I t sounds like Snapple bottle-cap trivia, but the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro will be the first held on South American soil. -Considering that Brazil has never won a gold medal in soccer—the national -pastime—you’d expect the pressure to be on. Guess again. At press time, Brazil’s president was under threat of impeachment (thanks to a pesky oil scandal); inflation is up; jobs are way down. And marine biologists found evidence of a “superbug” in the waters of Guanabara Bay—where the sailing races are set to commence—which sent the International Olympic Committee into a tailspin. When asked about the heavily polluted bay over lunch, Michael Nagy, director of Rio’s Visitors Bureau, simply shrugs, saying, “You’re from New York. Would you swim in the Hudson River?”
Welcome to Rio de Janeiro, the no-worries capital of the world and the perfect winter escape. This is the kind of city where sipping a bottle of Bohemia beer with your feet in the sand amounts to sightseeing. There are several iconic monuments in town—such as the massive art deco Christ the Redeemer statue perched atop Mount Corcovado, plus Sugarloaf Mountain, featured in the James Bond film Moonraker—but they’re best seen the way Al Roker will see them: from the seat of a fancy helicopter. (A firm called Helisight offers 30-minute tours from the Lagoa neighborhood for about $200.)
But your time is better spent on the sand at Ipanema, where the women are so beautiful they’ve been immortalized in song. The beach is organized by numbered posts; a trusted local tells me the Gisele look-alikes hang out at poste number nine, and he isn’t wrong. If surfing is more your thing, build your sand castle at Praia da Macumba.
Another joy of Rio is its meandering afternoons. Fresh from the beach, take a pub crawl through the revived Leblon neighborhood and test-drive the caipirinha—the mojito’s cousin, made with the sugarcane spirit cachaça. Order off-menu at the Academia da Cachaças and mix it up with a caipira Providência, a local favorite made with brown sugar. Then hit Bar Bracarense, where the salt in the bolinho de bacalhau (cod croquette) complements the sweetness of the drinks.
Rio doesn’t really wake up until midnight anyway. After a disco nap, hop a cab to Lapa for streetside live music. Sip a beer outside Circo Voador, a famous and worthy club where Bebel Gilberto is known to drop in for a song. For curiosity’s sake follow the crowd to Rio Scenarium, a three-floor bossa nova club outfitted with antiques, before swiftly moving on to the more intimate Carioca da Gema. Order another round. Lose track of time. In the morning, the hotel bartender will crack open a coconut, which may be mother nature’s perfect hangover cure. Says Cristiana Kastrup, general manager of the -Fasano Rio de Janeiro hotel-, “The coconut is the national drink. We give it to babies.” No worries.
A Pocket Guide Through Rio
The Fasano is a chic 89-room respite with a rooftop pool offering championship views of Ipanema. Downstairs at the Baretto-Londra nightclub, beautiful people dance on the tables until four in the morning on weekends.
THE COFFEE SHOP
In Santa Teresa (Rio’s eternal cool-kid neighborhood) the locals get their caffeine from Cafecito, where the patio provides the ideal spot for reading.
The ingredients may be simple (cachaça, sugar and lime) but you’ll find no shortage of advice when making a caipirinha. Mixologist Paulo Freitas of Diageo—the luxury spirits company—has his own tips. “The secret is love. Don’t get angry at the lime. If you are angry, you will over-muddle,” he says. Noted. He recommends Galeto Sat’s, a dive in Copacabana better known for rotisserie chicken, as the best undercover caipirinha bar in Rio.
At the Michelin-starred Lasai, chef Rafa Costa e Silva serves up a Basque-tinged tasting menu (inset) from an airy townhouse with views of Christ the Redeemer. Hashtag: blessed.