In São Paulo, the difference between a traditional boteco and a chic cocktail bar is roughly equal to the distance between a baile-funk caipirinha in a plastic cup, and a meticulously bar-tended Old Fashioned in a cut-glass tumbler. But while it may be fashionably late, cocktail culture has finally arrived in São Paulo.
Below the classically-tiled flooring of the long-popular Vila Madalena boteco Bar Astor lurks something far more novel. This speakeasy-sexy basement space decked out in blood red and black caters to the city's Mauricinhos and Patricinhas, as Brazil's well-heeled young guns are known, who have definitely not come to indulge in the draft beers upstairs. Opened in 2009 and kicking off with some 35 cocktails, SubAstor is an impossibly hip bar not unlike those found in New York or London – it even employs a mixologist.
‘These days, many Brazilians who have lived abroad to study, and by chance have worked as bartenders, are returning with updated mixology techniques,’ explains Márcio Silva, who honed his skills in Spain and London before returning to oversee the cocktails at SubAstor. ‘Now we’re adding the ingredients and culinary expertise of our own culture to techniques from countries with the best mixologists in the world. Cocktail culture here in Brazil has started to change, thanks to globalisation.’
Like SubAstor, MyNY Bar in Itaim Bibi also calls on Prohibition-era US speakeasies for its aesthetic inspiration; but its drinks menu is even more ambitious, matching cocktails to the ever-changing seasons, and using four different kinds of ice to ensure maximum chill from start to finish.
For all its nightlife sophistication, cocktails were noticeably scarce in São Paulo bars and lounges throughout the first decade of the 21st century. If you wanted a classic martini in São Paulo; or something fruity and delicious that wasn’t a variation on the caipirinha, you’d probably have found it in hotel or piano bars. But tastes are changing. Since 2009, cocktails have exploded onto the scene in a host of trendy bars, busy expanding São Paulo’s night-time beauty and sophistication from beyond the velvet rope and into the drinks.
Mix and match
‘In 2006, I did a martini menu for Skye Bar at Hotel Unique, which was the first one here,’ says Talita Simões, who had worked in both Europe and the USA before opening At Nine bar in Consolação in April. ‘Before that, everything in Brazil was geared towards chefs and gourmet culture; but food and drink work together with the same intensity. Citrus and acid are the perfect balance to go with food and snacks.’
Brazil’s booming economy has contributed to the city’s newfound love affair with the cocktail – a trickle-down effect of the blossoming middle class. ‘Cocktail culture, until 20 years ago, was prohibitive pricewise – imported liquors were rare and extremely expensive,’ says Austrian Markus Kleissl, owner of Coobee in Itaim Bibi, which specialises in champagne cocktails. ‘Sex in the City helped a lot, and more Brazilians are travelling abroad and have become acquainted with cocktails.’
And now that São Paulo’s cocktail scene has aligned itself with Brazil’s equally flourishing GDP, all that nouveau richness looks set to come in handy: R$30 wouldn't be out of the question for one of these dainty drinks – prices comparable to those of New York and London. But it's cheaper than a plane ticket – a turn of events that’s not lost on MyNY owner Daniel Fialdini. ‘Today,’ he says, ‘paulistanos seeking the cocktail experience no longer need to make an international trip.’
Update: MyNY Bar closed in July 2013