There are Pubs in Sao Paulo, or so they tell me, because I have never been inside one since coming to live here seven years ago.
Here we have bars, and every little “Mercado”, no matter how tatty or remote seems to have at least one white plastic table and chairs where you can squeeze in between the racks of crisps and snacks on sale and sit and drink while the world goes by. These places are a far cry from the social watering holes of my miss-spent youth. They are not laid out with conviviality in mind or littered with imbiber’s souvenirs of 101 lagers that can be brought back from the far flung corners of the globe. They do not possess a row of ancient tankards hung from polished brass hooks, or a mahogany bar to lean on. They are simply a place where you can down a quick “cachaca” to set you up for a day’s hard labour or where an ice cold can of beer is available. Nothing even remotely tempting or attractive to beckon you inside, except for the poster of the young girl with a cleavage the size of the Grand Canyon, but they appear to be successful for all that, and they mark the clear division between social drinking and regular drinking that sets men apart in Brazil.
I say men, because women seldom appear to drink alcohol, or when they do it tends to be either a discreet glass of beer, or a tooth dissolving concoction of condensed milk and some sort of sweet liquor, called a “batida”. Not that you would expect to find a lady drinking “batidas” in a bar, she might either be offered one at someone’s “festa” or go with her “namorado” to a “clube” for a night on the tiles, and then sneak back to mum and dad’s house in the breaking dawn to be a nice girl again for the rest of the week. This is because the social classes also mark the division between those who ‘bebe socialmente’ and those who “bebe regularmente”. To be one of the first group marks you as one whose attitude towards alcohol is somewhat of the dilettante who prefers to drink Chivas Regal rather than Old Eight. Who would rather have their “caiperinha” made with Socatoba and who certainly wouldn’t be seen dead tossing back a 51 on the way to the office in the morning. To be one of the second group is to fall into the abyss, where hardened fellows will grab a can of beer while inside the bus waiting for a queue of people to board and gulp down the ice-cold foam before you can say Brahma.
Like so many aspects of Brazilian life, polarisation is clearly evident when it comes to alcohol and nowhere is it more clearly marked than in the prices charged. A few kilometeres from where I am writing can be found a little factory where the proud owner will happily fill up your empty 1 litre bottle of “cachaca artenesal” for the princely sum of $R1.50. That is 50p in real money. Now we are not talking about hooch that is watered down just to fill the bottle. This is 40% alcohol distilled in a pot still as long ago as yesterday. Enjoying this potent liquid is perhaps the wrong word to choose. To the aspiring “pinga” addict, it is the effect that is the attraction rather than the taste, and to those who suffer from insomnia, this is a sure fire certain cure, albeit with a sting in the tail similar to a kick from an entire football team.
On the other side of the tracks, I know a “botega” in a nearby town, where the proprietor will lovingly cradle a bottle of Vive Cliquot vintage champagne in one arm and an authentic Napoleon Cognac in the other and enquire if “patron” would like to part with 2000 reais for the pair. Not the kind of stuff to be found on one of those little white plastic tables.
© 2014 Alastair Kinghorn