Back in São Paulo, BR, l decided to write an article about the coolest neighborhood in São Paulo: Vila Madalena (something that can be translated as Magdalena’s Village). The so-called place to be in São Paulo it’s not only a bohemian area of bars but also, a resident place with lots of shops, restaurants, art galleries, street art, antique fairs, etc. And for that, I had the help of a dear friend, Fernanda Tavares, which besides been a resident there, was also born and lived there most of her life. With such great material gotten from a local, follow here an article for those who love this gem in São Paulo, and also for those who not know it yet (but when you come here, you must pay a visit there)!
The History behind Vila Madalena
The area started to be populated circa 1900 by milk and vegetable farmers, but before that, the village was known as Sítio do Buraco (kind of Farm Hole). Owned by this local Portuguese farmer, known as Gonçalo and his three daughters: Albertina, the youngest, Madalena, the middle one and Beatriz, the older. Each daughter named a piece of the farm with their names, which later would become the three famous villages in São Paulo: Albertina, Beatriz, and Madalena. Nevertheless, for its measure, Vila Albertina after 1945 was combined with Madalena and both became one.
At the beginning of the XX century, Vila Madalena was a cheaper local area to live in and for that reason known as Rag Village. Besides the local farmers, lots of people with low incomes moved there. During this period, you only could reach there by foot or horse. Even so, it didn’t take too long for the first bars and football fields to appear. With these two elements together, the first argues and fights began to show… and soon the village became famous for its hot mood. And here I will mention Fernanda again. She happens to be the niece of the grandson (Antonio Carlos dos Santos Barrinha) of the owner (Antonio dos Santos Barrinha) of the first grocery store at Vila Madalena (Empório Santa Maria Magdalena, est 1927). Yes, Fernanda is also related to the story of Vila Madalena. I was that lucky to know her.
So, between the years of 1920 and 1930 the light came, more specifically in 1928, the city hall divided the area into lots, and many Portuguese immigrants started to arrive and work at Light, the industry that supplied the village with electric energy. At that time, Light was responsible for the trams in São Paulo. Despite the neighborhood is famous for being considered roughly dangerous, in the ’40s became a medium-high class neighborhood because of the Vila Madalena Parish. Led by Priest Olavo, Vila Madalena started to get other vibes.
Already considered a good middle-class neighborhood, in the ’70s was invaded by the students of one of our most essential universities until nowadays, USP, and with that, soon bars, restaurants, small shops, and other commercial needs started to appear. With that action happening right there, soon the village became a place of social movements, revolutionaries students, cultural facts, arts, musicians, etc. They were all there at bars, night and day.
From bars and restaurants to street art and galleries, Vila Madalena has something for everybody
When the ’90s came, the neighborhood had this boom of real estate, and soon the village became a place of rich class people. So, the bars were no longer just the little bars, but sophisticated bars, cool, ‘in’ places of all kind and to attend from high-class people to more simple people. The people from samba, the people from the arts, the tattooed people, the hippie people, foreign people, couples, friends, families, all kind.
And for all that, Vila Madalena is considered the coolest neighborhood in São Paulo. It’s beautiful. You can find everything there. It translates very well what’s is this thing that we Brazilian people have. The welcoming affectionate dominant characteristic that is so natural about us and a thing that you can only find here in Brazil. That little thing that makes all foreign people wanting to stay here forever. The long hours inside the bar chatting, flirting, drinking, laughing. Vila Madalena translates it at its best. Come to sit with us and have a ‘caipirinha’ (read more about it here at Fotostrasse) 😉
Graffiti and Street Art in Vila Madalena
The meaning of graffiti comes from the Italian ‘graffito’, which means, written made with coal. Graffiti: urban art, characterized by drawings in public places, walls, buildings, streets. The story of graffiti art in Brazil began around 1970, right after its rise in New York City. A different time for us Brazilian people, the ’70s represent a disturbed period of our history due to the dictatorship oppression we suffered. Silenced by the drastic censorship, the graffiti art came up as a new voice, the voice that does not ask permission to speak, on the contrary, the voice that screams out loud for a whole new generation that was completely unhappy with all that was going on with Brazil.
From this point on, the graffiti art became an important urban information source, supporting the existence of other voices. Crucial to mention that, in the beginning, the graffiti art was a kind of anonymous art, where the graffiti artist or “writer” turns the city into an important artistic communication support unbounded space. Therefore, at that time, what matters was the art itself, and not the name of the author.
