There's nowhere like a busy bar on a Saturday night for carrying out an anthropological study into the games people play. Darted glances, studied disinterest and that old 'I just casually threw this outfit together in the dark' shtick are just some of the fun and games on offer in São Paulo's bars and nightspots, increasing in complexity, arguably, in proportion to the chicness of the bar. It's exhausting – and a thrill. But they aren't the kind of games you'd want to play every night.
Where you can play every night, and where the games are way, way easier to work out – there are people on hand to explain the rules, for heavens' sake – is at Bela Vista's cheerful Ludus bar. With a menu containing four hundred options from simple dice and cards to complex German boardgames and everything in between, the bright, lively joint is busy most nights – and it's not just a bunch of anoraks hunched over Monopoly, sipping Fanta.
It's noisier and livelier than you might imagine, and that's without mentioning Twister, which is only brought out of the games closet when there's space to play it.
On Saturday nights, the place is alive with players, erupting into cheers and shouts. Spread over three floors, the bar has ordinary tables on the first and last floors, and casino-style tables in between.
Gambling has been illegal in Brazil since the 1940s, when the country's casinos were shut down, through to 2004 when the bingo halls croaked their last full house, and into 2007, when thousands of slot machines were rounded up and impounded. So there's no playing for money here; but Thursday nights are poker night, when you can play for credit at the bar, or for a prize that pays one player's way to attend an international poker tournament or another trip.
Wednesdays are Euro-Liga night, where board games including the German Carcassone and Settlers of Catan see players furiously strategising over the boards. Red-shirted auxiliaries are on hand to explain the rules of any game and to bring you your selection – and with some of the more popular games (Monopoly,War, Clue, Jenga) duplicated or even triplicated, the chances are you'll get the one you want.
But there's no time limit for games, so if the one you're after is out on the tables, you can take a break over a 'Giant Jenga' – that's a hefty kilo of French fries – or the Texas Hold 'Em burger with barbecue sauce; or spin the wheel and pick again.