Owner of Club Rio & On the Low in Hickory, N.C. and Club Rio in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Jamie Eaker has made it his mission to celebrate all things relating to the Brazilian LGBTQ community both at home and abroad. According to Eaker, gay Americans are very intrigued by Brazilian culture and festivities like Carnaval and the dancing martial art capoeira. Samba shows and drag queens from Rio will soon be featured on the stage of the only Brazilian-themed LGBTQ club known to exist in the state.
About Brazil, Eaker says, “There’s a freedom. You can let your hair down and be who you are. You don’t have to worry about holding hands as a gay couple. In Brazil I never have to worry, and I’ve been to some rough places.”
Kendra Johnson, executive director of Equality NC, spent 14 years in Brazil. She says an open LGBTQ community is not new to this South American country.
“Brazil is an extremely bisexual culture in general,” she explains. “It was common for men to go out and sort of ‘walk the dog,’ They would be married with kids and have a passive male sexual partner.”
In 1991, when Johnson first arrived in Brazil, Sao Paulo boasted one of the world’s biggest lesbian communities. “‘O geitinho’ was something I heard a lot in my time there. It means that they [the people of Brazil] always ‘make a way.’ Brazil was making accommodations and strides in same sex unions, before the United States did. Although not legal then, civil unions were created in small Brazilian towns all the time.”
Indeed, Brazil would eventually come to legally recognize same-sex marriage in 2013, two years earlier than the United States.
Johnson also shared her observations of gay pride movement during the time she lived there. “When I lived in Brazil, I was able to witness the rise of queer acceptance and, before I knew it, Sao Paulo became home to one of the biggest Pride Festivals in the world.”
With 2.5 million people, Sao Paulo became the most widely attended Pride anywhere on the globe in 2006. Since then, Copacabana and Rio de Janeiro have become hotspots for LGBTQ travelers. In many Brazilian newspapers and magazines, the term GLS is used, which means “gays, lesbians and sympathizers” and is a good indicator of venues and media sources that are LGBTQ friendly.
Although most of Brazil’s largest cities welcome the LGBTQ community, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo are some of most sought-after tourist destinations in South America. Sao Paulo is often compared to New York City, while Rio is often likened to Los Angeles. Despite both offering arts and entertainment around the clock, Rio is the city that most tourists and natives alike would call liberational or free-spirited.
Sao Paulo, on the other hand, takes the lead in restaurants, innovative businesses and organizations and boasts several clubs and bars that open for business late night, around 11 p.m. The fact that entrepreneurs and white collar workers frequent Sao Paulo means that it is the more expensive of the two, with pricier hotel stays and drink menus.
“There are these mega clubs in Sao Paulo,” Eaker shares. “called The Week. It’s a Brazilian club experience with lots of hot bodies and sexuality and partying. The DJs create an almost euphoric atmosphere that is something to behold.”
Routinely packed with both an international ex-patriot and Brazilian lesbian clientele, Cabaret da Cecilia is one of the several remaining speakeasies in Sao Paulo. There are drag shows almost every weekend and leather-clad patrons are often found on the dance floor or trying a new cocktail at the bar.
Violeta Bar and Restaurant has some of the best cachaca in Brazil and is frequented by many members of the lesbian and bisexual community. For those hoping to stay in an LGBTQ-specific environment, Hotel Unique has housed queer performers from Brazil and abroad; providing some of the most high-end amenities to every tourist.
Rio de Janeiro’s queerest locations are Leblon and Rua Farme de Amoeda. Ipanema is also known for their clothing-optional beaches and LGBTQ clubs like A Casa da Lua and Studio 64. In Galeria Café, disco has yet to die. This club has been around for quite some time and is constantly packed with patrons.
Boate 1140 is another packed night spot, catering primarily to gay men. All are welcome, but it has a reputation for being one of the best places to meet single men. The hyper-musicality of Fosfobox rivals the hyper-sexuality of Boate 1140 as the two host most of the LGBTQ community of Rio de Janeiro every weekend. Fosfobox has live music every night, with genres ranging from neo funk to techno.
Open since 2019, the Pink Flamingo is a relatively new addition to the gay scene. Neon lights and colorful drinks greet customers; giving the bar a decidedly calmer atmosphere than the other clubs. Up Turn Lounge is another popular location, but for all of the things that Pink Flamingo is not. Up Turn’s strobe lights can be seen for miles around and queer R&B, country and rap musicians perform live almost every weekend. Their slogan is “be who you want to be.”
Back in North Carolina, if you’re in the mood for a taste of Brazil, visit Eaker’s Club Rio & On the Low in Hickory, just under 60 miles northwest of Charlotte, and well worth the hour’s drive to get there. The club features gay American DJ Ghost, who spins songs in both English and Portuguese, as well as special guest DJs who cater to Brazilian dance styles. To learn more before you go, visit clubrio.net.
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