There is nothing quite like an ice-cold caipirinha with sundown, but as the night progresses and the lime wears thin, more tantalising tastes are invariably required. Mixology may still be limited to the classics in a lot of Rio's bars, but as the city thunders ever forward, so do the inclinations of the more adventurous imbibers, and with 8.5 million km2 of land laden with exotic fruits to be taken advantage of, imagination (okay, and cash) is your only limit. Here’s our pick of the best of the cocktail bars in the city.
As with many cities, a large number of notable mixologists are to be found behind bars – hotel bars. Famous designers have created some beautiful backdrops for boozing, exploiting the enviable views of the city from their prime locations. South African Graham Viney came up with the look for Bar do Copa in the Copacabana Palace Hotel, and with its '70s airport lounge feel its the perfect spot to grab a gin and tonic or a champagne cocktail and do a bit of celeb-spotting. Which is a past-time equally likely to bear fruit at Baretto Londra in the Hotel Fasano. Drinks like the Diavolo (tequila, strawberries and a hint of pepper) might set you back R$28 a pop but then this is not your average street bar. Further along the water's edge in Leblon, you can look out over the Atlantic from Bar d’Hotel in the Marina All Suites, from where the inventive cocktail menu is best perused carefully. The speciality of the house is the caipisake, substituting sake for cachaça to subtly pleasing effect.
Hotel Santa Tereza's Bar do Descasados looks out over the other side of the city and with the bay and Centro glowing gently below the romantic (read: ludicrously dim) lighting makes it hard to see how fast you are drinking your BMW (R$28). Yes, that's right. Its a bloody mary-esque triumph full of eastern promise that combines sake, tomato juice, a dash of soy sauce, wasabi and pepper, while elsewhere everything from guaraná shavings to mate is harnessed as a potential ingredient. If you’re hellbent on getting that sea view, the Horse’s Neck bar in the Sofitel brings a bit of French sophistication (by way of African animal print) to its cocktails, like in the Cape Town, a martini with a difference made with cachaça, orange juice and cherry liqeur.
The past few years have seen a number of slick additions to the Rio bar scene, each armed with a giddying cocktail menu and sophisticated interior trying to leave its mark and end the chopp and boteco stranglehold. Alongside the old faithfuls like whisky sours and cosmopolitans, Botafogo’s Meza bar has made a name for itself with signature blends such as the Le Tigre (Absolute vodka with passion fruit, cardamon seeds, and açai), but also honing the art of the shot - slam back a Woo Hoo, Mr Nice or a Sabotage (we'll spare you the secret ingredients) and you'll soon know about it.
Just around the corner from Meza, Ambre is a recently-opened upstart already holding its own thanks to creative mixing of some quintessentially Brazilian ingredients like guaraná with imported spirits to create an original and distinctive drinks list. More established favourites include Astor, responsible for one of the best Bloody Marys in town, and Leblon’s Juice Co. (Avenida General San Martin 889 (21 2294 0048) are always worth a visit but will be sure to stretch the budget.
The latter is as famous for its non-alcoholic combinations as its night time kick-starters, so drinks like the CaipiRock (cachaça, strawberry, cherry tomatoes and coconut water) seem to make use of every ingredient that is to hand. Still in Leblon is the Q Bar, putting its own twist on the greats since opening in 2011 to come up with varieities like the Rock Collins, so-called thanks to the addition of rocket to the gin-based favourite. Finally, absinthe and flaming shots are among the possibilities in Jardim Botânico favourite Caroline Café, where grabbing a seat out on the pavement or the upstairs balcony is well worth a possible wait to ensure your drink gets the table it deserves.
Outside the box
The more laidback cocktail-lover's choice need not be limited to the expensive or sophisticated venue, however. Academia da Cachaça has more than 100 different types of firewater to choose from and the bar has created its own selection of blends to take the drink a million miles away from the lime classico and into the realms of something truly tasty. You can’t beat the Caipira Acadêmica, for example, made with galego limes and honey, or the sweet and creamy Cocada Geladinha, made with coconut, coconut water and cachaça and with a daiquiri-like consistency. The brave can ask for any of these with vodka instead, too.
Cheapy classics by the beach are a speciality at the Rainbow Kiosk on Avenida Atlântica, where the Piña Colada (R$12) is kept simple and even the humble chopp can be boosted by a drop of cassis. Marguerita specialist Si Señor has a superior selection of tequilas with which they work their magic and the restaurant has enough of a bar like feel to mean you dont have to feel pushed towards a plate of pretty average fajitas if all you want is some Mexican punch. Finally, Jardim Botânico has stepped into the long drink limelight thanks to 2011 addition Paxeco with all its indoor/outdoor palm tree-framed glory and the idiosyncratic Bar Do Horto on the next block, with its handful of creations almost as interesting as its mind-bending (if you stare too long) wallpaper.