This isn’t just because Rio is home to dozens of movie theaters, many of them housed in alluring edifices – ranging from the streamlined Art Deco splendor of the Roxy, in Copacabana, to the intimate 45-person hipster haven of Cine Santa, perched on Santa Teresa’s Largo de Guimarães.
Or because every year, for two weeks in early October, the city plays host to one of the biggest film festivals in the Americas, the Rio International Film Festival.
Or because, from time to time, an enormous screen is erected in the middle of Copacabana Beach and hundreds flock to sit in the soft sand and watch a free movie with Sugarloaf and Corcovado as backdrops (I recently had the pleasure of being one of the flock when Hitchcock’s very first (silent) film – The Pleasure Garden – was shown, with a live musical accompaniment by the Brazilian Symphony Orchestra’s Youth Ensemble).
It’s because Rio de Janeiro is a city where you can drink in movie theaters – and watch movies in bars.
This is particularly the case in Centro, home to Rio’s first movie houses (and its oldest bars). In the 1920s, a savvy Spanish entrepreneur decided to transform the sprawling square of Praça Floriano Peixoto into a Carioca version of Broadway, with restaurants, dance halls, theaters, and a handful of glamorous movie palaces whose prominence earned the square the nickname of Cinelândia.
Sadly, today Cinelândia’s sole survivor is the Cine Odeon Petrobras, a classic deco palace that opened its grand doors in 1932. Aside from screening (often independent and/or national) films on its blissfully large screen, it plays host to a variety of cool cinema-centric events that attract a cult following and involve as much drinking and dancing as movie watching:
Cineclube GLBT: On the final Friday of each month, Rio’s alternativo crew gather to check out screenings of GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender-themed short films from Brazil and all over the globe, followed by a DJ-led dance fest out in the lobby.
Maratonas: On the first Friday of every month, hard-core cinephiles (and insomniacs) can watch an all-night marathon of movies knowing that, in between features, they can down cocktails and dance to DJ-spun tunes until dawn and the final credits – at which time, breakfast is served.
Cineclube Cachaça: On Wednesday nights (usually once a month), members of this “club” gather to watch recently produced Brazilian short films (often with the makers in attendance) before congregating post-film to tipple fine blends of Brazil’s most famous homegrown alcohol to the strains of live or DJ-spun music.
On the flip side of the equation, Cine Botequim is a classic Carioca botequim (neighborhood bar) that screens movies. Located in the formerly down-and-out, but now up-and-coming area near Praça Mauá, it shows double features every night of the week (at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m.) with selections organized according to genres, themes, and actors.
Complementing the main features are the décor (lighting fixtures made from old film canisters and lots of vintage movie posters) and a food and drink menu that allow you to gorge on “Raging Bull” (slices of sizzling grilled beef) while nursing an “All About Eve” (a ladylike mixture of vodka, passion fruit, and condensed milk that packs a nasty punch).
Note: Those who don’t speak a word of Portuguese can take comfort in the fact that, in Brazil, foreign (including English-language) films are shown in their original versions with Portuguese subtitles (since film titles are sometimes only listed only in Portuguese, some quick advance Googling might be necessary to determine what in fact you’ll be seeing).