Samba in Lapa: The Order of the Day When in Rio de Janeiro

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Samba is Brazil’s most cherished national rhythm, and while there may be debates over whether it first came from Rio or Bahia, there’s no doubt that Rio de Janeiro is where the musical form took root. This most Brazilian of cultural heritages is a magical spark that’s alive in every public square, city block, and avenue, responsible for making bodies move all across the country. And here in Rio, there’s one neighborhood in particular where samba is waiting for you. Or were you really thinking that you’d be able to visit the Marvelous City without enjoying a samba in Lapa?

A great option worth considering is Rio Scenarium, a landmark in Rio’s Historic Center. Somewhere between an antique shop and theater, it’s one of the liveliest spots in the neighborhood. Scenarium’s fame is well-earned, resting on its truly unique atmosphere: a three-story house decorated with motifs and antique objects (with a collection of 10,000 different items from all different eras), a menu of drinks and snacks, a restaurant serving Brazilian food, and, best of all, an event calendar packed full of daily musical attractions, as many as three a day at weekends. Whether you visit during happy hour or later during one of the night sessions dedicated to electrifying musical performances, this is the place to be.

Bar Semente is one of the institutions most responsible for the renewed prestige that samba has enjoyed in the Lapa neighborhood, and likewise for the revitalization of the entire area throughout the 2000s. It was here that the samba rhythm was rediscovered with a cultural agenda that gave top billing to the most refined instrumental varieties of samba, always in dialogue with other local music styles such as choro and gafieira. A new generation of “sambistas” emerged here and took the world by storm with their songs and shows. It’s worth experiencing firsthand this carefree, bohemian spot, reminiscent of the haunts of the neighborhood rogues of yesteryear (the famous malandros) and the showgirls (vedetes) that typified the old Lapa.

Carioca da Gema is another establishment dedicated to samba. In particular, it promotes the virtuoso artists of the genre and the perfect synthesis of partying and top-notch music. Restore your energy with one of the delicious pizzas on the second floor. The shitake mushroom pizza is a big crowd-pleaser. Lapa 40° is home to another classic combination: samba and snooker. The enormous salon comes equipped with 20 tables designed for the different styles of the game and offers a novel way to relax between the shows being performed on the first and third floors. The musical attractions also embrace an interesting variety of sambas, from classic to modern. It’s safe to say, there’s something for everyone.

As Dorival Caymii preaches in his classic samba: “As long as you’re of sound mind, and you’re not lame” (“você não é ruim da cabeça, nem doente do pé”), you’re bound to find a great samba in Lapa and have the time of your life.

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