The graffiti art defined more than an artistic language, but also an essential instrument of protest and transgression of established values. In other words, is born a new form of occupation of urban space and artistic perception. Graffiti art is above all, messages translated as social, cultural, humanitarian, and undoubtedly artistic movements. Thus, the art at that time is now not only seen in museums or cultural centers but mainly on the walls of streets, tunnels, buildings in the city. No wonder, graffiti art, enabled communication between all the inhabitants of the city, the union of many cultures that coexist; in other words, allowed the merger between the center and the periphery. And right in the heart of Vila Madalena, we find one of our main reference graffiti art in São Paulo.
Between the Gonçalo Afonso Street and Medeiros de Albuquerque Street, we have a big open sky graffiti art gallery known as Batman’s Alley (Beco do Batman). Along these narrow streets, you will find these incredible, enormous graffiti on the walls, fantastic view for those who love urban street art. These graffiti renewed from time to time, and it’s a challenge to have your painting there. This space began to become famous in the ’80s when the residents of the streets found a batman drawn on those walls.
The happening brought the attention of students of plastic arts, bringing life and a whole new concept to the alley. You will find in the alley lots of tourists, photographers, students, graffiti artists, etc. Be sure to visit there by walking. Big stones form no high heels for the ladies, the streets there. Each time you got there, most likely you will find a new painting on the walls.
Also, beyond the beautiful paintings, you can get to know the ONG “Cidade Escola Aprendiz”, which support the residents and students of the area, offering art workshops for kids and teenagers from all ages and social condition. Between 1999 and 2001, 100 walls were worked in these art workshops, directly involving about 20,000 people and transforming the relationship of residents with their neighborhoods. One of the first experiences was in the square Senator Linnaeus Prestes, in Vila Madalena.
Today the Brazilian graffiti is considered one of the best in the world. And we have some big names in the national and international scene, just to mention a few: Eduardo Kobra, Alex Hornest, and of course, the famous twins, Gustavo and Otavio Pandolfo.
Where you should go on Vila Madalena
Benedito Calixto Fair
The Benedito Calixto Fair is not exactly located in Vila Madalena, is actually in Pinheiros neighborhood, but we like to think is Vila Madalena because is like one neighborhood stuck to another. Just 10 min more walking, and it’s already Vila Madalena. So, as I’m writing about the coolest neighborhood in São Paulo, I have to mention Benedito Calixto Fair. It’s a place I like so much to go, and not only me, that you feel like you want to go there every Saturday just to buy something, eat something, appreciate the galleries, drink a beer, chat with the local workers or just be there. It’s cool. It’s cultural. Happens all Saturdays from 9 am until 9 pm, and it has 320 local merchants.
It started in 1987, and today the Benedito Calixto Fair is part of the social and cultural lives of the people of São Paulo. From shared open spaces to little shops, you will find all kind of things to buy. Old jewelry, dinnerware from the XIX century, parfums, war artifacts (yes, you can find it there), painting, vintage decor ornaments, silver, Brazilian stones, clothes, hats, glasses, shoes, antiques, toys, handcrafted wood, and the list goes on and on.
The fair also has, of course, lots of typical Brazilian food: the famous ‘brigadeiro’ …condensed milk with chocolate (one of my favorite Brazilian sweets), so good!; Ambrosia, the famous ‘food of the Gods’; unha de caranguejo…? a special pasta, crab meat, onion, garlic, lemon and endive from Pará; buraco quente, which is…minced meat with smoked calabresa introduced in the baguette …just to name a few…and…to eat all that, lots of beers, caipirinhas and guaraná :). It’s pretty standard to see photography groups exploring the area.
The fair also counts with a show named ‘Chorinho na Praça,’ which consists in typical Brazilian music…mostly likely MPB (Brazilian Popular Music) and twice a month it happens the project ‘Autor na Praça,’ a project which gives the opportunity to the launch of several kinds of artistic demonstration along with literature. The Benedito Calixto Fair is known as one of the best antiques and handcrafted fairs in Brazil.
