The botecos or botequins of Rio are traditional places Brazilians frequent to enjoy beer, snack food and good company. The history of the existence of these type of establishments can be traced back to the 19th century.
What is a boteco?
I first arrived in Rio de Janeiro in 2003, I was instantly charmed by the drinking establishments referred to as botecos and botequins. A place where friends and family could meet up for a drink and some delicious snack food. Conversations were loud and the laughs were many. As I spent more time in the country I came across the notion that boteco had been a place a bit frowned upon, a simple place for the people. That was very hard to understand since the people I saw in these places always seemed quite affluent. In this article I will discuss the history and development of these and explain why the botecos I visited were quite upscale.
In the beginning
The term boteco (also buteco) comes from the portuguese word botica which refers to a type of general store, during the 19th century these had become local meeting points around Rio de Janeiro. In the beginning of the 20th century these started to offer drinks to their clients which soon would prove to be an excellent idea, the first decades of the 1900’s saw a literal boom of these drinking establishments. The preferred drink was beer and often chopp which is draught beer cooled down in an iced serpentine, Bar Luiz on Rua da Carioca 39 in Centro boasts to be the first boteco to offer this to their clients. Over the decades this term would spread and become a description for a simple establishment offering drinks and snack food. This development mainly took place in Rio de Janeiro which then was the capital.
With time a separation of terms started to take place. The term botequim (also butequim) was used to refer to larger establishment with tables, a menu and waiters. The boteco would describe a smaller bar, often family owned and with a very local clientel. The boteco many times was the hangout for the local drunkards and thus evolved a quite bad reputation. The lowest form of boteco was probably the pé-sujo (means dirty feat) which I have discussed in another article. The term was so frowned upon it was rarely included in the name of the establishment (which sometimes botequim was), the more neutral name bar was often preferred.
A trend over the last decades is that the names boteco and botequim have been marketed as more traditional places, food and cold draught beer is served in a classic setting which cater for a more upscale clientele. These days more modern establishments that break the pattern also use these terms to define themselves, this is especially the case in Zona Sul; Boteco da Garrafa on Rua Prudente de Morais 1838 in Ipanema can serve as a good example ,a very chique place with a long menu, and high prices. The development can also be seen in other parts of the country, in Belo Horizonte, a visit to Buteco Chic on Avenida Raja Gabaglia 2985 in São Bento is a modern twist on a traditional concept. At some point boteco became interchangeable with botequim. The terms are fluid, there are yearly surveys made to name the botequim of the year where most establishments that serve beer and snack foods are included. The reason for my original confusion was that I visited these new more upscale places that market themselves as botecos and botequins, what I failed to grasp was that the corner bar also was a boteco.
A good place to experience Rio de Janeiro’s culture
Just like you have pubs in London, bistrôs in Paris the Cariocas (people from Rio de Janeiro) have embraced their heritage and continued their water-hole tradition. They are great places to meet up with friends, your wife or your brother. Just like all good waterholes they often can be extensions to your living room as well as an escape. On the televison you can follow your favourite soap opera or your football team. On your birthday the waiters will deliver the cake your friends brought and the hole place will sing for you. Politics, love and sports are discussed and argued. When picking the boteco to visit it is like choosing an ice cream flavour.
My real passion is with the pé-sujo variety, the simplest form of boteco where rich and poor always have met. For me the corner bars and hole-in-the-walls are the only true democratic bars in Rio. Psychologists rub shoulders with street vendors, lawyers and petty scoundrels. It is where the famous mix of Rio finally comes together. Read my article about pé-sujos by clicking this link.
If you have some good places to recommend and at least 20 words to share, please comment this article!
Sources and for further reading:
– Goldenberg, E. “Meu Lar É o Botequim” (2005)
– Article by Dé Comber from 2011