The options for Nightlife in Rio de Janeiro have long been famously excellent. The meat markets in Ipanema; the Gentleman’s Clubs of Copacabana; masked balls around the Lagoa; blocos passing along the avenidas; samba in the Sambodromo; chorinho in the street; and lately baile funk parties in the favelas. Rapidly growing in popularity, the district of Lapa has a mix of them all.
The turn of the century buildings in Lapa, tucked under the arches that carry the little yellow bonde tram up to Santa Teresa, had long been neglected and never made part of Rio’s glamorous nightlife scene. Over the last 15 years or so though, Lapa has turned itself into possibly Rio’s favourite nightlife area. As with other semi-abandoned districts close to the centre of our world cities – Hoxton in London and San Telmo in Buenos Aires spring to mind immediately – the large colonial houses and warehouses were too central and too spacious to remain dormant.
The antiques market of Rua do Lavradio in Lapa was perhaps responsible for germinating the revitalisation of the whole area, stemming from people simply selling old furniture out of the front of their houses. The Saturday market developed into a typical carioca street fair, with samba and choro bands providing the entertainment. Cafes and bars sprang up as well and began to stay open after the market finished for those still in the party mood, which is usually quite a few people in Rio. The logical next step was to turn the huge empty spaces into larger bars and clubs. The Scenarium Club opened initially in 1999 as a space to house furniture and antiques for rental to the theatre, television and cinema worlds, before opening as a fully fledged cultural centre in 2001.
The next decade has seen a complete revitalisation project undertaken by the city government which has helped to turn the quiet, mean streets of Lapa into the best regular night in Rio, and is now spreading to neighbouring districts such as Catete.
Thursday, Friday and Saturday are the biggest nights, with kiosks selling cheap food and drink in the shadow of the 42 Arches of Lapa that make up one of Rio’s postcards. The construction was originally built as an aqueduct to carry water down from the Santa Teresa hills and across an empty plain to the 19th Century city centre. The area is now anything but empty on the weekend nights, with cariocas mingling happily with many Brazilian and foreign tourists out on the streets. The area is generally relaxed on those nights, although much quieter on Sunday daytime and for the following few nights. Clubs such as Sacrilegio do open occasionally on Sunday to Wednesday, but it is best to check the program in advance, and maybe catch a taxi directly to the doors on these nights.
At weekends, buses, minivans and taxis disgorge revellers arriving from all over the city within easy reach of the arches, and you can follow the crowds from there. A cheap night of milling around the praça is possible if you have a tight budget but still want to enjoy the Lapa experience. For those with a little more to spare, there are plenty of bars too, especially on Avenida Mem de Sá which now closes to traffic on Friday and Saturday nights.
There are many types of music to be heard in the bars and clubs of Lapa – electronic music; baile funk; rock n roll; although the main reason for visitors to Rio heading to Lapa has to be the samba.
Some cariocas do feel that the old atmosphere of Lapa, with bands playing samba and choro in the streets, has been diluted as the music moved inside the clubs, but for visitors feeling the beats of those samba drums in reasonably-priced places such as Carioca da Gema is as memorable as it is fun. The prices can be a bargain as the kind of top quality professional bands and vocalists can leave you with an unforgettable positive vibe, completely in contrast to the impression that many people have before they arrive in Rio.
From street samba to bars and clubs, and up to the impressive sophistication of The Scenarium, Lapa really does have something for everyone, and if Cristo, Sugar Loaf, Copacabana and Ipanema haven’t completely melted your heart, then a visit to the samba clubs of Lapa may finish the job and leave you falling in love with Rio de Janeiro.