São Paulo is not the type of city where you immediately feel its charm. Often described as a “concrete jungle,” and “a grey city,” its is no surprise that when I mentioned I was moving to São Paulo, the usual comment was, “what a shame that you can’t live in Rio!” São Paulo is often compared to (and always outshined by) its famous neighboring city. Rio isn’t a fun place to be compared to: it is undoubtedly one of the most aesthetically stunning cities in the world, with winter temperatures never reaching below 75 degrees, lined by gorgeous lively beaches, known for the beautiful and fun-loving cariocas. On the other hand, São Paulo is known for the more serious Paulistanos and the endless grey concrete skyline.
When I arrived, I understood why São Paulo had this reputation. I was not blown away by my first impressions of the city. Most buildings looked the same: grey concrete apartment complexes as far as the eye can see. The streets were noisy and full of traffic. To make matters worse, the entire city is on a hill, so walking to my internship and school involves huffing and puffing up the hill while breathing in the polluted air. Avenida Paulista is lined with tall skyscrapers and some “creative” architecture (such as FIESP where I’m currently interning) built in the 1970s. I personally don’t find any charm in large skyscrapers and wide streets full of traffic. The charm of São Paulo lies in the quaint, funky, alternative, cultural neighborhoods, that are all easy to get to from the city center, and make you forget the depressing grey skyline!
There are so many great neighborhoods in São Paulo, I’m not going to try to discuss all of them in detail here. However I’ll give the short list: Jardins is a very fancy neighborhood just south of Avenida Paulista, full of fancy bars and restaurants. Rua Augusta is a road perpendicular to Paulista that is known for being more funky and alternative going out scene, and also has some excellent restaurants. Liberdade is the Japanese immigrant neighborhood, so if you want Japanese food and markets with all the food you’re missing at the normal supermarkets, it is the place to go!
Vila Magdalena and Beco de Batman
Vila Magdalena is the most well known alternative hip neighborhood in the city. It is full of cool cafés, cachaça bars, and street art. One of the coolest spots is Beco de Batman, which is an alleyway full of street art (if you look up #becodebatman on Instragram, you can see it’s the coolest spot for photoshoots with the street art in the background). When I first found this neighborhood, I felt like I was transported Portland or other hipster neighborhoods in the U.S.!
Discovering a hidden gem hidden in the urban center: Bixiga
One night I decided to go out and meet a couple friends. When I began descending Brigadeiro street (directly North of Avenida Paulista), I was not impressed by the location. Then I took a turn on a sketchy looking alley and felt even more unsure. However, on the corner of that sketchy road was one of the coolest bars I’ve ever been to. The bar itself was nothing fancy. There were tables outside on a corner across from a large concrete wall covered in graffiti. I chatted with one of the bar owners for over an hour, who explained to me the story behind the bar. He was always passionate about cooking and went to the U.S. and Europe to work in restaurants and study cooking. Then, him and his two brothers decided to take the risk and open a bar in São Paulo. Most weekends they have concerts that play outside on the corner of the street. Everything there is quality: I had a smoky IPA, local cachaca, and fried tapioca with a gorgonzola sauce. The menu was full of creative items.
The bar owner confirmed what I had been hearing on about Brazil and the “custo brasil.” Brazil is a hard place to start a business and keep that business afloat. Just paying taxes could drive you to shut down. You have to pay federal, municipal and provincial taxes, which all together can consume the majority of your profits. Are we still questioning why the reforma tributaria (tax reform) is absolutely necessary to simplify this bureaucracy and help motivated business owners thrive? Brazil is full of creative intelligent youths with big ideas and a sense of entrepreneurship. The only thing that’s missing is public policy that encourages and motivates them and doesn’t make them want to quit before they begin.
Well, I’m certainly glad these gentlemen decided to follow their dreams and open this bar!
On Sunday, I went back to explore the neighborhood more and found live samba and churrasco on the streets lined with decorations and lovely restaurants.
So, don’t get discouraged by the grey skyline. Just a few blocks away you’ll find a neighborhood that’s both homey and alternative, culturally diverse and traditionally Brazilian, and full of surprises.