Twenty years ago I was working in a factory in Scotland.
If you’d told me then that I’d be getting paid to write a magazine article about the best bars in Rio de Janeiro – let alone suggest that I’d know any bars in Rio de Janeiro! – I’d have said you were mental.
But that was one of my tasks this week for Monocle’s special section on Rio.
A few clarifications before we go any further. First of all, in addition to writing about bars, I have the not quite so enviable task of writing about the economy, hedge funds and transportation infrastructure. It’s not all glamourous nights out.
And second, writing about bars is not a way to secure endless free drinks and favours from Brazilian publicans. I’ve been doing this mostly on my own dollar (or real), visiting bars I would like to include. I check them out, usually with friends, to see if they are serious candidates for a Top Ten list. The ones that are good and where we are treated well have every chance of going on the list. The rest don’t.
Of course, I have a pretty good idea where is good and where isn’t because I lived in Rio for eight years (and drank in my fair share of bars and botecos). Even since I left for São Paulo two years ago I’ve come back almost every month. And I’ve plenty of Carioca friends who are suggesting new places I didn’t know about.
Yet chosing any ‘Best of’ list is totally subjective. One man’s great bar is another man’s dump. See Bar Lagoa for the classic example. Why so many people think this outstandingly ordinary boteco is so great I will never know.
But the same could be said for Bar Urca, which I like. It’s so small there is no room for tables. Patrons take their drinks and cross the road to sit on the wall overlooking Botafogo Bay.
Is Bar Urca a great bar? Maybe not. Is it typically Carioca? Arguably, yes. Would it give visitors to Rio a new prespective on the city and afford them a new experience. Definitely.
That’s why Bar Urca is on the short list and Bar Lagoa isn’t.
More on this subject as we get closer to decision day…