A Makeover for São Paulo's Red-Light District

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Lalo de Almeida

Raising the bar The new Baixo Augusta has proved a hit

As with red-light districts in many big cities (think Soho in London and Hamburg's Reeperbahn), the Baixo Augusta area of São Paulo has been appropriated by the in crowd and transformed into a playground for a different kind of pleasure seeker. Sex workers and curb crawlers have been replaced with dressed-down kids and glammed-up clubbers looking for new nocturnal diversions. Baixo Augusta has also become a major draw for São Paulo's gay community, one of the biggest in Latin America.

Snapping at the heels of the smart, middle-class districts in the southwest of the city, Baixo Augusta (roughly the neighborhoods ringed by Rua Augusta, Rua Frei Caneca and Rua Bela Cintra) is closer to the center of town, not far from the famed Avenida Paulista or the Itaim Bibi district. The latter was once the party zone for this section of São Paulo, but these days the only things hip you're likely to find there are the ceramic joint replacements propping up the aging roués eyeing the attendant gold diggers.

Baixo Augusta starts late and goes on later, so if you're planning a visit, fueling up beforehand is a good idea. Tordesilhas on Rua Bela Cintra, tel: (55-11) 3107 7444, serves rib-sticking Brazilian fare such as feijoada (pork-and-bean stew) and an Amazonian dish known as pato no tucupi (duck with cassava sauce) in a warm, cozy setting.

No visit to Brazil would be complete without tasting a caipirinha, the national cocktail. Volt, on Rua Haddock Lobo, tel: (55-11) 2936 4041, is a great place to enjoy this blend of cane spirit, sugar and muddled limes. Located in an old warehouse, the bar is a vibrant mix of mirrored walls, Eames chairs and neon signs salvaged from the shops, bars and brothels of Rua Augusta when the São Paulo authorities banned outdoor advertising in 2007. A beautiful crowd, gay and straight, completes the scene.

For after-hours fun head to the Sonique Bar on Rua Bela Cintra, tel: (55-11) 2628 8707, a lounge, restaurant and club that epitomizes this formerly sleazy district's new spirit. Never mind the red light. These days it's all green for go.

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