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In Rio, only specialty beer bars usually have a touch of sophistication, and generally, the beer there is much more expensive (mainly because of the high tariff on imported hops), the regulars are more demanding and the food is made by a “chef.” This in contrast to the humble botequim, the traditional family-run bars that serve simple snacks. But Hocus Pocus DNA strikes a balance between the two: it’s a brand-new bar with a botequim soul that slings craft beers and thoughtfully conceived appetizers to go with them.

It’s also the name of an acclaimed artisanal brewery – one of the best local breweries in town, in fact, operating in Rio since 2014 – whose products are sold only in specialty stores and bars. Several months ago, the brewery’s young owners, Pedro Butelli, Vinicius Kfouri and Bruno Mansur, took over an old, run-down garage in Botafogo. Their goal was to build a stripped-down bar, focusing on serving only their own beer and great street food.

The bar was inaugurated last August. The exposed-brick walls are “supported” by plain wood beams and covered by a spartan zinc roof, while the wall behind the counter separating the bar from the kitchen is where the daily food and drink selections are written and where old science-fiction movies are projected. The owners always play progressive rock – their preferred genre and the inspiration for the name of the bar and brewery. “Hocus Pocus” is the name of a song by the 1960s Dutch band Focus.

Hocus Pocus's Broodje kroket, photo courtesy of Hocus PocusThe bar has 14 taps. Ten of them serve the highly respected brews of Hocus Pocus, such as the APA Cadabra (a light, flavored American pale ale), Interstellar (a very hoppy IPA), Magic Trap (a Belgian-style golden ale) and Coffee Hush (made with coffee beans). The last four taps serve brews from other Brazilian artisanal producers. The tiny kitchen sends forth street food favorites from around the world, like hot dogs and Broodje kroket, the Amsterdam favorite of ox tongue croquette and mustard on a roll.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this bar, though, are its democratic leanings, which are what make it a botequim in spirit. All tables are communal, bringing strangers together to drink, share food and conversation. Because the space is small, the crowd overflows onto the sidewalk – a common feature of botequins – where they lean against parked cars and rest their glasses atop the vehicles. On Saturday nights, the place turns into a veritable outdoor party. Some regulars bring their own folding chairs from home to set up on the sidewalk.

Since the bar is always crowded and there are just two waiters, the best option is to grab a beer at the counter on your own and take to the streets – especially this time of the year, when the temperatures in Rio reaches 85 degrees F, even at night.

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Published on December 27, 2016

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