Most of Natal’s nightlife takes place in the lively beach neighborhoods of Praia dos Artistas (in Centro) and Alto da Ponta Negra (above the beach in Ponta Negra). The old riverside bairro of Ribeira, adjacent to Cidade Alta, lures a young and alternative crowd.
Since parts of Centro—Ribeira and Praia dos Artistas, in particular, can be a little louche, especially at night—taxis are recommended.
The three airy, plant-festooned salons that compose 294 (Av. Deodoro da Fonseca 294, Cidade Alta, tel. 84/3211-1783, 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Tues.–Fri., 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Sat.–Sun.) make this laid-back bar a favorite happy-hour option. The seafood petiscos, such as crab with coconut and the organic oysters, are highly reputed, and you can easily make a meal out of the shrimp and vegetables cooked in coconut milk and served with toasted bread.
Natal’s boho bar par excellence is Bar das Bandeiras (Largo do Chile, no phone, 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Tues.–Fri., 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Sat.–Sun.), whose name comes from ships’ flags (bandeiras) that serve as decoration. For years, this historic bar has attracted a mix of sailors and students, poets and prostitutes, who gather to chat, listen to jukebox tunes, and nibble on simple home-cooking. This is a great place to soak up some authentic local atmosphere.
Nearby, the bars around Praça Pôr do Sol are ideal for watching the sunset over the Rio Potengi, while Rua Chile has alternative clubs and performance spaces such as the Dosol Rock Bar (Rua Chile 40, Ribeira, tel. 84/3642-1520, www.dosol.com.br, 5–10 p.m. and 11 p.m.–close Sat.–Sun., cover R$7–10), a renovated warehouse where you can rock out to local underground bands.
Located within the cozy “dungeon” of the castle-like Lua Cheia Hostel, the Taverna Pub Medieval (Rua Dr. Manoel Augusto Bezerra de Araújo 500, tel. 84/3236-3696, www.tavernapub.com.br, 10:30 p.m.–close Mon.–Sat., cover R$10–20) has long worn the crown of the most happening dance spot in town. Ever since he was a kid, the Paulistano owner has had a fondness for things medieval, which explains the mildly kitschy decorative scheme of shields, banners, and armor. However, the music (which leans towards pop, rock, and MPB), is definitely contemporary, as are the imaginative themes of the festas that occur nightly.
On the same street, the Samsara Lounge (Rua Dr. Augusto Bezerra Araújo 141, tel. 84/3291-3136, 7 p.m.–close Mon.–Sat.) lives up to its Buddhist inspired name by offering a mellow haven for a more grown-up set to kick back with a cocktail in the subtly lit lounge or on the terrace. On weekends from 11 p.m. on, there are live performances of jazz, blues and bossa nova.
For something a little more rowdy, nearby is Sgt. Pepper’s Rock Bar (Rua Dr. Augusto Bezerra Araújo 130, tel. 84/9133-6377, www.sgtpeppers.com.br, 7 p.m.–2 a.m. daily), with amped up rock, tattooed waiters, and a mixed crowd (including—surprisingly for Ponta Negra—a fair number of locals) that spills out onto the sidewalk. The petisco menu is quite varied. Try mini hamburgers topped with bacon and blue cheese, or the roasted onions stuffed with carne-de-sol.
If you want to catch some forró, head to Rastapé (Rua Aristides Porpino Filho 2198, Alto de Ponta Negra, tel. 84/3219-3164, www.rastapenatal.com.br, 10 p.m.–4 a.m. Wed. and Fri.–Sat.), a relaxed and rustic place where you can sip cachaça and watch couples whirl each other round.
© Michael Sommers from Moon Brazil, 2nd Edition