All eyes will be on Brazil this July when the behemoth World Cup rolls out across the country and takes over the world. Flashy Rio will probably be the scene-stealer with her sexy beaches and butt baring thong bikinis, but not so pretty São Paulo is where the action is happening on and, crucially, off the pitch.
In our capacity as global cool hunters, Berlinagenten gets to visit and report on the world’s coolest cities, but São Paulo captured our imagination like no other. Maybe it’s because Berlin and São Paulo share a lot of similarities.
Both cities are the cultural capitals of their respective continents; both sprawling urban metropolises used to be the ugly sisters to prettier, more hyped sisters, but now have been rebirthed and gentrified, as their red-hot economies boomed in the past 10 years. But, most importantly, both have a wild, crazy nightlife, where anything goes. The drag act vomiting on the audience was the height of craziness!
The largest city in Brazil, the chaotically urban ‘Sampa’ as São Paulo is known to the locals, has a cutting edge as art, fashion, food and creative industries, that merges with different classes and races to create a vibrant, exciting, international stage.
The five neighbourhoods that you just shouldn’t miss
In a city of high rises, Vila Madalena stands out for its low-rise pastel coloured townhouses, giving it a village ambience. There’s a real hippie bohemian vibe with live music at most bars. We thought there were restaurants and bars in Berlin, there are literally hundreds here, with people standing in the streets drinking caipirinha de frutas vermelhas — Cachaça with ice, crushed strawberries, grapes, starfruit and blackberries and “chopp” — draught Brahma beer.
A Queijaria – a Brasilian cheese shop
Amüse Food Store – small gourmet shop & eatery
Batman Alley – Sampa´s best urban street art walls
This area is where lots of trendy bars have started popping up. It used to be super dangerous, now it’s just a bit dangerous. The best tip is to travel in groups and make sure of the readily available taxis that are all over the city. A short trip is around US$5.00 and taxi drivers are pretty honest. Install a taxi app like easytaxi for easy ordering. Check out D’Edge, Deep Bar 611 & The Clash Club one of the best nightclubs in the area.
Once lined by mansions owned by coffee barons, this is now where the socialites of São Paulo come out to display and play. During the daytime, it is one of the major finance districts in Brazil, where you’ll find all the big South American banks like Santander, Itáu and Banco do Brasil. There’s also great shopping here. But it’s not all about the cash though. Paulista Avenue also plays host São Paulo Gay Pride Parade in May/June, considered the largest in the world and is home to the fine art museum MASP.
Trebbiano – Mediterranean specialties in a romantic atmosphere
The View Bar – Roof-top dining & bar
Café Crème – lively melting pot
Liberdade & Bela Vista District
São Paulo is home to largest Japanese community outside of Japan. The area of Liberdade is known Japantown. On the weekends, there is an enormous craft fair where local artisans display their work and plenty of food stalls to sample at Praça de liberdade. In nearby district of Bela Vista. you will find bookstores, cafes and vintage shops as well posher shops and many Italian restaurants. The area around Rua Augusta used to be a decaying red-light district but today it attaracts boho-hipsters, gays, party crowds and fun seekers. The “lower Augusta” strip, offers more than 70 bars and clubs, including at least 10 for live music. Forget Samba, the scenes is more punk, hip-hop, metal, indie rock and dance music.
Athenas – Busy dinner hotspot
Retro – Ultra cool concept hairstylist
Estadão Bar y Lanches – 24 hour crazy food place
The area is considered one of the noblest areas of São Paulo. It is the quality of services offered, such as more than 100 restaurants and guides and about 200 bars. It also home to many of the most important museums. This is also a fashionista´s paradise, Oscar Freire – the 8th most expensive shopping street in the world, the ‘Rodeo Drive’ of SP. The area feels very cosmopolitan, easy to navigate by foot. The beautiful people hang out here in the most trendy eateries, cafes and bars of SP! A must-visit when in SP.
Feedfood – Hidden restaurant
Galeria Romero Britto – Famous pop artist
Santo Pao – Trendy cafe
The 5 bars São Paulo bars you shouldn’t miss
Situated in an old slaughterhouse, this rocking rockabilly bar has fabulous meat-named cocktails (Sirloin Passion anyone?) and even more fabulous art hanging on the walls.
