Best Nightclubs in Rio de Janeiro: Get Ready for Some Serious Booty-Shakin'
By Lucy Bryson
Rio de Janeiro Local Expert
Rio de Janeiro is a city that knows how to party. From the hedonistic revelry of Carnival to the city's massive New Year's celebrations, Rio loves nothing better than to let its hair down. It is hardly surprising then, that Rio de Janeiro nightclubs are both abundant and lively. What can come as a surprise to visitors, however, is the fact that the city's famous party spirit can actually be a little difficult to uncover.
Take a nocturnal walk through the touristic Zona Sul - the scenic South Zone that takes in such famous destinations as Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon - and one could easily come to the conclusion thatsur nighlife in the city amounts to little more than either strip joints and over-priced pizza restaurants (Copacabana) or ludicriously-priced posing palaces modelling themselves on Western night clubs (Ipanema and Leblon). Scratch the surface, however, and you'll find locals shaking those booties with great abandon in all manner of locations.
Any partier's first stop in Rio de Janeiro should be Lapa, the down town party district that has recently undergone a massive transformation from seedy nocturnal hangout to every clubber's destination of choice. From sultry samba to Bass-heavy hip hop, tinny favela funk to sultry bossa nova, you can heat it played loud - and often live - in Lapa.
Elsewhere in the city, there is smart clubbing and dining in the unlikely setting of a planetarium at Gavea institution 00 (Zero Zero), serious posing taking place on the dance floor at Nuth Lounge in Barra da Tijuca, and hipster happenings at Casa da Matriz, in Botafogo.
Right at the heart of Copacabana, next to Siqueira Campos metro station, Fosfobox attracts hipsters and musically-minded types of all social demographics to shake their collective stuff on the sticky dancefloor. The musical action takes place downstairs, where DJs play a mix of underground electronica, vintage rock and roll, hip hop and a dash of pop, with the occasional samba, live music or forro-based night keeping the musical menu eclectic. Things get cramped and hectic on the dancefloor after around 1am, but the upstairs bar and balcony provide a chance to sip a cocktail and chat, away from the pumping basslines. (21 2548 7498)
The name translates as 'little bar', but this lively Lapa hangout packs a lot into its less than palatial layout. The small plates and bar snacks are famous, and make tasty companions to something from the extensive drinks list. Regular events such as samba and feijoada afternoons on the first Saturday of the month, and vinyl-only DJ marathons on Tuesday evenings make this a top spot for those who take their music seriously, while the pumping electro that soundtracks Friday and Saturday nights at Barzinho ensure that the bar attracts a hipped up, clubby crowd. Like most drinking dens in Rio, food has a major part to play, too, and the menu here offers some tasty takes on traditional bar snacks such as pasteis (little stuffed pastries) which here come filled with a mix of flavorsome cheeses. It's open well into the early hours most nights of the week, and the funky decor gives a nightclub-esque vibe to this small space. (21 2221 4709)
Much more than a concert venue, this multi-functional spot in the heart of Lapa hosts hip local bands and international visitors, as well as holding some of the most popular regular club nights in the city. In addition, dance and percussion workshops and nocturnal art exhibitions make this a truly unique venue, frequented by a young, largely middle-class crowd. Prices are less prohibitively-high than some larger music arenas in Rio, making this an affordable place to catch big Brazilian names such as Jorge Ben Jor, or visiting bands - Scottish indie heroes Primal Scream and Belle and Sebastian are among the recent acts to have performed here. (21 2533 0354)
Located in the historic heart of Lapa, this reformed colonial mansion home has received a colorful makeover with illuminated artworks on the brick walls, vibrantly-colored cocktails and an equally bright and breezy playlist. An eclectic musical menu takes in electro-heavy club nights, more gentile jazz-fests and live samba sessions, and downstairs dancefloors are packed well into the small hours almost every night of the week. A mezzanine balcony provides ample space for sipping drinks and chatting - should you be able to make yourself heard over the pumping music. Alongside an extensive cocktail list, some tempting finger food. Groups of friends may want to opt for the mixed platter, which includes tasty finger foods such as rosemary and garlic breadsticks, focaccia, sundried tomato paste and little oven-baked pastries. ((21) 2507 5779)
