Thursday Three: Val Wirtschafter’s Rio de Janeiro
This week’s Three come from Valerie Wirtschafter, a global health consultant whose post has taken her everywhere from New York City to Kuala Lumpur. Her latest escapade has her spending a few months in the Brazilian metropolis of Rio de Janeiro. And although she’s only been on the scene a couple of weeks, Val’s already found some amazing spots worth seeking out if you ever find yourself in the “Marvelous City”.
Rio de Janeiro represents the best and, for lack of a better word, the most challenging aspects of urban life blended together and splashed along the coast. Whatever your perception, it is unlike any other city I’ve ever been to. Awe-inspiring for its natural landscape – the way picturesque hills rise up from the ocean and the calming water of the lake sits not a mile from the bustling beaches of Ipanema – and shocking for its gritty and overt glimpse into poverty – the favelas, looking like neglected building piles that are eternally under construction.
Rio is already in the spotlight and will be even more so in the years to come, what with the World Cup and the Olympics and all. I’m here for a few months working on possibly the third biggest event to hit the Cidade Maravilhosa, a global health innovation conference (just kidding, that would be a nightmare to help plan).
As an avid food junkie and a fan of scoping out the best cocktails in town, I’m excited to bring you my top three spots in Rio de Janeiro so far, and I’ve got five weeks to go.
1. Eat: TT Burger
$ Rua Francisco Otaviano – 67, Arpoador, Rio de Janeiro – RJ
Even though they may not know it here in Rio, TT Burger is the latest in a long line of culinary dynasties to expand to the masses. For anyone who lives in New York City (or Dubai?), think what Shake Shack is to Danny Meyer of Blue Smoke fame. Run by the next in line of the Troisgros dynasty – a family of chefs that goes four generations deep and is famous for its Nouvelle Cuisine Française adaptation of “meat on a sword” – TT Burger makes one of the best hamburgers I’ve ever had in my life. No, really, I was shocked too.
At TT Burger the menu is essentially one item: a giant patty of delicious Brazilian ground beef, with guava ketchup, minas cheese and pickled caju. They opened in late August of 2013, and they’ve still definitely got a few kinks to work out in the system, but boy is that burger good. Take it to go and eat it while watching the sunset at Praia Arpoador. It will be the best sequence of decisions you make all day.
2. Drink: Beco do Rato
$ Rua Joaquim Silva 11 – Lapa – Rio de Janeiro
As far as I’m aware, Beco do Rato is a quintessential samba bar. Seated samba to be exact (so that musicians can drink their beers too). I went on a Friday night with a co-worker, and it was a fantastic time. Everyone is friendly. Everyone is dancing. Everyone knows all of the lyrics to all of the songs. Get a nearly frozen 600ml bottle of Antarctica, one of the national beers (It’s definitely not pronounced the way you’d think. Neither is “feedback,” which is also a word in Portuguese). I guarantee you won’t be sitting for too long, though, as one of the 70+ year old samba “roundtable” regulars will sweep you off your feet to teach you the steps.
NOTE: Although there are tons of people around on weekends, Lapa isn’t the safest part of town, though it’s a far cry from the worst. Just don’t be stupid, and don’t roam into dark alleys, and all those rules you learned when you were a kid.
3. Visit: Pão de Açúcar + Urca
$$ Av. Pasteur, 520 – Urca, Rio de Janeiro
Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf Mountain) is one of the most tourist-y sites in the city. However, not only is it a gem, but the surrounding neighborhood of Urca is also a site to behold and welcomed respite from the bustling streets of Copacabana and the crowded beaches of Ipanema. Here’s how you make a day of it. Take the bus (the 511 to be exact) to Urca. Hop on the cable car (who doesn’t love a cable car!?) up to Morro da Urca. Continue up to Sugarloaf Mountain (get it, because it looks like a loaf of sugar?). Gasp at the views of Guanabara Bay, Copacabana, Cristo Redentor and those crazy rock climbers trying to get up to the panoramic vistas for free (entrance fee: about US$25).
Once you get back down to sea level, take a walk along the Claudio Coutinho Trail. There are so many adorable monkeys along this trail. Don’t get too close, though. I hear they bite fingers off! Once you’ve taken a nice stroll, reward yourself for your exercise by heading over to Bar Urca. Sit along the stone wall with dozens of Brazilian day-drinkers; drink an ice cold beer and snack on some bolinhas de bacalhau (fried codfish balls); enjoy the day and the beautiful view of the Guanabara Bay.