By any stretch of the imagination, Rio de Janeiro is one of the most spectacular cities on the planet – the blue-green South Atlantic Ocean laps a wide expanse of white beaches, abutting the lush greenery of a semi-tropical forest. Superimpose a pulsating city, and vibrant queer nightlife and plenty of cultural highlights for a complete view of Rio’s offerings. No wonder it’s nicknamed ‘The Wonderful City’.
Although it’s also a very large city, with plenty of tourist stops to take in, I’ve been drafted in to talk about gay Rio, which is essentially concentrated in the beach areas of Ipanema and Copacabana, making it all the more easy to navigate. Simply head for the sea and you’ll start bumping into more queer eye-candy than is good for a body.
Nowhere in all my travels have I seen the likes of the people who hang on Rio’s gay scene. If you’re not buffed and bronzed, prepare to feel a little bit out of place here – particularly around Carnival time and New Year, the city is a Mecca for circuit boys and trendy dykes.
Of the two beach areas, Ipanema is the more upmarket, with lots of designer shopping, four-star restaurants and cool cafés. Ipanema means ‘bad water’ in Brazilian Indian dialect, but this has nothing to do with it’s amazingly blue sea, just something to do with a nasty Baron who used to own the area. It is the birthplace of Bossa Nova, which is we know through the song, The Girl from Ipanema which was written by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinícius de Morais, both Ipanema residents.
The big gay day in Ipanema is Sunday, when Farme beach (a little to the East of Rua Farme de Amoedo) is thronged with homosexuals, there to watch all-queer volleyball and dodge-ball matches. Bring plenty to drink, because your tongue will be hanging out, leaving you pretty dehydrated.
Copacabana (also immortalised in song by one Barry Manilow) is a more downmarket touristy area and not so popular with the beautiful queers, but it does have its own stretch of gay beach just in front of the Copacabana Palace hotel. Bears and drag queens tend to favour it more, and ordinary mortals like myself can fit in without feeling too intimidated by pecks and six packs.
Dinner in Rio is served around 8 or 9. Nightclubs never start before midnight, so most tourists go on a crawl of the gay bars, before they hit the clubs. Some of these venues have dance floors with DJ’s, to get you warmed up for the night ahead.
Ipanema’s gayest nightspot is on the beach block of Rua Teixeira de Melo, next to Farme. A combination of professionals, intellectuals, actors, fashion victims, gym bunnies, artists, models, fag hags, lesbians, and others keep things eclectic and always hopping. Circulate between Restô, Galeria Cafe and Spin. Dama de Ferro, on Rua Vinicius de Morais, corner of Lagoa, caters to the same crowd.
Along Copacabana beach there is a traditionally gay-friendly area known as Bolsa, near Lido.
Hustlers are pretty much part of the scene, and you should keep a good hold on your wallet. Le Boy is the main gay club, and it attracts a very attractive crowd hell bent on partying the night away.
Although men dominate the Rio scene, there is quite a strong lesbian presence on too. Just don’t rely on finding any specifically women-oriented venues. It’s a mixed scene where everyone is happy to enjoy the nightlife with everyone else, no matter what the gender.
Of course, Rio is famous for its Carnival, which will take place from February 5 – – 8 next year. Besides the fantastic spectacle of the parade itself, there are lots of street parties and balls during the days before and after the main event. The gay ball is O Grande Gala Gay (official gay ball). This was once the gay event to go to, taking a turn to the more commercial side, but nowadays it attracts a mostly straight audience in search of the exotic drag queens and transvestites that fill it to capacity.
There are a lot of other alternative gay neighbourhood parades and parties, however (Blocos and Bandas) such as Banda de Ipanema and Banda da Carmem Miranda, that wind around the Suburb of Ipanema, a dazzling cacophony of samba bands, exotic drag queens and beautiful Brazilian men and women.
The other big gay time to be in Rio is on New Year’s Eve, when spectacular parties and fireworks displays are held on all of Rio’s major beach’s, with the biggest along Copacabana Beach. Promoters hold circuit-style gay parties either just before or just after New Years, but there are plenty of free gay dance parties too. Just keep an eye out for those rainbow flags.