Livraria da Vila on Alameda Lorena. São Paulo’s 11 million-plus inhabitants do their part by infusing the din with contagious Brazilian energy; those flashing smiles and thumbs-up signs are among the few things the city shares with the rest of the vast country whose booming economy it anchors.
1) GRIMY GLORY
The elite may snap up luxury apartments as far from the heart of the city as possible, but São Paulo’s historic center still bustles with government employees and other office workers who have a nice secret on their hands. Sure, parts of the center could use a rinse in a giant urban bathtub, but much of the former glory is intact, including the city’s most beautiful artmuseum, the Pinacoteca (Praça da Luz, 2; 55-11-3324-1000; pinacoteca.org.br), housed in a former high school. Don’t miss the adjacent sculpture garden before hopping a subway to São Bento to get lost in the busy street commerce on Rua 25 de Março (25demarco.com.br) and stroll the pedestrian-only streets near the Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil (Rua Álvares Penteado, 112; 55-11-3113-3600; bb.com.br/cultura), a glorious old bank building turned exhibition space, where “Islam: Art and Civilization” is currently showing.
2) COCKTAILS OR CAFFEINE?
When the business bustle dies down, make your way past the grand old Teatro Municipal (Rua Líbero Badaró, 377) toward one of the classic works by Brazil’s best-known architect, Oscar Niemeyer: the marvelously undulating 38-story Copan apartment building (Avenida Ipiranga, 200;www.copansp.com.br), now home to a diverse community of residents. Choose your pick-me-up at the ground floor shopping center: a creamy espresso at the old-school, standing-room-only Café Floresta, or a creative caipirinha cocktail at the classy and ballyhooed two-year-old Bar da Dona Onça (55-11-3257-2016; www.bardadonaonca.com.br).
3) VERTICAL JUNGLE
Enough grime. Find the nearest ponto de táxi (taxi stand) and flee to upscale Vila Olímpia to dine with the elite at Kaá (Avenida Juscelino Kubitschek, 279; 55-11-3045-0043; kaarestaurante.com.br). Stepping through the barely marked entrance into the Arthur Casas-designed restaurant is like entering an alternative universe. The showstopper is the 4,300-square-foot vertical garden, a wall draped in plant species from the Mata Atlântica — the rapidly disappearing rain forest São Paulo used to be a part of. The contemporary menu — Brie tortellini with fig jam in sage butter, squid stuffed with crayfish and black risotto — is worth the steep price. (Dinner for two with drinks and dessert can approach 300 reais, about $185 at 1.63 reais to the dollar.)
4) HOUSE PARTY
In Vila Olímpia, high-end nightclubs come and go, but the conspicuously consuming playboys and the surgically enhanced women they buy Champagne for are, alas, forever. Instead, head to Casa 92 (Rua Cristovão Gonçalves, 92, Largo da Batata; 55-11-3032-0371; casa92.blogspot.com), a new nightspot in what surely must have been the home of someone’s grandmother. As you wander from room to room and through the pleasant outdoor spaces, you might find yourself crashing a birthday party, striking up a caipirinha-fueled conversation or hitting the upstairs dance floor where recently formed couples make out.