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With its festive atmosphere, excellent grilled ribs and ice-cold beers, Cachambeer attracts hundreds of hungry cariocas and tourists to the suburb of Cachambi nearly every day. It’s one of Rio’s most popular botequins, but it all started merely by chance.

Twelve years ago, Cachambeer was just an old, tiny, dirty pé-sujo – literally “dirty feet,” the most basic kind of botequim, or small bar serving traditional food – offering nothing more than beer and some lazily assembled Portuguese appetizers. Back then, Marcelo Novaes was just a young customer there. He was born in the neighborhood and had lived there ever since, and he drank at the bar with his friends almost every night.

Cachambeer's beef ribs, photo by Nadia SussmanOne day, the owner – an old and always ill-tempered Portuguese immigrant – decided to close earlier than usual. “He was sick of me and my friends that night,” Novaes said with a laugh. “But I refused to go away. He insisted I must leave, because I wasn’t the owner of the bar. Then I said the words that changed my life: ‘Oh, yeah? So let me buy this place!’ And the owner, believe it or not, said yes. I signed the check, and five minutes later, I was the newest and the drunkest botequim owner in town. The next morning, the hangover was so brutal that I even didn’t remember that I had bought the bar!”

After the shock wore off, Novaes decided to face the challenge headfirst. He used all the money he had left in the bank to rebuild the main room, modernize the kitchen, hire a good cook and reformulate the menu. In the process, he hit upon the genius idea of cooking up big beef ribs in special grills installed on the sidewalk in front of the bar. The rest, as they say, is history.

As a customer these days, just watching the ribs being cooked in their special pouches – to retain the meat’s juices in the heat – is already part of the fun. But the real pleasure comes when the rib arrives at the table. It’s a beef rib, but it might as well come from a T-Rex, and it’s big enough to feed a platoon. Most importantly, it’s absolutely delicious and melts in your mouth.

Ribs cooking on the sidewalk at Cachambeer, photo by Nadia SussmanThe ribs are not the only reason to come, however. Cachambeer is known for a number of other dishes, all of which are substantial, to say the least. There’s the enormous palm cabbage stuffed with shrimp and catupiry (Brazilian cream cheese), as well as the infarto completo (“full heart attack”), created by Cachambeer’s chef, “Pança” (“Big Belly”), which combines grilled chicken hearts (a barbecue favorite among Brazilians), strips of dried meat, sausage and French fries.

Cachambeer also offers the typically carioca chopp beer, always very cold, and has a solid list of special beers. If you have the chance to chat with Novaes in person, ask him about how he ended up buying the bar. Like eating and drinking at Cachambeer, it’s something that gets better with every visit.

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Nadia Sussman

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