Okay, so maybe it’s not such a secret anymore, since Madonna and Bono held their after concert parties here. This is your name has to be on list kind of bar. Discover their email and start a correspondence to gain entry into this uber fashionable, candle-lit bar.
On a very sophisticated tip, this super cool bar has a dinner show and jazz/burlesque/performances as well as DJ’s. The food was pretty good, the entertainment dazzling.
Over in the bohemian, bustling bar district of Vila Madalena, the biggest stand-out is Astor and its downstairs companion, SubAstor. Upstairs, Astor is a vintage, high-ceilinged boteco or bar-restaurant, while SubAstor down below, decked out in dramatic red and black, concocts some of the best cocktails in town – make your descent to the bar and order up the delicious Aviation.
Start with drinks in this cool, classy bar that attracts locals and tourists alike to its home in the famous building Copan. It’s a bit of a job to find it, as you wind your way up an alleyway. Stay on for dinner in the Dona Onça restaurant. Foodies worldwide have been raving about the traditional Brazilian comfort food, whilst the wine selection is pretty fabulous too.
5 São Paulo clubs you shouldn’t miss
When it’s comes to the world-famous-super-mega-club of São Paulo, the Week is it. You’ll see about 2000 people (many topless muscle men) go absolutely nuts to thumping house music and epileptic light shows. It’s on par as being the ‘Berghain’ of South America, but with a pool, and you will be on adrenaline days after a visit.
D.Edge has the edge when it comes to space age, trippy lighting, which pulses to the beat. This is where you get hard-edged techno from world class DJ’s. Wednesday and Friday nights are the time to get your gay on.
Trackers is an event space of an audio and video school located in the heart of the historical centre of São Paulo. This is probably the most underground nightspot we visited. The balcony is the place to meet the locals, smoke, drink and hang out.
This is most Berlin of the clubs, because there isn’t a sign. It’s small, intimate with an exclusive air. That comes with the décor, which is like a posh gentleman’s club. There are a couple of dance-floors to shake your rump. The smoker’s terrace is the hang out spot for mingling, as you look out over the Catedral da Sé.
The craziest, out there club has to be Aloca. We’ve had seen some things in our time, really, but this club, my god! Featuring the world’s most tackiest puking drag queens.
The best market – Praça Benedito Calixto
We loved this bespoke small Saturday market, which has a mix of local labels, hand craft, vintage and accessories. There’s also a hidden shopping arcade leading down to a fashion store and an art gallery in the basement and the restaurant “Alimentação” inside opens out to a tropical courtyard where live bands are playing. Late afternoon, the square outside turns into a street party, with people hang out drinking, talking, flirting and listening to street musicians. A kind of “Brick Lane Market in London”, goes Sempa.
The best concept – Cartel 011
This is where you see the creative edge that São Paulo has. Opening in 2009, it provides a place of coexistence where the artists and brands can come together. You’ll find design, architecture, entertainment, fashion, photography, music and cuisine all under one roof. There are multi-brand stores, a gallery, fabulous restaurant, hair studio, Absolut Embassy Inn, Idea Hub Zarvos as well as a co-working space.
São Paulo’s five restaurants that you should not miss
From churrascari [steakhouse], rodízio [all-you-can-eat barbecue meat] to exquisite restaurants, Sao Paulo’s food scene is noted as the best in South America. Here are our favourites:
Domus Optimus Maximus
D.O.M. was voted in the top 5 restaurants in the world and is a destination dining experience that features Brazilian culinary traditions. Try the tasting menu, which includes between four and eight dishes as well as cheese and dessert courses.
A combination of a French Bistro, an US steak house with amazing Brasilian food with traditional ingredients, this what is known as a bohemian kitchen. The best way to sample many dishes is to order/eat the ‘Picadinho Astor’ – filet mignon stew, beans, pastries of cheese, poached egg, breaded banana, rice and farofa.
