In Rio, there’s a saying, “And once again, suddenly it’s Carnival.” It’s a joke, of course – as if Carnival didn’t occupy cariocas’ minds a significant part of the year. But the truth is that, in a way, this is precisely what’s going on right now in the “Wonderful City.” Official Carnival events begin in two weeks, but the samba shows, parties, feasts and merriment are everywhere. Suddenly, it’s already Carnival.
And this early Carnival mood expresses itself better every year at the samba schools’ rehearsals for the official parades, which are scheduled to begin on February 24. From next Thursday until then, at least 15 parties will take place at the most important samba schools’ headquarters, as well as in the Sambadrome – Rio’s main parade zone – itself. And some of them offer something more than music and dance: great feijoada, the traditional Brazilian black bean stew that is historically connected to the communities where the majority of the samba schools came from.
But the options to party with samba – with or without the feijoada – don’t stop there. Here are some of best pre-carnival events a visitor will find in Rio over the next few days:
Acadêmicos da Rocinha Pre-Carnival Party
Although Acadêmicos da Rocinha is not among Rio’s elite samba schools any more, it throws one of the most popular pre-Carnival parties in town because of its location: very close to the fanciest hotels in Zona Sul. The Rocinha’s pre-Carnival rehearsals are always full of models and famous faces from TV and fashion. The samba here is always mixed with funk, which makes it a big hit among younger cariocas.
Location: Acadêmicos da Rocinha Samba School, at Rua Berta Luz, 80, São Conrado
Hours: Thursday, February 16, 8pm-3am
Beija-Flor de Nilópolis Last Rehearsal
Beija-Flor is the New England Patriots of samba schools. Several times the winner of the official Carnival parade, the school has millions of reais in its annual budget for its presentations and, yet, it remains one of the most genuine participants, with real samba dancers and music from the humble city of Nilópolis. Because of that, Beija-Flor rehearsals are a special carioca experience, free of the celebrities and sub-celebrities who attend the pre-Carnival parties at other not so traditional samba schools. The problem is the distance: Nilópolis is almost 20 miles away from Rio. But it’s well worth the trip.
Location: Beija-Flor de Nilópolis Samba School, Praça Wallace Paes Leme 1025, Nilópolis
Hours: Thursday, February 16, 9pm-4am
Império Serrano Pre-Carnival Feijoada and Fantasy Party
One of the oldest and most beloved samba schools from the Rio suburbs, Império Serrano offers this feijoada party year-round, every third Saturday of the month. But this one is special: it’s the last event the samba school hosts before the official Carnival parade. The feijoada, made by cooks from Morro da Serrinha, a community that represents the soul of this samba school, is nothing more than a huge plate of beans with substantial pieces of pork, cabbage, manioc flour, oranges and rice. As far as the music goes, you can hear the sounds of percussionists from Império Serrano and Mocidade Independente de Padre Miguel, another famous samba school nearby.
Location: Império Serrano Samba School, Avenida Edgar Romero 114, Madureira
Hours: Saturday, February 18, 2-10pm
Tickets: R$10 (plus R$20 for feijoada)
Salgueiro Pre-Carnival Feijoada at “Rua do Rio”
Salgueiro is another well-known samba school in Rio. Located in Tijuca, near Morro do Salgueiro, a famous favela, this samba school has an army of young fans that makes its pre-Carnival events parties full of flirtation and excitement. The last Salgueiro feijoada before carnival, however, will be a less rowdy affair. Instead of taking place at the samba school’s headquarters, it’ll be held in the food court of a shopping center in the suburbs and will draw families and tourists alike with lots of music, dancing and, of course, beans.
Location: Avenida Martin Luther King, 126, Del Castilho (inside “Rua do Rio”, at Nova América Shopping Center)
Hours: Sunday, February 19, 1-8pm
Tickets: R$80 (feijoada included)
Põe na Quentinha
Rio’s only gastro bloco, or street parade, is taking place once again downtown. While Rio sees hundreds of street parades during Carnival, this is the only one organized by bar and restaurant owners, food writers and food lovers in general, and more than 2,000 people attend each year.
A combination samba show and street food fair, Põe na Quentinha this year will have 12 food stalls, a number of which belong to the best Rio botequins. Pavão Azul will sell its famous pataniscas, cod balls made without potatoes. Paulo Roberto Barbosa, founder of the also famous Aconchego Carioca, is going to sell bolinho de feijoada, a little cake filled with black beans and cabbage, while Emporio Quintana will make huge mortadela sandwiches, and a bar called 28 will offer a delicious pão de queijo com linguiça, a kind of cheese bread studded with sausage. The stands will also offer cachaças, batidas (cachaça mixed with fruit), sparkling wine and different kinds of beer.
Location: Rua Conselheiro Saraiva, close to Olimpic Boulevard