Lapa is the heart of bohemian Rio de Janeiro, a place that pulses with samba music and the clamor of bargoers. Local musicians, artists and intellectuals (and tourists, too) flock to this old neighborhood, which during the day is best known for its rich stock of colonial-era architecture and where at night more than 200 bars fight for customers. Almost all the bars offer the same thing: live samba music, cheap beer and bad food. But Contemporâneo Lapa, which was opened less than a year ago, is bucking this trend.
The bar is situated on one of the most frenzied blocks in Lapa – it’s brimming with illicit activity (the neighborhood hasn’t completely shed its dubious reputation) as well as tourists and Cariocas chasing a wild night out. Amongst this chaos, Contemporâneo Lapa is an oasis, a friendly place to grab a beer and, most importantly, nosh on some excellent snacks.
Blessed by the libertarian spirit of the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, whose portraits are plastered all over the walls, Contemporâneo Lapa is unique in combining typical Carioca bar food with delicate country-style recipes; the masterminds behind this fusion cuisine are the chef Jorge Barros and his partner, Almir Lopes.
Contemporâneo Lapa combines typical Carioca bar food with delicate country-style recipes.
Both Barros and Lopes hail from Minas Gerais, a large inland state, and are working to incorporate their hometown cuisine into the traditional bar eats of Rio. “We wanted to offer something different and original, especially being in an area dominated by traditional Portuguese botequin recipes, while also staying true to Lapa’s bohemian spirit,” says Lopes. “We thought that mixing in traditional recipes from Minas Gerais would be a great way to do this. After all, Belo Horizonte is the national capital of botequins!” He’s referring to the capital city of Minas Gerais, where more than 6,000 local bars compete for customers by offering regional recipes that use local artisanal cheeses and sausages and high-quality milk, corn and pork meat.
The star of its simple menu is the pão de queijo, a mini-sandwich typically found in Minas Gerais and filled with slices of roasted pork leg, melted cheese and a tomato slice. The artisanal sausages fried in cachaça sauce, another popular item on the menu, are originally from there too. Whenever we go to the bar for a late dinner, we always order the escondidinho, a savory pie filled with sweet potato, dried meat and green apples – it’s spectacular.
But, of course, Contemporâneo Lapa is not a restaurant. This is a bar in boisterous Lapa, so almost everybody comes to drink, and Contemporâneo Lapa does not disappoint.
The beer menu is vast and democratic: You can choose from the cold, cheap Pilsner that all Brazilians love to more sophisticated artisanal brands like Colorado, a microbrew produced in São Paulo. The bar’s mixed drinks, like Aperol Spritzes, Mojitos and Veranos, are also topnotch. And, it being Lapa, Friday nights are for live music, whether jazz and MPB (Música Popular Brasileira or Brazilian Popular Music).