Bossa Nova Central: Ipanema, Rio De Janeiro

by Alan Ryan

    “After I die and go to heaven,” I told my new friend Ana Lúcia, “if you’re looking for me, just come to this street. If you don’t see me, ask in here and they’ll know where I am.”
         Ana Lúcia smiled. “I could do that now,” she said.
         We were in Rio de Janeiro’s stylish beach community of Ipanema, drinking caipirinhas in a café called A Garota de Ipanema. The name means “The Girl from Ipanema.” The song was written here. And this will be your first stop if it’s really music, even more than the sun and the sand and the sights, that brought you to Rio in the first place.
         In fact, this one street, Rua Vinícius de Moraes, has three major music-related attractions. Together, they make it home base for me.

    A Garota De Ipanema
    A Garota de Ipanema is a very pretty café at Rua Vinícius de Moraes, 49 (tel.: 523-3787), at the corner of Rua Prudente de Morais, just one block from the beach. In summer, the whole place, on a busy, tree-lined street, is open to catch any breeze.
         Although it’s an obvious tourist destination, it’s a great favorite with local people all day, all evening, and into the night until two or three o’clock.
         Prices (based on exchange rates in August, 1999) are quite modest. Chopp (draft beer) is under a dollar, a caipirinha is $1.50, a dish of ice cream costs $1.80, a breast of chicken sandwich with cheese is $3.00, a medium pizza à Garota is under $6.00, and so on through full meals.
         You might expect the staff here to be weary of tourists, but instead they’re friendly, interested, and helpful. There’s very little English spoken but ask for my friend Lima, whose English is good.
         The staff will also point out the table (back near the restrooms, a good spot if you’re drinking a lot of chopp) where, in 1963, composer Antonio Carlos Jobim (known as “Tom” in Brazil) and lyricist Vinícius de Moraes sat and watched that beautiful girl go by every day and where they immortalized her in song. The walls are adorned with relevant photos and newspaper clippings.
         Remember to buy a T-shirt (about $8.00).
         (There are other Garota restaurants under the same management in Leblon and other parts of Rio, but this is the one where musical history was made.)

    Bar Vinicius
    At Rua Vinícius de Moraes, 39, on the corner right across Rua Prudente de Morais from A Garota de Ipanema, is Bar Vinícius (tel.: 287-1497).
         On street level, this is another comfortable open café with similar prices and a similar view of the passing parade. If there’s a soccer game on television, the TV will be on and patrons will be intent and vocal.
         In the evenings, you want to be upstairs.
         Go in the door around to the left and up a long flight of stairs. At the top, you’ll find one of the most comfortable little bars in all of Rio, with the feel of a private club. Handsomely appointed, with two walls of windows looking out on the lighted trees in the street, it seats under a hundred patrons.
         There’s live music every night at 7 and 11 (more or less). No big names, but there’s a changing roster of good regulars. Watch for Eri Galvão, who is otherwise a professor of English in Niterói.
         A recent guest was Andréia Pedroso, whose credits include two CDs and a growing reputation, especially as an interpreter of Djavan’s songs. At Bar Vinícius, backed by a trio, she presented a varied catalogue of Brazilian standards as effortlessly and beautifully as the breeze stirred the trees outside the windows.
         The patrons in the packed club were 90% local and you never saw such a rapt and respectful audience.
         Bar Vinícius has a $6.00 cover charge and a $5.00 minimum.

    Toca Do Vinicius
    Now you need music to take home.
         Rio has excellent record stores but the first place you want to visit is Toca do Vinícius at Rua Vinícius de Moraes, 129 (tel.: 247-5227), a block and a half up the street.
         “Toca” means “den” or “lair” and this very small shop, dedicated solely to Brazilian music, is likely to be very busy and very crowded.
         You’ll find CDs you didn’t know existed and will never see at home. If you’re a musician, you’ll find music books you must have. And if you read Portuguese, you’ll find books both by and about Brazil’s great singers, composers, and lyricists. The staff doesn’t speak much English, but another enthusiastic customer surely will. If you love Brazilian music, Toca do Vinícius is Mecca.
         Take a look at the display of bonecas on the back wall. These hand-painted figurines ($15.00) are loving caricatures of Brazil’s greatest writers, poets, painters, and composers: Jorge Amado and Clarice Lispector, Tom Jobim and Vinícius, and dozens more.
         Upstairs is a tiny gallery, a museuzinho, with some artifacts in homage to Vinícius. Ask if you can see it.
         And ask for me. I hope to be around.

    Alan Ryan won a Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Award for The Reader’s Companion to Mexico. He writes on international travel and culture for a number of publications.