-borne diseases, and economic collapse. Since arriving in Rio, I’ve been flooded with questions from American friends asking if things are “crazy” down here, which seems ironic to me, given the gun violence and political circus sweeping my home country at the moment. So are things “crazy” in Rio? Sure, but if we’re being honest, Brazil has had more than its fair share of crazy in recent decades, and its current reputation of violence and turmoil is no more representative of Brazil’s reality than partying and bikinis are. Certainly, the problems Rio is facing are very real, but cariocas, as Rio’s locals are known, haven’t allowed that to stop them from living.

Since I set foot in Brazil, I haven’t seen a single person douse herself in bug spray, but you can’t go far without seeing or hearing the words “Fora Temer” — that’s the adopted chant of those against Michel Temer, Brazil’s acting president. In Copacabana, a major tourist destination and Olympic site, the security presence has been amped up in the weeks leading up to the games, with tanks and machine-gun-toting police hanging around the metro stops. But the city’s many beaches are still crowded with tourists and locals sipping coconuts and playing futevôlei (a local hybrid of soccer and volleyball), just like always.

If you’re thinking about coming to Rio, put down the hysterical news articles and buy your ticket. As the first South American city to ever host the Olympics, Rio will inevitably have a major year. But no matter what goes down during the games, or what political and economic problems lie ahead, no one can accuse the people of Cidade Maravilhosa of not knowing how to have a good time. And just where should you go in Rio to find that good time? Read on to find out.

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Courtesy of Clubhouse Rio.
Clubhouse Rio
Want to go to a pop-up art gallery or listen to top DJs spin their beats while you sip on cocktails on a terrace overlooking the city? I certainly do, especially if it’s just a few steps to bed after the party’s over.

Set in a gorgeous, completely renovated house, the Clubhouse Rio offers a little bit of everything. It’s a members-only club, a poolside bar, and an event space, plus there are five individually designed suites available to rent. The clubhouse, in the hills overlooking Ipanema and Copacabana, opened its doors in 2015, and it's the second of the Oasis Collections’ private clubs. Don’t worry: Despite the frequent events, guests are still able to get plenty of beauty rest; parties here are more of the chilled-out variety than fist-pumping all-nighters.

If all five suites are booked, you can check out any of Oasis’ rental properties throughout the city. And even if you aren’t staying at the Clubhouse, check its Facebook page for info on upcoming events and be sure to get yourself on the list.

R. Saint Roman, 184 - Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro - RJ, 22041-001. Rooms from $115-$330 a night.
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Courtesy of Atlantico Rio.
Atlântico Rio
I wouldn’t recommend sitting in traffic on a bus for an hour, if the final destination weren’t absolutely worth it, and Atlântico Rio, the work of star Argentine bartender Tato Giovannoni, is most definitely worth it.

You wouldn’t guess by looking at it, but the unassuming red shack at Praia do Pepe in Barra da Tijuca serves the city’s most delightful cocktails, including creative twists on the classic gin and tonic with local flavors like cashew fruit and guava. (Although that should come as no surprise to those familiar with Tato’s reputation; his Buenos Aires bar Florería Atlántico has been named one of the best bars in the world.

Dine on fresh seafood, usually grilled and served with simple seasoning. Do bring a towel and swimsuit, so you can relax on the beach after stuffing yourself with cocktails and seafood. And fortunately for those who don’t enjoy long bus rides, the Rio metro’s new Linha 4 is set to open to the public soon; it will connect Barra da Tijuca to the more populated Zona Sul.

Rua Tenente Aírton Pereira, 53, Barra da Tijuca. Noon-midnight daily.
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Photo: Courtesy of The Slow Bakery.
The Slow Bakery
Where does one go in Rio for fresh sourdough bread? Until recently, nowhere, which explains why The Slow Bakery caused such a stir when it set up shop in Botafogo. Ludmila Spindola and Rafael Brito had already achieved a following by selling their fresh breads at local food fairs, and they’re gaining new fans thanks to their permanent location. Though small, the café has everything you need to while away an afternoon, including goat cheese and tomato tartines, croque monsieurs, craft beer, a comfy couch, and trustworthy Wi-Fi.

Decor-wise, the place has the pared-down, industrial feel you’d expect of a hip new café, which is still something of a novelty in colorful Rio. If you want to pick up one of the spot's signature sourdoughs, olive loaves, or baguettes to take home, be sure to reserve it in advance. They sell out fast.

