Old Cidade Nova is new again

Owner of a restaurant, one of many abuzz at lunchtime in Cidade Nova, in downtown Rio de Janeiro

Rio is done for… Except it’s not!

With so many new skyscrapers built in the last ten years, you’d think that the downtown neighborhood of Cidade Nova (New City) was actually new. But the name harks back to the nineteenth century!

The new-not-newness is lucky for people who work in the skyscrapers. They were plunked down in the midst of some very old streets, until recently left on the margins of urban life (aside from Carnival, as they border on the Sambadrome, where the parades take place).

Restored townhouses on Salvador de Sá Avenue

In the midst of the economic downturn, we bet on the simpler things of life: coffee among friends. It happens that the Astúcia Coffee entrepreneur, Australian Daniel Hobbs, introduced this blogger to a longtime neighborhood resident, retired Swiss diplomat Ferdinand Isler.

By no coincidence, American urban activist Jane Jacobs (author of Death and Life of Great American Cities) immediately popped up in the conversation, fueled not only by coffee but also a delicious (and inexpensive) banana cake, baked by Ferdinand’s neighbor. He’s one of those residents whose existence strengthens the urban fabric– he knows everyone. He embodies the “eyes on the street” that Jacobs identified as vital to urban health.

Ferdinand with the owner of a café whose back room contains a surprise

Thus ensued a visit in the best Swiss-Brazilian style: a race to see cafés and restaurants before the lunch hour noon rush, punctuated by hugs, smiles and comments on soccer and Fernando’s clothing. Apparently he usually dresses more casually.

In the café’s hindmost room, a clothing business, making novela and samba school costumes

This blogger was initially confused between the Portuguese words confeitaria (bakery) and confecção (clothing factory). The confusion dissipated with the walk back into the depths of the narrow townhouse, past cakes and pies in various stages of preparation. At the end, two sewing machines chugged away.

Impossible to forget samba in Cidade Nova, where the Estácio samba school is located. Nearby is Praça Onze, “cradle of the samba”, practically razed by Getúlio Vargas in 1941.

For decades, Cidade Nova was known as Rio’s red light district. Once the “Teleporto” office building was finished in 1996, then-mayor César Maia transferered hundreds of sex workers to Vila Mimosa, near the Praça da Bandeira.

Cidade Nova retains a sort of transgressive spirit. Today, a Middle Eastern restaurant comes up with all kinds of delicious mixtures.

Funny pictures bring welcome lightness to lunchtime

Of course Cidade Nova was revitalized during the boom years of the Eduardo Paes and Sérgio Cabral administrations. Today, new businesses do all they can to attract and keep clients: events, deliveries, cooking classes, catering, breakfast, baskets.

Camels from the desert approaching the Lapa Arches, which used to be an aqueduct!

Another restaurant allows clients to post notices, right

Small-town feeling

Despite tight budgets, it might be worth it to burst the bubble so many people stick to, in the South Zone and downtown. How about expanding your personal geography and checking out Cidade Nova, next time you plan coffee or lunch? More photos:

This blogger ate too much banana cake …

Ferdinand shows a charming detail of the old architecture, a fountain, perhaps for horses?

Rio or Paris?

Not Botafogo, Humaitá or Lapa

This spot has an explanatory beer menu, almost an encyclopedia

Restored townhouses; now just to get those wires underground…

Rua Correia Vasques

Mini and maxi sweets

Another townhouse, retro style

Variety of architectural and décor solutions, as well as menus

Life does go on, despite the recession

Jars for light; tiles bring the past to the present

Open kitchen

Ceilings made for giants

Really truly old-fashioned

Another sort of retro

There’s a restaurante behind the church!

These ladies sell the banana cake in front of #5, Rua Viscondessa de Pirassinunga


About Rio real

American journalist, writer, editor who's lived in Rio de Janeiro for 20 years.
This entry was posted in Brasil, Brazil, Transformation of Rio de Janeiro / Transformação do Rio de Janeiro and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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