If you’re expecting Rio’s gay nightlife to rival San Francisco’s or Sydney’s, you may well be disappointed. In general, nightlife is pretty integrated, with gay men, lesbians and heterosexuals tending to share the same venues; apart from transvestites who hang out on street corners and are visible during Carnaval, the scene is unexpectedly discreet.

A good starting-point for an evening out is Rua Visconde Silva in Botafogo, which is lined with gay- and lesbian-oriented cafés, bars and restaurants that are liveliest on Friday and Saturday nights. The classic introduction to Rio’s more traditional male gay society is Le Ball, a bar in the Travessa Cristiano Lacorte, just off Rua Miguel Lemos, at the Ipanema end of Copacabana. Opposite this, the Teatro Brigitte Blair hosts a gay transvestite show from around 10pm. Also in Copacabana, the bar and nightclub Inc (formerly called Encontros), at Praça Serzedelo Correia 15, next to Rua Siquera Campos, is open nightly and very popular, although mainly with tourists.

In Lapa, at Rua Mem de Sá 25, behind a pink facade under the Aqueduto da Carioca, the Cabaré Casanova is Rio’s oldest and most interesting gay bar. In business since 1929, the Casanova features drag shows, lambada and samba music, with large ceiling fans to cool down the frenetic dancers. Very different, but also wild, are the gay nights on Saturdays at the Cine Ideal at Rua da Carioca 62, Centro (w www.cineideal.com.br), an informal club that always draws huge crowds. The most popular gay nightclub is undoubtedly Le Boy at Rua Raul Pompéia 102 in Copacabana, towards Ipanema (t 21/2513-4993, w www.leboy.com.br). Based in a former cinema, this huge club is open nightly apart from Mondays and features dancefloors, drag shows and much more besides.

The strip of beach between Rua Farme de Amoedo and Rua Teixeira do Melo in Ipanema is the best-known daytime gay meeting-point. For Ipanema’s post-beach gay crowd, there’s Bofetada, a bar and café at Rua Farme de Amoedo 87. The beach area in front of the Copacabana Palace Hotel is also frequented by gay bathers, and the café next door, Maxims, is a fun gay place to hang out. Nearby on Avenida Atlântica at the junction with Rua Siqueira Campos, is the Gay Kiosk Rainbow, a summertime information point for gay visitors – ask about circuit parties, usually held in Centro.

For information about Rio’s gay balls, see the “Carnaval section”. If it’s tours highlighting Rio’s gay history you’re after, Carlos Roquette, a rather dapper former federal judge turned tour guide, can help you to explore (see Organized tours). Useful websites on gay and lesbian Rio include w www.riogayguide.com and w www.riogaylife.com, while w www.arco-iris.org.br offers more political and campaigning insights, but the website is only in Portuguese.

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