Rua São João Batista, 93, Botafogo. 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tues; 11 a.m.-7:30 p.m. Wed-Fri; 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Sat.
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Photo: Courtesy of La Paz.
La Paz
Lapa is the kind of neighborhood where you can show up on a Saturday night without a destination in mind; just follow the crowds of revelers to any bar or club blasting music, or join one of the parties unfolding on the street.

But if you do take the time to plan your night out in Rio’s premier party neighborhood, make sure to get yourself on the list at La Paz. Sister institution to Copacabana’s classic club Fosfobox (also worth a visit), La Paz is frequented by some of Rio’s best urban dancers and is one of the few places in Rio where you can dance to hip hop, funk, and rap. There are two floors and an open-air terrace where you can get your groove on, each with its own lineup of DJs, both local and international. Of course, if you have a terrible sense of rhythm, “getting your groove on” might translate to listening to Beyoncé and doing tequila shots while you let the pros take the dance floor — speaking from experience, that is.

Rua do Rezende, 82, Lapa
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Photo: Courtesy of VOID.
VOID General Store
Rio style can be a little, well, tacky, if I had to choose a word. And hey, while there’s nothing wrong with a bit of glitz, sometimes you need shot of urban cool to cleanse the palate. For that, I recommend VOID General Store, which brings a whole new meaning to the term “general." In addition to being a shopping venue, it’s also a place to grab a drink and a bite to eat.

Each weekend evening, there are so many young cariocas spilling out of the shop, you have to wonder why all clothing stores don’t also sell beer. But the window dressing of fancy food and drink aside, the clothes here are genuinely chic; think color-blocked swimsuits in modern cuts, chunky sneakers and sandals, and oversized jewelry. With locations throughout Rio, including in Botafogo, Flamengo, and Leblon, VOID is definitely on its way to a national takeover.

Rua Voluntários da Pátria, 31, Botafogo. 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Sun-Wed; 11 a.m.-3 a.m. Thu-Sat.
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Photo: Courtesy of Emily Jensen.
Jardim Botânico do Rio de Janeiro
People throw around the phrase “urban jungle” all the time, but I’ve yet to see a major city as truly “jungle-y” as Rio. For the times when you need a break from the crowds and the concrete, there’s the 140-hectacre Jardim Botânico. The botanical garden, which also lends its name to the surrounding neighborhood, was founded by John VI of Portugal in 1808 and has some 6,000 species of plants. Once inside, you’ll see Rio’s jutting mountains rather than its skyscrapers and (mostly) escape the sounds of traffic.

Have breakfast at the charming café La Bicyclette at the gates of the park, so you can enter the garden when it opens at noon. Entrance is well worth the R$10 (cash only), but if you’re feeling cheap, you can also explore the nearby (and much smaller, though equally charming), Parque Lage for free.

Rua Jardim Botânico, 1008, Jardim Botânico. 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Tues-Sun; 12 p.m.-5 p.m. Mon
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Photo: Courtesy of Cafe Secreto.
Café Secreto
As a freelancer, my first question when I set foot in any new city is, “Where can I get good coffee and Wi-Fi?” Much to my surprise, Brazilians usually suggest Starbucks. Rio isn’t the easiest place to find a good cappuccino or a nice place to spend hours on your laptop, let alone both at the same time. Fortunately for caffeine-junkie-freelancers like me, there is Café Secreto, tucked away in Vila do Largo, a complex of artists’ studios and event spaces in the Laranjeiras.

The tiny café is split over multiple levels and serves a full range of espresso concoctions, from macchiatos to lattes, along with a small array of baked goods and snacks. Grab a seat at the bar and chat with the baristas as you enjoy a flat white and a piping-hot pão de queijo, or snag a table on the patio. If they aren’t all being hogged by laptop-wielding coffee lovers, that is.

Rua Gago Coutinho, 6, Casa 8, Laranjeiras. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Mon-Fri.
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Photo: Courtesy of Rio Design Leblon.
Rio Design Leblon
Yes, this is a shopping mall, but hear me out. Cariocas love their shopping malls, and sometimes we all need to convalesce for a couple of hours in an air-conditioned building while looking at some pretty clothes. And Rio Design is as good as shopping malls get: There are stylish brands you won’t find elsewhere, there miraculously never seem to be any screaming children here, and the mall is full of thoughtful details, right down to the escalator with steps painted to mimic the famous Escadaria Selarón in Lapa. Don’t miss the whimsical shoes at Marcela B., Monica Pondé’s handmade jewelry, and Osklen’s sleek separates.