Casa da Matriz
if you like your nightlife with an alternative, leftfield edge, Casa da Matriz should be your first port of call. DJs spin an eclectic mix of tunes that takes in everything from 1960s Tropicalia to 1990s hip hop, via punk, funk and soul, and the place throngs with students and other hip young things at weekends. There's even an 'indie karaoke' night where you can sing along to the likes of Joy Division, Nirvana, the Pixies and the Smiths. For a night out with any number of musical twists and turns, this is a top spot. Dress-wise, think hipster chic rather than sexy sambista. ((21) 2226-6342)
00 (Zero Zero)
Brazilians like to combine drinking with dining, and this upscale nightspot, located inside Gavea's famous planetarium, no less takes both activities extremely seriously. There's a formal dining room as well as a lounge and a dancefloor, and a mezzanine level for those who prefer to nibble on sushi and other sophisticated finger foods while watching the beautiful people glide around the dance floor. While the crowd is refreshingly wide in age range, from students to older couples, it is almost exclusively upper middle class. Dress is smart by Brazilian standards - n0 shorts or flip flops- and prices are far from cheap. (0055 21 2540 8041)
It might not look like much, but this unassuming hole in the wall bar in Copacabana is one of the top spots in RIo to hear live music. The location on a Copacabana backstreet manages to attract some of the most skilled musicians in town, who come here for impromptu jam sessions, much to the patrons' delight. Laid back and relaxed, this is not the spot for a glamorous night out, but for some quality samba, forro or pagode in intimate surrounds, bip bip is the place. Drinks are limited to self-served beers from the fridge, but the quality of the music makes this well worth a visit. (21 2267 9696)
Clube dos Democraticos
An eye-catching - if somewhat weather-beaten - art deco building is the setting for some of the longest-standing samba parties in Rio at this much-loved venue. Clube dos Democraticos was founded over a century ago as a carnival society uniting musicians, dancers and others imbued with carnival spirit. Today, the club continues to attract live music lovers, with regular samba sessions packing out the vast dancefloor. For a change of musical scene, it's worth checking out the Wednesday night Forro sessions - this popular weekly event is a great place to get aquainted with this sultry musical style from Brazil's northeast. And if you can't dance a step, don't worry - the fleet-footed locals will be happy to show you a move or two. (21 2252 4611)
Carioca da Gema
Samba lovers of all ages flock to this downtown dance house, where the fleet of foot and supple of rump shimmy and shake around the dance floor. The club is housed in a tall and handsome colonial building, with a balcony overlooking the crowded streets of Lapa - perfect for people-watching and catching a breath of fresh air before you carry on your dance-athon. If you don't feel confident to take to the floor yourself, just admire the locals' skill and sip on a caipirinha until the Dutch courage kicks in. It is largely assumed that foreigners can't dance, so nobody will judge too harshly. ((21) 2221-0043)
Rio is synonymous with samba, and the city's historical downtown district of Lapa should be the first port of call for anybody looking to hear the real thing played live. At Rio Scenarium, the kooky factor is ramped up to 11 thanks to the fact that this vast venue for samba shows is also a storage space for antiques and film props, so fascinating costumes, masks and other historical artefacts form the backdrop to the dancing, eating and drinking. Even if you have two left feet it is worth a visit here just to see the highy skilled locals show how samba dancing should be done, and there's a restaurant serving sit-down meals for those who just want to take in the show. (21 3147 9000)
About Lucy Bryson
Lucy is a British freelance writer living in Rio de Janeiro since 2007. While there are some things she misses about her home country, the lure of year-round sunshine has proved too powerful to resist.
Read more about Lucy Bryson here.