Portraits of São Paulo

São Paulo’s heart beats loud and strong as the cultural capital of Brazil. Six creative residents tell us what makes this metropolis pulse.

Photographs by Kent Andreasen
Illustrations by Steven Wilson

Farol Santander hosts temporary art installations, including Tubo, a metallic kaleidoscope on the 22nd floor.

LUCIANA ARAÚJO, 43, SUPERHOST

I PAINT AND DRAW — sometimes it’s erotic, other times urban with a pop style. My atelier is in my apartment, and my work covers the walls, including the Airbnb bedroom. Where I live in Cerqueira César, you’ll find bars, museums, and many young people. The area embraces all genders, fashions, and ethnicities. Nearby is Centro, which is unmissable. Millionaires, workers, immigrants, and artists all live side by side there.

Luciana in her apartment and a sample of her artwork

Orfeu is a beautiful restaurant in Centro that serves up interesting flavors. It’s close to the Copan building, designed by Oscar Niemeyer. I like to sit at an outside table and people watch. Lots of different types walk past: residents of the Copan, dog walkers, artists, everyone.

Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP) is one of the city’s picture postcards. Designed by Lina Bo Bardi, it’s a rectangle suspended on four red pillars. It recently hosted the feminist art ­collective Guerrilla Girls, which is very now. And I also saw the work of Aleijadinho, an 18th-­century Brazilian sculptor, there. An antiques fair happens on Sundays at street level.

Sesc 24 de Maio is such a gift to the city. It promotes the arts in various ways, from free or cheap concerts and theater to exhibitions and workshops. The building is designed with ramps that go up multiple stories, with something different on each floor and a gorgeous view over Centro.

I love everything about Pinacoteca: the renovated building, the archive, and how there are art exhibitions for all tastes. Sometimes I sit in the café and look out over Parque da Luz next door, which is full of amazing sculptures.

MY FAVORITE NEIGHBORHOOD: “Centro is where all the action is, plus it still holds a memory of the early 20th century.”

ELISA FERNANDES, 28, EXPERIENCE HOST

I NEVER WORKED AS A CHEF before MasterChef Brasil. My mother is against reality shows, so I filmed the series in secret and only told her when I got to the final. I ended up winning. Part of the prize was to study at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. After that, I worked for Alain Ducasse, one of the most awarded Michelin-star chefs in the world, in Paris for two years. I came back to Brazil to do my own thing: a market-­to-table Airbnb experience, plus a pop-up restaurant. Brazil is going through a watershed moment — adapting fine dining to our relaxed culture — and I wanted to be a part of that.

From left, the lush interior of Axado Bar; Elisa preparing a dish in her kitchen

Chou is romantic. I like to sit in the yard with all the fairy lights — it feels like you’re at someone’s home. The food is simple, and it’s wonderful. The best dish is the grilled onion with Saint Agur blue cheese.

You have to visit the stalls for each Brazilian biome in Mercado Municipal de Pinheiros: Caatinga [semi-arid forest], Cerrado [savannah], Mata Atlântica [Atlantic forest], Amâzonia [Amazon], and Pampas [plains]. My favorite is Cerrado, the region where I’m from, because it has indigenous baru nuts and pequi fruit. Next, stop at Comedoria Gonzales. Bolivian chef Checho Gonzales does Latin-style street food like ceviche and chicken wings made with Brazilian ingredients.

Bar snacks are usually more of the same, but then I found Axado Bar. They have ­sharing dishes that are really original, like cherry and water­melon gazpacho with fried shrimp. (axadobar.com.br)

Tokyo is the place to go for a night out. It has a futuristic dance floor on the rooftop with huge windows; it feels like being inside an aquarium. There are karaoke booths, art exhibitions, manga dancers, a tattoo parlor, all types of Asian food — it’s crazy.

CELSO SILVA, A.K.A. “PROZAK,” 43, EXPERIENCE HOST

I’VE ALWAYS LOVED SKATEBOARDING, so my life went down that route: the street. I tried graffiti for fun, and my passion grew from there. São Paulo’s graffiti is different from anywhere else. Because spray paint is expensive, artists work with latex paint in an improvised way. There’s also São Paulo–style pixação — it’s a kind of calligraphy with vertical letters, inspired by heavy-metal album covers and the city’s architecture. People here hate it, but foreign street artists go crazy over it.

From left, Ceslo a.k.a. Prozak; a skater at Praça Roosevelt; a full-scale look at Prozak’s mural

Beco do Batman is this little street that used to be an empty alley full of graffiti — I started there, and it’s where I hold my Airbnb street-art experience — but nowadays, people go to the Beco and take selfies. Another graffiti alley nearby is Beco do Aprendiz. (Vila Madalena)

It’s a contradiction that’s so typical of São Paulo — a square with barely any trees. But loads of things happen at Praça Roosevelt: festivals, cultural events, plus there are bars and theaters. I go there with my friends and watch the other skaters. (Consolação)

I like to grab a few beers at Mercearia São Pedro in Vila Madalena. It’s been around for 50 years. It used to be a grocery store, but now it’s a bar that also sells books and comics. These days, it gets so packed that people stand outside on the street. My tip: Go on Monday or Tuesday.

Near Beco do Aprendiz, there’s a basketball court that hosts Encontro de Malabares, a jugglers’ meet-up, every Monday night. Jugglers practice, and there’s music and sometimes contortionists. Once a month, you can catch Circo no Beco, a circus where anyone can perform. People bring silks and trapezes — it’s really cool.

