Rio de Janeiro 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 collective hair down.
It’s 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 downtown 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.
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.
Recommended for Night Clubs because: Fosfobox is a Rio institution and one of the best-loved underground clubs in town.
Lucy’s expert tip: Things don’t get going until after midnight, so take the metro here and enjoy a couple of pre-club drinks at one of the many informal bars nearby.
With a perfect location on the central road through Lapa, Rio’s downtown party district, Febarj is the best spot in the city to find a hip-hop heavy playlist. The building belongs to an organization that celebrates Afro-Brazilian culture, and on Friday and Saturday evenings the three floors of this former colonial home shake to the sound of Brazilian and American hip hop. Things usually get lively around 1am, and the party doesn’t stop until near dawn. With entrance fee less than R$8, and free before midnight, this is a great place for a laid back, cheap and largely poseur-free night out in Rio.
Recommended for Night Clubs because: Friday nights at Febarj are always fun, funky hip-hop fests
Lucy’s expert tip: Get down to Lapa around 11pm, grab a drink from one of the many street sellers, and just soak up the atmosphere before heading into Febarj before midnight for free entry.
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.
Recommended for Night Clubs because: This Lapa focal point hosts everything from Brazilian funk DJ sets to live international bands.
Lucy’s expert tip: If you’re here for a weekend gig, the always-lively Lapa street party makes the perfect place for a post-show drink.
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.
Recommended for Night Clubs because: This funky Lapa den is a fun spot for drinking and dancing until dawn.
Lucy’s expert tip: Those who aren’t up for clubbing can head here in the early evening for drinks on the sidewalk patio – ideal for people watching.
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.
Recommended for Night Clubs because: Kooky and cool, Casa da Matriz is the hangout of choice for Rio’s young and hipped up.
Lucy’s expert tip: Casa da Matriz is less dressy than many Rio nightspots – think hip, funky and retro rather than uber-glam.
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, bossa nova or choro 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.
Recommended for Night Clubs because: This tiny bar has a street party vibe and is the best place in Rio for live samba
Lucy’s expert tip: The musical menu features delicate choro sounds on Mondays and Tuesday, bossa nova on Wednesdays, and Samba from Thursday through Sunday
Photo courtesy of Lucy Bryson
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.
Recommended for Night Clubs because: One of Rio’s oldest live music venues, Clube dos Democraticos hosts top quality samba and forro bands.
Lucy’s expert tip: Can’t dance, won’t dance? Just sip a caipirinha and sit back and admire the dancers’ skills as they whirl their partners around the floor.
Easy to miss but well worth seeking out, this artsy cultural hub is where cool kids come to mingle, dance and share ice cold bottles of beer. With an art gallery, outside terrace and regular themed music/arts nights,it combines a studiously informal hipster aesthetic with an impressive roster of DJ sets. This trendy spot is also known as the place for seriously good burgers – local food and drink magazines rate it as the best in town, and Comuna’s customers tend to agree. Get here early in the evening if you want to sample them for yourself – after 11pm things get too packed for comfortable eating.
Recommended for Night Clubs because: Comuna is one of the hippest spots in town for eating, drinking and socialising
Lucy’s expert tip: Check Comuna’s website before your visit – the DJ and live music sets cover a wide musical spectrum
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.
Recommended for Night Clubs because: Samba dancing in an antiques warehouse is a unique experience that only Rio Scenarium can deliver.
Lucy’s expert tip: Too shy to take to the dancefloor? Sip a caipirinha or two and feel those inhibitions slip away.
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.
Recommended for Night Clubs because: Less touristy than Rio Scenarium, Carioca da Gema attracts seriously fleet-footed locals.
Lucy’s expert tip: Carioca da Gema also runs a very good pizzeria right next door – perfect for refueling after some dance floor action.