Rio de Janeiro is famous for its stunning beaches, verdant surroundings, and kaleidoscopic Carnival. However, away from the white sands, the often under-explored city center contains many inconspicuous bars that retain an old-world charm and unique carioca style. Here are eight of the best hidden bars that Rio’s historic city center has to offer.
Founded by Uruguayan mixologist Walter Garin, Shake Speakeasy is about as hidden as a bar can get while staying on the right side of the law. Incongruously located in a commercial building in the city center, it's not only hard to find, but its dimmed lighting and authentic speakeasy atmosphere makes drinking here feel like stepping into another world. Those that hunt this place down will be treated to some of the most inventive cocktails in the city.
Ponto de Encontro Ximeninho
Not so much hidden as easy to miss, Ponto de Encontro Ximeninho is situated on a corner of Lapa’s lively Avenida Mem de Sá. This bar and eatery is a particular favorite of local party-goers, journalists, and a host of other colorful clientele who drop in at all hours to sample an ice-cold beer and a menu stocked with fairly-priced and generously-served meals and bar snacks, such as the Ximeninho-style cheese and bacon smothered fried aipim (cassava), or the northeastern speciality carne do sol (sun-dried meat).
With over a hundred years of faithful service, Casa Paladino has remained a steadfast and unchangeable staple to central city life while its surroundings have all but transformed themselves beyond recognition. The formula here is simple: ice-cold beer, generously filled sandwiches, heartwarming omelettes, and an unpretentious air coupled with fair prices that attract a loyal clientele ranging from students to executives.
Bar do Nanam
This unassuming-looking bar, located down a scruffy, graffiti-covered side-street off from Rio's Praça Tiradentes, has gained a reputation for hosting some of the liveliest outdoor parties in the entire city. On select nights, the entire street (dubbed 'Beco das Artes' or 'Alley of Arts') transforms itself into a hive of nocturnal activity, featuring DJs, live bands, and packed crowds that don't stop dancing until the morning. The humble Bar do Nanam organizes and runs these parties in this usually deserted part of the city center, and they still don't charge an entry price, only politely requesting that patrons purchase their drinks from the bar and put some money in the musicians' hat from time to time.
Café do Bom Cachaça da Boa
Part bar, part café, part bistrô, yet quintessentially carioca – Café do Bom Cachaça da Boa is a one-of-a-kind establishment with a reputation for excellent coffee and a pedigree menu of over 100 different types of cachaça (Brazil's national spirit). The trademark bar snacks dubbed tarecos – sliced pão de queijo (cheesebread) topped with parmesan cheese – are the ingenious invention of the owner, Yansel Galindo.
Casa da Cachaça
Lapa can be a daunting place for the drinker, with an almost overwhelming choice of bars all offering happy-hour deals that sound too good to be true. However, Casa da Cachaça is the unsuspecting watering hole of choice for many cariocas on an evening out. With bottles of cachaça crowding every bit of available space in the dingy interior, most patrons take up a chair on one of the many tables that spill out onto the street, enjoying the excellent caipirinhas or batidas (a Brazilian cocktail of cachaça and fruit juice) that are served well into the early hours.
Tabacaria do Ouvidor
Rua do Ouvidor is a street lined with bars that bustle during the weekday evenings with workers enjoying an after-office drink. The best kept secret on this street is the Tabacaria do Ouvidor, an unassuming cigar shop that holds an intimate smoking room up its winding wooden staircase replete with an array of whiskeys and other choice liquors. Adding to its seemingly illicit charm, the Tabacaria do Ouvidor is one of the rare places in Rio where customers are allowed to smoke inside.
Tucked away down a backstreet in Rio's decadent party district, Lapa, TribOz is the kind of hidden bar that would be hard to stumble upon by accident. Its Australian owner, ethnomusicologist and jazz trumpeter Mike Ryan, has made a point of never being heavy-handed about self-promotion. However, TribOz's formidable reputation as one of Brazil's premier jazz clubs means that this intimate venue is rarely anything but packed. This is one place where it would be wise to reserve a table ahead of time, and there is usually a cover charge for the live music.