Neighbourhood guides: Live like a local in Vila Madalena, São Paulo
16 Feb 2022
São Paulo in Brazil is one of the largest cities in the world. So naturally, it’s bound to have many different neighbourhoods to explore. Its vast size means it's bursting with culture and community and cool haunts – you just need to know where to look. This year, our attention turns to Vila Madalena. A.K.A. Vila Madá to locals.
Many describe this area as the hippest ‘hood: if you equate independent shops, fashionable bars, restaurants and avant-garde art galleries with the word ‘hipster’ then they’d be right. The neighbourhood is also known for its history as the epicentre of bohemian culture and art in the Brazilian city. Hence why you’ll find dozens of art galleries and studios, as well as a series of graffiti-covered streets around every corner.
Here are our favourite spots.
In São Paulo, when heading out for drinks, that usually means way past sundown – Latino late, post-10pm – and Bar Astor is an art deco-clad watering hole with an elevated selection of sips. Martini lovers will rejoice at the selection of over 14 concoctions; the passionfruit and chilli combo is not to be missed.
Some insider knowledge for you: When in Brazil, the best place to buy cheese isn’t at a supermarket, it’s at a specialty store such as A Queijaria. This unique store in Vila Madalena is a project that’s been running longer than 12 years, developing and promoting small producers of artisanal Brazilian cheese. It’s delicious.
Coffee Lab is a leafy courtyard-meets-cafe, and indeed, a laboratory. And school too. Here people can learn different methods of roasting, brewing and preparing everyone’s favourite beverage – coffee. The menu is extensive, so expect a trained barista to talk you through the process and answer any question you may have.
O Velho Livreiro
Estela and Pablo Peinado specialise in fine paper and well-bound books at O Velho Livreiro. When you walk inside their egg-yolk-coloured house, you’ll discover notebooks designed by Christian Lacroix and Pablo Picasso, as well as handmade diaries and photo albums. They also run insightful workshops at the space, where you can learn bookbinding among other literary skills.
One of the most famous bars in São Paulo, Pirajá brings people from all over to Vila Madá. They come for its Cariocas snacks and the ‘chopp pilsen’. An air of old bohemia runs through, and many equate the vibe with Rio de Janeiro in the 1950s. Need we say more?
Beco do Batman
In São Paulo, they do not consider graffiti vandalism. You’ll notice that all the brick walls, shop fronts and underground stations are emblazoned with vibrant street art – depicting everything from political to playful. Beco do Batman cannot be missed: it’s a cartoon of a masked superhero, flying high on a wall above the alleyway in between Ruas Goncalo Afonso and Medeiros Albuquerque. This spot became a mecca of sorts for graffiti back in the 1980s, and is still drawing in the crowds today.
Ideal for easing into the day with a leisurely brunch, St Etienne is a quaint little bakery with a much-coveted shaded terrace. Locals and tourists alike savour omelettes and beirutes – pitta-bread sandwiches with cheese, beef and fried eggs. Make sure you take a peek at the pastry counters inside for takeaway treats such as the warm pão de queijo buns.
Rodolfo Herrera, Flávio Seixlack, and Rogério Tarantino are the founders of Takkø Café. Not only will you find high-quality beans and a chill vibe in a brightly lit space, but you’ll also notice an art gallery at the front. If a cortado is your fix, they make an excellent one here using Wolff Café beans. It’s not large in size, meaning they focus more on take-away coffee, so it’s the perfect first stop on your way out exploring. The delicious pastries from local bakeries will keep you going until lunch.
Carlos Motta‘s Atelier
“Vila Madalena is a picturesque and interesting neighbourhood in the west zone of São Paulo city,” states Brazilian furniture designer, Carlos Motta. “It is here in this neighbourhood that, in 1975, I started my work with design and woodworking… amid the strong counterculture movement. Ecology and respect for nature, pulsate in our veins.” One of the region’s most sought-after design exports, CM’s Atelier features furniture, utilitarian objects, and sculptures to be admired.