Some of us can only afford to window shop at Rio Design, and no one will blame you if you only come here for inspiration and then spend your money at Zara and Forever 21 at the more wallet-friendly shopping mall Rio Sul. (We just can’t promise there won’t be screaming children there.)

Avenida Ataulfo de Paiva, 270, Leblon. 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon-Sat, 3-9 p.m. Sun.
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Photo: Courtesy of Eduardo Magalhaes.
Comuna
Since opening in 2011, Comuna has become synonymous with one thing: the city’s best burger. There’s not much to mark the entrance of the bar, except a concrete planter with the word “Comuna” spray-painted on it, but by now its reputation has grown enough that it doesn’t need any flashy signage.

If there’s no seating (and there usually isn’t), order at the bar and take your burger and cocktail or craft beer out to the courtyard to see whatever live entertainment is on schedule for the night. Cariocas aren’t known for getting places on time, so it’s saying something that Comuna is consistently filled to the brim only an hour after it opens.

Rua Sorocaba, 585, Botafogo. 6 p.m.-1 a.m. Sun and Tue-Thur; 6 p.m.-2 a.m. Fri, Sat.
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Photo: Courtesy of Cafecito Santa Teresa.
Cafecito
The first time I went to the hillside neighborhood of Santa Teresa, I went on foot; I knew the climb would be steep, but it’s hard to tell from a map just how steep. The answer, in this case, is very, which is why I was so pleased to find my way to Cafecito at the end of the grueling hike. The space is split between a more casual café at the lower level and a full-service restaurant up top, with an eclectic menu that mixes Brazilian and Argentine cuisine. But whatever meal you’re having, do grab a table on the terrace so you can make the most of the scene.

Even by Rio standards, service here can be slow, but considering you’re sitting in a historic house with views overlooking all of Rio, why complain about the extra wait? If you’ve had one too many caipirinhas, just be careful about navigating Santa Teresa’s steep, cobblestone streets. Fortunately the way back down is much easier than the way up.

Rua Paschoal Carlos Magno, 121, Santa Teresa. 9 a.m.-midnight daily.
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Photo: Courtesy of Samuel Antonini.
Junta Local
When traveling, I prefer to prioritize eating over sightseeing, which is why I always try to track down a city’s local organic-gourmet food fair. For Rio de Janeiro, you’ll want to visit Junta Local. You can find anything and everything there, from local produce to vegan ice cream to Colombian arepas to fresh falafel to homemade jams to Aperol spritzes — a welcome change, considering Rio’s food scene can be a bit monotonous after you’ve had your fill of feijoada and churrasco.

Though food is the main event, while you’re chowing down you can also listen to live music and browse clothing and used books, all part of Junta Local’s goal to bring the community together. Events take place at least once a month at plazas and open spaces throughout the city, ranging from Zona Norte to Zonal Sul. Check Junta Local’s site or Facebook page for details on the next feira.
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Photo: Courtesy of Olho da Rua.
Olho da Rua
Perhaps I’m getting old, but finding somewhere cool to go out at night can be exhausting; sometimes I just can’t be bothered to try to get on the right list or figure out how to get to some secret club at the end of the earth. The cultural center Olho da Rua doesn’t make you jump through any of those hoops; it does, however, have film screenings, photography expositions, samba nights, and live-art installations.

The two-for-one specials on beer, caipirinhas, and pizzas help cure any late-night cravings. And though the venue closes at midnight (relatively early for Rio), you’re close to plenty of late-night watering holes if you want to keep the party going. Just wander over to nearby ruas Voluntários da Pátria or Nelson Mandela to find a boteco to grab a beer. Then again, if you’re old like me (a.k.a. no longer in college), going to bed at midnight doesn’t sound so bad.

Rua Bambina, 6, Botafogo. 5 p.m.-midnight, Tue-Sat.
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Photo: Courtesy of Emily Jensen.
Posto 12
Some people go to the beach to go swimming or play volleyball, but my preferred sport is people-watching. Most tourists flock to the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema, which have their charms, but I prefer Posto 12 at the far end of Leblon. It’s at the very edge of Zona Sul, which means it’s slightly more secluded than neighboring beaches (emphasis on slightly — if you want true seclusion, you’ll have to get out of Rio). Some believe it’s where Rio’s most beautiful people choose to sunbathe. It’s also opposite upscale Hotel Marina, where said beautiful people (allegedly) go to have affairs. As the sun starts to go down, make your way up to the Mirante Do Leblon, where you can sip on caipirinhas and take in the views of Ipanema and Leblon on one side and nearby favela Vidigal on the other.

Avenida Delfim Moreira, Leblon.
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