CLAUDINHO SANTANA, 43, EXPERIENCE HOST

I’M THE LEADER OF TWO CARNIVAL BLOCOS [street bands] and I teach percussion. Every Monday night, I host an Airbnb jam session experience in which I play choro with other ­professional musicians at Bar do Bacalhau. Choro is a blend of Brazilian and European music with classical roots. It’s practically become the music of resistance in a country where what’s played on the radio doesn’t always represent the people. I like to recommend places where you can discover this musical richness — they don’t appear in guides. You can see the city’s cultural diversity not just in the music, but in the cuisine, art, and street protests. (Avenida Professor Alfonso Bovero, 560, Perdizes)

Sunday nights for me are always at Ó do Borogodó, a traditional samba bar. People go to dance to a group called Ubandu. On Wednesday and Friday nights, I hang out at Porão, a bar in the basement of a house. There’s no sign outside; it’s all word of mouth. It’s a meet-up for musicians and people who appreciate good Brazilian music. (Rua Cardeal Arcoverde 714, Pinheiros)

From left: Claudinho on tamborine at Bar do Bacalhau; party mode at Avenida Paulista on Sunday when the street is closed to traffic

Whenever I go out in Centro, I stop at Estadão, a 24-hour snack bar that serves the best pork sandwich with peppers and onions. You see all types there, from a bloke in a suit to a bloke who has just painted a wall, all splattered with paint.

My girlfriend is from Piauí in northeast Brazil, and she discovered Fitó, a Piauiense restaurant. The ambience is fantastic — upstairs, you can sit outside and enjoy a cocktail with Jack Daniel’s, fermented cashew, ­ginger foam, and shavings of ­amburana [a seed]. A mix of unique ingredients in a unique place.

Rua dos Pinheiros is filled with restaurants of all kinds, from Bahian to Japanese, pizzerias to craft beer bars. I like Consulado da Bahia most, especially their ­acarajé, a wonderful ball of fried beans with shrimps. If you say you want it hot, they load it up with chili.

MY FAVORITE STREET: “Walk along Avenida Paulista on a Sunday afternoon and you’ll see a diverse variety of musicians. It’s a musical center.”

LUCILA WROBLEWSKI, 61, SUPERHOST

WHEN I STARTED OUT, I took photos of the city in black and white. I played with textures and spaces, composed a scene, and waited until something happened — that Cartier-­Bresson moment. These days, everyone takes pictures without even seeing. Sometimes I find a place that’s just incredible to photograph, but there’s something so special there that I tell myself, “No, wait. First, I want to enjoy just being here.”

Instituto Moreira Salles (IMS) has a huge photography archive. You go up the escalators to the fifth floor and come out in what resembles a public square. In the corner is a huge open window looking out at ­Avenida Paulista below. It’s close to my Airbnb, and whenever I go past, the window is packed with people. The architect wanted to create something different, and he’s done just that.

From left, Lucila practicing tai chi in Parque do Ibirapuera; the Aroma & Flavor exhibit at Japan House

For the best beirute, a Brazilian pita sandwich, go to Frevo on Rua Oscar Freire. My favorite has cheese, carrot, palm heart, herb mayo, and lettuce. The place is old, from the 1950s, and I love the iron figure on the wall of a man dancing frevo [a traditional dance of northeast Brazil].

Japan House always has cool things going on. I love that on one floor you can see ultramodern exhibitions and on the other, something traditional. The facade is made of wood, and inside, washi paper is used on the walls. (japanhouse.jp/saopaulo)

Museu Brasileiro da Escultura e Ecologia (MuBE) has beautiful sculptures and impressive Brutalist architecture. There’s a nice sculpture garden that connects MuBE with Museu da Imagem e do Som (MIS), the contemporary museum of audiovisual works right next door.

MY FAVORITE PARKS: “Tai chi is part of my daily life. I like to practice at Parque da Sabesp Sumaré near my home. Parque Ibirapuera even offers tai chi classes.”

ERIC BUCKUP, 41, SUPERHOST

SÃO PAULO IS FULL OF SURPRISES — each neighborhood is different. It makes being an architect all the more interesting. I moved to my place in Consolação almost four years ago. The area where I live was originally working-­class and packed with ­brothels. It’s gentrified in the last 15 years and is now filled with restaurants, alternative parties, and galleries, attracting young people or those with a youthful spirit. The LGBT community is strong here, too.

Conjunto Nacional, one of the symbols of Modernist architecture in São Paulo, ­occupies a whole city block. It’s like there are streets inside — people can eat, shop, or go to the cinema. The ­architect, David Libeskind, was in his twenties when he won the bid, but he proved himself to be a great architect. (Avenida Paulista, 2073)

I often stop at Praça Pôr do Sol to escape the day-to-day rush. People sit on ­benches or on the grass. Some bring rugs or a guitar. A bit hippie. It’s on a hillside — the higher you sit, the better the view of the sunset. After sundown, it turns into a party with drinking and smoking. (Alto de Pinheiros)

From left, Eric in his apartment; the posh Spot restaurant

Santo Forte Brasil is a club night that’s been going for 13 years. It moves around to different venues, and its main draw is DJ Tutu. He plays ­Brazilian Popular Music (MPB) — it may be current or old songs, but nothing you’d hear on the radio. One night, men dressed as orixás [Afro-Brazilian deities] walked through the crowds on stilts.

Spot is a super fancy restaurant, and it truly is a “spot.” The building is interesting — a glass house looking out on busy Avenida Paulista. A short walk away is Rua Frei Caneca, the gay hangout of the city.

Museu Lasar Segall is the house of one of the European vanguardists who was involved in São ­Paulo’s Modernist art movement. One minute you’re looking out at a garden, then suddenly you’re in the ­garden — it’s almost like you don’t know what’s inside and what’s outside.


About the author: Catherine Balston is a freelance writer and editor who lives in São Paulo.