Affordable and incredibly tasty snacks and dishes, including reimagined sandwiches and burgers, this is the perfect place for lunch. Evening, it steps up a gear with oysters, steaks and fabulous drinks in a very cosmopolitan setting.
Opened in 2013, this trendy restaurant is from the team behind Bar Secreto. It’s a super cool concept with a bar that covers three floors, including an open-air floor. The restaurant is a great place for a salad or a steak.
If you want to be spotted in São Paulo, this is the place! And not just because of the glass walls onto the street. You’ll find São Paulo’s creative class scoffing down on the most modern of modern international cuisine and drinking great cocktails.
Insiders – Flavia Liz Di Paolo
Henrik is so passionate about Berlin, it’s like they’ve been in an illicit affair for the past 13 years that just keeps getting sexier. Well, he met his match when he was on his cool hunting trip to São Paulo in the form of personal guide Flavia Liz Di Paolo, who has the same passion for her city. We asked her for her insider tips.
What does San Paulo offer that no other city does?
São Paulo is known as a business city. Indeed it is by far the most important of Brazil and one of the most important in the world. But besides that, and this is what makes all the difference, Sao Paulo is the mecca of mural paintings in the world, has one of the best culinary scenes in the world, lots of museums, art galleries, cinemas, theaters, culture, nonstop nightlife and hundreds of options of entertainment for all the social classes and tastes. São Paulo has millions of immigrants from all over the world and this gives to the city an international atmosphere and a multicultural look.
What changes have you seen in the past five to 10 years? How has the economic boom changed the city?
São Paulo has been in an unstopped growth for the past 100 years. At the beginning of the 20th century, the city was an important industrial district but then the city was transformed into a business city. Between 2007 and 2011 Brazil lost about 40 million poor people, who became lower middle class, most of them from São Paulo city. These new “consumers” also wanted culture and entertainment and the city was able to adapt itself and provide it all. Nevertheless, 70% of the millionaires of Brazil live in São Paulo, and the city has all the options to please them.
People have been wary of visiting Sao Paulo because it was perceived as scary city, say, like New York in the 80’s. How has that changed now?
Security is an ongoing theme to all major cities in the world. Like all the others, São Paulo can be dangerous depending on where you are. Twelve million people live here. But, on the other hand, day-by-day, the city increases its pedestrian areas where you, either a citizen of the city or a foreigner, can walk and enjoy the city.
You were the first guide undertaking favela tours. How did clients and the locals of favela react? Were they surprised people were so interested?
Clients are mostly surprised with the development of the favelas that are “self-supplied cities”. They also love the chance of interacting with the inhabitants, some of them are talented artists. On the other hand, the inhabitants of the favela started to realize “we” want to know and care about them. And this sense of concern and belonging has opened their minds and helped them.
Where do your clients generally come from?
Most of them from the U.S.A (especially NY and California), around 40% from Europe (especially England, Italy, Germany, Austria, Switzerland) as well some Arabs and Japanese.
What are your plans for the World Cup?
World Cup is a unique chance to introduce the city to many visitors that have never been here. Once they get to know the city and our several options, São Paulo increases its chances to be seen as a must in terms of tourism. This is my mission.
Let’s play favourites – favourite bar, restaurant, shop, place for coffee?
Bar: Skye – one of the best views of the city on the roof top of an interesting design hotel called Unique.
Restaurant: – Dalva e Dito – the chef is Alex Atala, owner of the 6th best restaurant in the world, according to the British magazine “Restaurant”, but it’s cheaper and the interior design is very special like the food.
Shop: Lá da Venda – located in the trendy neighborhood of Vila Madalena, it is a mix of restaurant and store, with typical products of the Brazilian culture.
Coffee: Coffe Lab – considered one of the best in the world. All the attendants are fluent in English and coffee experts.
I believe you’ve visited Berlin, can you see any parallels between the cities?
All the options of Berlin, including nightlife, can be found in São Paulo. The city is also a well-known gay friendly spot. The biggest LGBT parade of the world takes place here. São Paulo has been seen as a trendy city. A lot of entrepreneurs have chosen São Paulo as the first place in the world to start a new entertainment business.
Thanks Flavia Liz.