Knowning for its beach, Miami-like Barra becomes Rio’s Hot Spot

TO some, Barra da Tijuca is Rio de Janeiro’s hottest new neighborhood, blessed with beautiful rock formations and a beach blanketed with some of the planet’s sexiest bodies. To others, it is a Brazilian version of the worst of Miami, full of traffic jams and tacky shopping malls.

Either way, this booming outpost of large office complexes and pastel-colored high-rise condos 10 miles west of Copacabana Beach is emerging as the latest playground of Rio’s trendiest upstarts. The main draw in Barra da Tijuca (“BAH-hah dah tee-JEW-kah”) is Pepe Beach, a slender strip of white sand considered by many to be Rio’s best, with clean water, large waves and surfer-friendly winds.

Don’t come to Barra, as everyone calls the area, expecting to find the finer aspects of Brazilian culture — the area is about pure Brazilian beach life. (As if to impress the officials who won Rio the 2016 Summer Olympic Games — their offices are nearby — barbell sets and bike lanes line the beach, as do a number of health clubs the size of factories.) Look a little closer, though, and you’ll find that some of Rio’s most famous restaurateurs are opening branches in malls like Barra Shopping.

“All of our clients are flocking here,” said Julia Morales, who handles public relations for Salitre a trendy wine bar that opened a branch in Barra Shopping in April. “Now it’s the new center.”

After a day at Pepe Beach, hail a cab to Antiquarius Grill , an expansive and elegant space serving some of Rio’s finest Portuguese-style cuisine. Unlike its flagship location in Leblon, the menu adds some turf to the usual surf options. Try the roasted goat doused in red wine sauce (75 Brazilian reais, about $42 at 1.78 reais to the dollar).

Or cross the fountain-filled plaza to Zuka and watch the chefs serve up more contemporary fare, like kebabs of shrimp, octopus and sausage (58 reais).

Rio Hot Spot With Miami Vibe

Farther east, an outlet of Porcão , a popular if kitschy churrascaria, offers plenty for the carnivore. Although its generic décor can’t compete with the seaside charm of the original Porcão in Flamengo, it’s fun to watch as waiters slice up slabs of tender steak (the all-you-can-eat buffet is 60 reais) while trying to explain which part of the cow the meat is from (a handy chart helps).

Night life in Barra can feel even more Miami-like than Miami, with thumping techno emanating from clubs dotting its main drag.

Instead of waiting beside Rio’s beautiful set to get into Barra’s signature club, Nuth, head down the block to the recently opened Taj Lounge. There, a good-looking but slightly older crowd grinds under a bronze statue of a Buddha. If you require still more decadence, throw down 2,000 reais to reserve the red-velvet V.I.P. lounge upstairs.

“Fifteen years ago, there was nothing here,” Hugo Medina, the owner of Taj, said of Barra. “Now it’s up-and-coming. Look around you: we’re getting a more sophisticated crowd.”

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