The word boteco (or botequim /butiquim) is derived from the Portuguese word botica (bodega in Spanish), which is itself derived from the the Greek word Apotheke – meaning a place or store where goods are sold.
However, if in Portugal a botica was a place of storage, in Brazil a boteco evolved into becoming the place where you go for a beer. In other words botecos are the Brazilian equivalent of a pub.
Where can you find botecos?
Brazilian botecos, like pubs in the UK, are ubiquitous and can usually be found on most street corners around the country.
Botecos do not discriminate, regardless of social class or standing and you can find them in most parts of Brazilian cities, from the favelas to the most ‘chic’ (or chique as Brazilians like to say) neighbourhoods. Unlike bars they do not charge entrance fees or add service charges, and there’s certainly no dress code.
What are they like?
Well, like pubs it varies, although there tends to be a ‘typical’ type of both.
For example, at one end of the pub continuum you have the rough locals-only boozer where you can buy stolen DVD players for a tenner, whilst at the other there are poncey gastropubs serving gourmet burgers for £15 (excluding chips).
Avoid both where possible.
In the middle is your stereotypical pub, with homely features (they are, after all, ‘public houses’) designed to comfort you from what lies beyond (rain, snow, wind, Croydon, etc). Typically, their decor includes carpeting, wooden fixtures and occasionally a log-fire, and outside their signage and exterior clearly distinguish them from most other buildings on the street. As such, pubs have become the easiest way to give directions:
“Excuse me, where’s the post office?”
“Take a left at the Red Lion, then do a second right after the Crown and you’ll see it opposite the Windsor.”
“Nice one, cheers!”
Like pubs there’s also a boteco continuum and similar to their UK counterparts most tend to lean towards the lower / mid-ranges of the spectrum. However, the increasing number of upmarket ‘botecos’ has led to the use of terms to differentiate between them: pé sujo (diry feet) and pé limpo (clean feet).
Pé sujo botecos are where you should go if you want an authentic Brazilian drinking experience. Unlike pubs they are pretty missable, seeing as they often lack signage and sometimes don’t even bother with names.
Usually they consist of a fairly small interior that is open to the street, whilst most tables and chairs can be found on the pavement outside.
In many ways this makes sense because whilst pubs aim to protect you from the elements, in Brazil it’s about enjoying them. The pavement outside is the equivalent of pub beer garden, although the difference is that in the UK we only get to use them three days a year – and even then doing so whilst wearing a coat.
And, given that most of the action goes on outside the boteco the decor inside is usually…errr… basic. Most tend to go for the bathroom look, seeing as they are often covered from floor to ceiling in white tiling. Sometimes the bathroom look is taken quite literally, as you’ll occasionally find a toilet basin sharing space with a precariously wired plastic showerhead.
I’ve no idea why.
The tiling itself is actually quite a good indicator of each boteco’s spot on the ‘boteco continuum’ – with the mustier and dustier being less chique but certifiably pé sujo.
Another good indicator of the pé sujo-ness of a boteco is to have a quick scan of the furniture. Plastic chairs and tables usually confirm that your feet may well get dirty, whilst the presence of their wooden cousins typically indicates a higher level of boteco chique-ness.
Inside you’ll find a small(ish) bar, sometimes with fixed seating that serves a similar purpose as bar stools do in pubs. There’ll also be a plastic box-like space for the cashier and a glass cabinet displaying a variety of ‘vintage’ salgados (savoury snacks).
At the other end of the continuum pé limpo botecos may have tiling consisting of more than one colour and there may well also be some more sophisticated fittings and furnishings – although definitely no log-fires.
What do they serve? And by whom?
Other than lukewarm snacks and some basic dishes (feijoada, etc) the purpose of a pé sujo boteco is to serve the coldest beer known to mankind, which is understandable when it is 30c+ outside. This is facilitated by the presence of two (at least) of the biggest refrigerators you’ll probably ever see in your life. Conveniently they have a digitised indicator to reassure you that your beer is being stored at a temperature of at least -5c.
Why a fridge?
Well, whilst chopps (beer poured from a tap) are served in some botecos (mainly pé limpo) most beer is bottled – with there being three sizes:
- Long Neck: a standard 355ml bottle (like Budweiser)
- Garrafa: 600ml.
- Litro: Litre.
The most common is a garrafa (bottle) and unless you order a long neck the idea is to share them between whoever you are sitting with – that way the beer never warms beyond freezing.
The selection of beer usually consists of Skol, Brahma, Antarctica or Original, and these, for the most part, are pretty bland Pilseners – which is one reason why it doesn’t matter how cold they are (see here for more on this).
Pé sujo botecos are typically manned by a few staff (more if there is a ‘kitchen’), whom bring your drinks to your table as opposed to you queuing to buy them at the bar as you do in pubs. Tabs are paid when you leave and divided between whoever you are with.
As mentioned above, pé limpo botecos may have a wider variety of types / styles of beer, and their food menus will probably also be a bit more extensive (poncey). Additionally, your table will most likely be waited upon by an overeager waiter who will aggressively wrestle your chope from you before it’s finished and then plonk another one down regardless of whether you actually wanted it in the first-place.
Try a saideira
One aspect I particularly like about drinking in a boteco is the saideira. Effectively, this is the Brazilian equivalent of the UK’s “one for the road” pint. Basically, it involves cracking open one last bottle at the bar whilst your group settles the bill.
I say “one”, but I’ve been involved in hour long saideiras before – possibly longer but you’ll probably forgive me if my memory is a little fuzzy.
Pé sujo botecos are to Brazil what pubs are to the UK. They are, for the most part, the retreat of the casual, unpretentious drinker, and it is for this reason that they are my preferred spot for drinking in Brazil.
Have you got any recommendations? Tell me about your favourite botecos / drinking spots in São Paulo and around Brazil.