Time Out Rio de Janeiro

The barhoppers' guide to Lapa

Lapa is famous for its music scene but even if you've left your dancing shoes there is plenty of action to be found in lively streets and eclectic bars.

Lapa's revival from no-go zone to Rio’s party central has been largely down to the renaissance of its music scene over the past 15 years, but if samba isn’t your thing, fear not. The dedicated barfly is also spoiled for choice in the area around the iconic arches where the fabled malandro once roamed, from the most traditional of botequims to stylish bars that rival anything Ipanema has to offer.

There are few better starting points for any Lapa visit than the main drag Avenida Mem de Sá. Party people start to congregate en masse from around 10pm, and it is tempting to pass the entire night sipping potent, extra large caipirinhas from street stands. On the corner with Rua Riachuelo, however, the rough and ready Só Kana's (Avenida Mem de Sá 81, 39701461) simple set up of dozens of plastic tables and chairs and over-worked waiters makes for a fine place to kick things off and watch the world go by with a 600ml garrafa of ice-cold beer.

Moving on to something stronger – it’s all about pacing yourself here – scoot along a few doors down to Bar Leviano (Avenida Mem de Sá 47, 2507 5779). The cocktails here are prepared with the kind of flair that Tom Cruise would be proud of, best taken on the outdoor patio with a selection of their increasingly famous snacks. Try the bolinhos de feijoada (fried bean-stew balls), or the excellent brownies for a sugary energy kick.

Further down Mem de Sá, Boteco da Garrafa (Avenida Mem de Sá 77, 2507 1976) holds one of the widest selections of beer to be found anywhere in Lapa. The chopp, Brazil’s ubiquitous mini-version of the pint, is jettisoned in favour of bottled beer from the lands of master brewers like Germany and Argentina, as well as the best Brazil has to offer, delivered in buckets of ice to keep the heat at bay.

Another short stagger brings Bar da Boa (Avenida Mem de Sá 69, 2221 2542) into sight, better known as the Antarctica Bar. Here, there is no need for the tipsy to negotiate complicated transactions with the waiter, just line up at the vending machines stocked full of the Carnival-sponsoring mass brewer's beer and take advantage of some hip-swinging samba on either side of the enormous open windows.

A wealth of scruffy gems can be found on Avenida Gomes Freire, the dingy road that dissects Mem de Sá. The easy, eclectic charms of the Lapa Café (Avenida Gomes Freire 457, 3971 6812) have brought a legion of fans among those in the know, and there is even a small exhibition space jukebox, and history of beer in Brazil among the endearing idiosyncracies on show.

From the team behind the sorely missed doiZ in Botafogo, Barzinho's (Rua Lavradio 170, 2221 4709opening in 2012 underlined the shift away from samba to electronic music in the area, that had begun with the arrival of Leviano. Embracing the junk-shop-kitsch aesthetic in looks, the sounds and drinks are brought bang up to date with some of the city's best underground DJs lurking in the booth that hovers above the bar (below).

Words by Beth McLoughlin

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