São Paulo contains several entertainment districts that see action all week long, each packed with bars, live music venues and nightclubs. In the center of town, gritty Centro and bustling Bela Vista are studded with happening nightspots, and Rua Augusta -- a funky but gentrifying thoroughfare linking Bela Vista and Jardins -- is nightlife central, especially along the stretch dubbed Baixo Augusta, with wall-to-wall bars, restaurants, sex shops, strip clubs and several small nightclubs called bar-baladas.
Bohemian enclave Vila Madalena, a hilly neighborhood on the west side of town with a suburban feel, houses a gaggle of traditional Brazilian gastropubs -- botecos -- featuring live samba bands. Upscale nightclubs proliferate in Itaim Bibi and neighboring Vila Olímpia, a pair of affluent districts toward the south end of the city. Aside from these areas, however, nightspots can and do spring up all over town.
For the most danceable Brazilian rhythms -- samba, axé, forró and MPB (Brazilian pop) -- Bar Brahma in Centro serves up great music every night, despite its airport-bar-and-movie-theater-priced drinks. Bar Mangueira in the “new downtown” district of Pinheiros packs ’em in with a steamy, Rio-style atmosphere, while neighboring Carioca Club adds Brazilian hip-hop acts to the lineup. Grazie a Dio! in Vila Madalena has ample space to cool off after a spin on the dance floor, and nearby Ó do Borogodó, tiny and unpretentious, is simply one of the best samba spots in town.
Jazz, soul, R&B and blues aficionados can hit swanky Bourbon Street Music Club in the city district of Moema and The Orleans in Vila Madalena, which take their musical cues from their American muse, New Orleans, with a rotating schedule of funk and soul, big band and blues performers, as well as contemporary and Latin jazz. In the high-class Jardins area, intimate Casa de Francisca offers a low-key vibe that’s perfect for romance, while ultra-posh Bar Baretto, inside the Fasano hotel with its elegant wood interiors and hushed ambience, attracts celebrities like Demi Moore and Paris Hilton with its sultry jazz performances.
For partiers in search of live rock and pop, head downtown. Cine Joia, a repurposed cinema in Centro that first opened in 1952, rocks hard with emerging Brazilian bands, while indie music venues Studio SP and Beco 203, both in Baixo Augusta, the section of Rua Augusta between Avenida Paulista and downtown, showcase artists from Brazil and abroad. A block over, the combination bar-music hall-art space Kabul keeps crowds happy -- and standing -- with its mixed-up set list of live rock, soul, samba and hip-hop.
Hovering in a categorical twilight zone where the bar features just as prominently as the dance floor, bar baladas defy uniform description. Alberta #3 in Centro is the granddaddy of them all, serving up drinks on the 2 upper floors and rock, pop and even disco on vinyl down on the basement-level dance floor.
In Baixo Augusta, Tapas Club and Astronete mix up set lists of live and DJ-spun music that spans rock, pop and R&B. A unique gem over in the warehouse district of Barra Funda is Lebowski, named for -- you got it -- the Coen Brothers’ 1998 cult classic film, The Big Lebowski, and features kitschy bowling-related decor.
Nightclubs, Stylishly Small to Megaclubs
Alternating between stylish, smallish nightspots and megaclubs with a capacity in the thousands, São Paulo has nightclubs for days -- literally, since many don’t even close until 8 a.m. The smaller venues trend toward the upscale type of soirée, and the mid-century Modernist house-turned-nightclub Casa 92, along with ultra-exclusive Bar Secreto, both in Pinheiros, draws the bold and beautiful with DJ-spun electropop and MPB.
For electronica lovers, cutting-edge D-Edge in Barra Funda is house head nirvana, with alternating guest and resident DJs spinning techno, progressive, trance, tribal and minimal in a dark, sleek, Tron-like setting. Baixo Augusta newcomer Mono, sporting speakers made from refrigerators, pumps out electropop and drum-and-base throughout the week.
Meanwhile, Barra Funda’s Clash Club keeps it casually cute with electro most of the time, but one of its biggest nights is the uber-popular Tuesday hip-hop party Chocolate. Hip-hop and R&B fans can also get their fix in style at Joy Club in Pinheiros on Fridays. If it’s salsa and Latin pop you want, head to Rey Castro in Vila Olímpia or Azucar in Itaim Bibi.
São Paulo’s gay and lesbian party scene is one of the largest and most intense in Latin America, with nightclub powerhouse The Week in Sao Paulo’s Lapa district setting the tone for electronic circuit parties the world over, most notably on Saturday nights. Popular alternatives to that muscle-bound playground include nautical-themed Club Yacht and multi-floor Bubu Lounge. Wednesday nights, small but high energy Sonique Bar near Baixo Augusta plays pop, and Thursdays are for the club kid set at A Loca, anchoring the crowded strip of gay-friendly bars along Rua Frei Caneca.
And if you’re still not tuckered out by at least 4 a.m., Love Story -- the epitome of hole-in-the-wall downtown after-hours spots -- brings all the die-hard party people together in perfect auto-tuned harmony until the last customer leaves.