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‘Brothel Chic’ big in Brazil

Naked ambition: sex sells in Rio’s nightclub scene. Brazil’s party people have cooked up a new mix of sex and style – brothel chic.

A sambanista dances in a nightclub in Rio de Janeiro.

CARNIVAL masks, his and her’s strippers, the best samba in town – and a free mug of pumpkin soup at the end of the night. Welcome to the Cabaret Kalesa, a two-storey, brothel-themed nightclub in Rio’s seedy port district that is currently considered one of the city’s hottest nocturnal tickets.

Tucked away in the shadowy streets of Praca Maua, the Cabaret Kalesa seems an unlikely place to find the city’s clubbing avant garde. For decades the club was a sleazy love den called the Maua Hurricane that lured thousands of unwitting foreign sailors into the brief embraces of Brazilian prostitutes.

Since then, the decor has hardly changed. Red neon lights adorn the club’s entrance, and an immaculately polished silver pole protrudes from the middle of the dancefloor.

But these days the prostitutes and inebriated sailors are nowhere to be seen. Instead, each Friday and Saturday night the Cabaret Kalesa packs out with the trendy residents of Rio’s beach districts of Ipanema and Leblon, who come to show off their latest designer clothes.

The Cabaret Kalesa crowd are the kind of Brazilians who have enough cash to splash on a different perfume each day, wear flash new trainers and designer T-shirts, and leave their parents’ third car parked outside as they get their groove on. Behold “brothel chic”, the new But these from the city that exported favela chic to London and Paris.

Until a couple of years ago, Praca Maua was the almost exclusive hangout of drunks, bums and hustlers of every imaginable kind.

Now it is on its way to becoming Rio de Janeiro’s “in” place.

A wave of luxury clubs has broken over this part of the city in recent years. Not far from the Cabaret Kalesa is Trapiche Gamboa, one of Rio’s most talked about samba clubs, where the great and good of Brazil’s national rhythm can be seen shaking their tambourines most nights of the week. Over the road is the Sacadura, another much-hyped venue, which opened this month. Then there is the Week, a vast and painfully stylish gay club that has become an instant hit since opening its doors this year, even hosting the private birthday party of culture minister Gilberto Gil’s pop star daughter, Preta Gil.

“People are starting to see Praca Maua with different eyes,” beams Analea Rego, one of the event’s promoters.

My other guide for a night on the tiles in downtown Rio is the cinema critic, DJ and nightclub promoter Marcelo Janot. An impeccably trendy 37-year-old sporting a goatee beard and a pitch-black T-shirt with “The End” stamped on it, Janot is the man responsible for transforming the Cabaret Kalesa from a tatty whorehouse. He is also a resident DJ at the popular club Casa da Matriz in Botafogo and, having played an opening set at the Rolling Stones’ gig in Rio, his rock’n’roll credentials are fairly impressive.

Saturday night is carnival night at the Cabaret Kalesa, which means a heaving dancefloor, vast quantities of ice-cold beer and Smirnoff Ice and, of course, the obligatory carnival masks handed out free to the gathered masses at just after 3am.

Brazilians are not early birds, and at 11pm, the club is virtually empty. The crowds only start to arrive after midnight, but by 1am the dance floor is heaving with hundreds of partygoers. The soundtrack at the Cabaret Kalesa is eclectic, ranging from hip-hop and funk to 1940s carnival classics and remixes of bossa nova tracks. Janot plays tracks by the Rio samba rapper Marcelo D2, Sergio Mendes, Chico Buarque and then Clementina de Jesus, the queen of samba, in quick succession.

The mix of traditional Brazilian music and traditional Brazilian eroticism is key to the club’s success, Janot explains.

“There are lots of strip joints in Rio,” he tells me as he waits to take to the stage. “But not places where you can come to dance and hear good music at the same time. My job is to pass a bit of culture to the crowd. Brazilian DJs are very prejudiced against Brazilian music. [But] if you offer good Brazilian music to the crowds, they like it.

“gathered masses of Rio’s run-down port area has made the Cabaret Kalesa’s 59-year-old owner, Manuel Fernando, very happy. Wearing trainers and with a gold cross around his neck, Fernando is a self-professed “naughtiness” businessman who is branching out into the world of more conventional clubbing.

Yet no night out in Praca Maua would be complete without a heavy dose of nudity – and as the owner of several other sex clubs in central Rio – Fernando knows how to arrange that better than most.

Just after 3am, an improvised stage is lowered on to the dancefloor, with the crowd now a haze of flailing arms and legs and sweaty snogs. One young lady begs the photographer I’m with to erase the picture he has just taken of her. Her boyfriend probably wouldn’t want to find out she was cheating on him by seeing them at it in the paper, she suggests nervously.

And then comes the moment everybody has been waiting for. Katarina and Celio – two local strippers clad in military fatigues (for a brief while anyway) – are called up on to the stage to strut their stuff accompanied by the night’s only non-Brazilian track: Seal’s Crazy.

The crowd goes wild, particularly the men. They order a new round of beers, strap on some fake bow ties and carnival masks that the management have handed out, and the dancing continues.

Several hours later, after downing the obligatory mug of orange pumpkin soup, the Cabaret Kalesa partygoers pile out of the club and on to the next destination. Some of the couples head off to the local love motel – known for its S&M-themed rooms – others go home, while others pop next door to join a group of Venezuelan sailors who have just checked into the Florida strip club.

“It’s an underground thing,” Analea Rego says, trying to explain the idea of brothel chic. “You won’t find any other place with striptease, fun and marvelous music. It’s about paying tribute to the history of this area.”

And the pumpkin soup, of course.

TRIP NOTES
American Airlines flies to Rio de Janeiro from Sydney via Los Angeles and Miami. Fares start at $3384 including taxes. Taking a more direct route, Qantas flies to Rio de Janeiro from Sydney via Santiago. Fares start at $4083 including taxes.

Source: http://www.theage.com.au Tom Phillips

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