Any night of the week you'll find plenty of ways to experience Rio's electrifying nightlife: open-air bars by the lake; festive outdoor drinking spots on the colonial streets of Centro; beachfront kiosks; stylish lounges and nightclubs; and warm and welcoming botecos (small open-air bars) that are scattered all across the city.
As in most places in the world, there are a few different subcultures (models and modelizers, surfers, hipsters and hippies) within the nightlife circuit, though there's plenty of crossover between groups. The well-heeled crowd from the Zona Sul tends to favor high-end bars in Gávea and Barra, while an alternative crowd heads to the drinking dens in Botafogo. Lapa's mix of bars and dance halls attracts a range of people from all backgrounds, who may have little in common aside from a love of samba.
Venues come and go – and the best parties are often one-off events in unique spots – so it helps if you can get the latest from a local source. If you can read a bit of Portuguese, pick up the 'Veja Rio' insert in Veja magazine, which comes out each Sunday. 'Rio Show,' the entertainment insert that comes in the Friday edition of O Globo, also has extensive listings.
For an insight into Rio's drinking culture, familiarize yourself with one of the great sociocultural icons of the city: the boteco. These casual, open-sided bars are found all over town, and draw in a broad cross-section of society. Young and old, upper class and working class, men and women, black and white mix over ice-cold chope (draft beer) or caipirinhas (cocktails made from lime, sugar and sugarcane alcohol), flirting and swapping the latest gossip as bow-tied waiters move deftly among the crowd.
Just as most cariocas (Rio residents) have a favorite team, nearly every local has a favorite boteco. These range from hole-in-the-wall joints where canned beer is handed out to drinkers slouched over plastic tables to classic, wood-paneled bar rooms with murals on the walls, expertly mixed drinks and a history dating back several generations. Wherever you go in the city, you'll find that food is an important part of the experience, as cariocas rate bars not just on the drinks and the vibe but on the menu as well.
Lately the beer scene has improved immensely thanks to the rise of the craft-brewing industry across Brazil. New bars featuring top microbrews from within the state and beyond have opened all across Rio, and cariocas are discovering their inner beer nerd.
Rio has some great places to shake your bunda (booty). DJs pull from the latest house, drum and bass and hip-hop favorites, as well as uniquely Brazilian combinations such as electro-samba and bossa-jazz. In addition to local DJs, Rio attracts a handful of vinyl gurus from São Paulo, New York and London to spin at bigger affairs. Flyers advertising dance parties can be found in boutiques in Ipanema and Leblon, and in the surf shops in Galeria River by Praia Arpoador. You'll save money by getting on the guest list – this usually means adding your name to the club's event-listing page on Facebook.
At many clubs in Rio you'll receive a control card when you enter. Rather than paying for individual drinks, your card will be marked each time you order. At the end of the night, you'll head to the cashier and pay for your food and drinks, plus the admission charge. Don't lose the card, as you'll be hit with a hefty fee (upwards of R$200).
Rio has been a major destination for gay travelers since the 1950s. Back then the action was near the Copacabana Palace, which is still popular with a slightly older crowd (look for the rainbow-hued flag). Today, however, the party has mostly moved on, with the focal point of the LGBT scene, especially for visitors, being in Ipanema. The gay beach at the end of Rua Farme de Amoedo (again, look for the rainbow flag) is the stomping ground of some of Rio's buffest men, sometimes known as 'barbies' in carioca slang. The bars and cafes of nearby streets – Rua Teixeira de Melo and Rua Farme – attract a mixed crowd and are a good spot to explore if you're not quite ready to jump into the beach scene.
Rio also hosts an enormously popular Gay Pride festival. For more info on the gay scene in Rio, including recommendations on nightclubs, bars, cafes and guesthouses, visit Rio Gay Guide (www.riogayguide.com).
Need to Know
- Bars From 6pm to 2am Monday to Friday, from noon on Saturday and Sunday. Most places stay open later (typically till 4am) on Friday and Saturday nights.
- Nightclubs From 11pm to 5am Thursday to Saturday.
Drink & Admission Prices
- Drinks A draft beer costs R$8 to R$12; cocktails cost R$15 to R$25, up to R$40 at pricier lounges. Most bars tack on a 10% service charge.
- Club admission Fridays and Saturdays are the most expensive nights, with admission averaging around R$50. Women sometimes pay less than men.
- The dress code at clubs isn't strict in Rio. Neat shorts and sneakers are fine, though flip-flops and swimsuits are no-nos.
- Groups of single men will have a harder time getting in. Try to join up with a few women.
- Go before midnight to beat the crowds.