Behind the faceless high-rise office blocks, Centro was always full of surprises. Only now, however, with the worst of the ancient, sewage-prone streets being re-laid and crumbling buildings restored are its jewels truly revealing themselves. The original home of café culture in the city, Time Out Rio looks at the best venues to stop and take five, be it over a long brunch or simply a quick cafezinho.
Across Largo da Carioca from the metro station of the same name Casa Cavé (Rua 7 Setembro 137/confeitariacave.com.br) is the oldest confeitaria in centro, pipping even famous Colombo to the honour. Since 1860 this beautiful pink mansion on the corner of Rua Uruguaiana has been serving up tea and cakes to the working masses and chattering classes, and original touches like the stained glass ceiling in the Salão de Cha cling on for dear life. The tea room, for that it is, is a peculiarly orange affair, and the platters don't look too appealing, but head for the cake counter running the length of the shop and you won’t be disappointed by the selection of creamy, glistening options like the chocolate eclairs and strawberry cheesecakes (R$4.50-$6.50).
Slightly more modern but no less traditional is the Manon café (Rua do Ouvidor 187/confeitariamanon.com.br), most famous for their madrilenhos (R$6 for three), delicious fingers of doughnut-like batter filled with custard, the secret recipe for which has been unchanged since day one. The main area is open onto the street and is a little beaten around the edges, but the pink neon signs at the back welcome you into the art-deco dining room where a decent buffet awaits those after something heartier. The service can be frustrating, but with free papers and wi-fi they at least offer some distractions to pass the wait. A second space, their very own confeitaria, opened in the original Cavé location, (now next door) complete with a stunning antique silver coffee machine and the same sense of history.
A more modern charm awaits at Café Rosário, tucked away between Praça XV and the CCBB and offering a little slice of French class. The stacks of freshly baked bread and refined atmosphere are the real draws, but the cabinets by the entrance are stuffed full of blueberry and raspberry tarts and tempting slices of chocolatey delight. If you are after something a little more robust they mix a mean bloody mary (R$9) too.
Genuine coffee lovers will prickle with happiness at the Armazem do Café (Rua do Ouvidor 77/armazemdocafe.com.br) across the other side of rumbling Avenida Rio Branco to Manon. The chalkboard swells with exotic-sounding options and while the cappuccino (R$7.30) doesn’t come cheap, it isn’t masked by an unwelcome dusting of cinnammon as can often be the case. Also available to take home, a kilo of Samba coffee (R$49) makes for an unusual treat.
The newest addition to the pack, and one that looks set to stay, is Besi. Serving up the Paulistano coffee specialists Suplicy’s beans, they also do a decent frappé and, thanks to The Gourmet Tea Company, a good array of cuppas too. Big, filling sandwiches (R$15) and cookies (R$5) as big as your face are best consumed in the palm-lined little courtyard on the ground floor, or settle in upstairs safe in the knowledge you won’t be disturbed for hours if you really need to unwind.
- Confeitaria Colombo (Rua Gonçalves Dias 32) - huge, iconic and historic tea room.
- Café Bazzarr (Avenida Rio Branco 44) - relaxing coffee shop set in an excellent bookshop.
- Bistrô do Paço (Praça XV Novembro 48) - the reopened Paço Imperial now has a café to be proud of.
- Café do Bom, Cachaça da Boa (Rua da Carioca 10) - get a nip of firewater in your espresso.