Around its area, you will find good restaurants, such as the famous Consulado Mineiro and the big cultural space Alberico Rodrigues, a space that it’s all in one thing: theater, art gallery, space for concerts, bookstore, soirees, seminars, as well as cafeteria and snack bar. I think that maybe by now I already convinced you to pay a visit there? 🙂
Bars and Restaurants in Vila Madalena
I don’t know if you’re the kind of person that likes to read a review of bars, restaurants, etc., but in São Paulo I strongly recommend that. To chose a place to go out in Vila Madalena can be quite a task since there are so many options and the city is sooo big. Many times we chose, chose and in the end, end up choosing the wrong place. But if you want to hit the right spot, wherever it may be samba, a restaurant with a top chef, a rock n’ roll bar or just a coffee place, the village has it all. And has so many good options.
For all kind of tastes, ages and high to low cost. And since the World Cup happened here in 2014, we had a boom at the village. Don’t ask me why, I happen to know this nice and cool neighborhood all my life, but the thing is, as we received so many foreigners here, so many new places were launched there that options to go out nowadays are countless. So I will name a few good ones.
Ó do Borogodó Bar
The name is strange as hell (something like ‘that plus’, irresistible, that draws the attention of everyone) and the place is small, narrow, ugly. But, they have one of the best samba music of São Paulo. Opens from Monday to Monday and you usually pay R$ 20,00 to get in. This is the place for ‘choro (the trio of flute, guitar, and cavaquinho), samba, food/drinking, and friends. They also have one of the best ‘feijoadas’ from SP, our typical dish of black beans and pork. A place with very low cost, very good music, happy environment and lots of foreign people there. On Saturdays is always very crowded, so if you plan to have lunch there, arrive early to pick a place to seat. Highly recommend.
Mercearia São Pedro
One of the best bars of Madalena, where you will find a cultural environment (the place is full of artists and writers), books on the shelf, vinyl records, movie banners. It has almost 50 years, and it’s a legend within the village. Great menu (the portions of sun-dried meat and calabresa are delicious!), great beers options and caipirinhas drinks. Like almost all good places in São Paulo, it’s always fully crowded (lunchtime are no exception). Prices are like $$$.
Nola – Rap & Hip Hop
Rap and hip-hop. So, if you like this kind of music, this is the place. Surrounded by graffiti walls, diffuse light, underground public, young and tattooed employees, Nola is one of the coolest bars within Madalena. Every Wednesday they have the DJ Nuts playing there, and if it’s not him, be sure it will be another famous one. A big menu of beers and drinks completes the ethylic scenario. Not even close to being expensive, a bar with big style with an easy approach.
One of the most famous bars in São Paulo, Pirajá brings people from all neighborhoods, not only the people around. Famous for its typical Cariocas snacks and the cold ‘chopp pilsen’, Pirajá makes you feel like you’re in an original bar of Rio de Janeiro and not only that, feels like you traveled in time because the environment is all about the old bohemian Carioca style. Can you imagine Rio de Janeiro in the ’50s? There you will feel just like that. Plus the greeeeat food (prices are a bit spicy), but really worth it — a great option for those who want to feel Rio vibes in São Paulo. It is crowded at any time of the day, any day of the week.
A very nice place for coffee lovers. And not only that. A very much school of baristas. Considered one of the best in the world (yes, with lots of awards on its history), Coffee Lab is a place where the quality of the coffee is essential and where you will have the best baristas preparing a different kind of coffee flavors for you. The place is so cozy, you feel like wanting to spend hours there, and not only you: your pets are also welcomed.
Alto da Harmonia
Located in a beautiful old house all decorated with bricks, this nice restaurant has one of the finest views of Vila Madalena. From the 3rd floor, you can appreciate all the neighborhood at open air (they also placed a lunette there for a better view). Of course, the most wanted tables are on the top, but the restaurant also offers nice lunch options, portions of snacks and surely drinks and beers. Besides that, the house is pet-friendly and also has a special menu for them.
And here it goes another’s suggestions that also worth to go: SubAstor, famous for having one of the best bartenders in São Paulo and decorated as the old bars during the 30’s in Chicago/NY, including red velvet curtains – ridiculous beautiful; Lapa 40 Graus, same as the one in Rio de Janeiro, with samba, live shows Thursday to Sunday; Pé de Manga: beautiful bar at open air with lake among lots of trees, fully crowded on summer.
And can’t forget to say about the famous crossing between the streets Fradique Coutinho St with Aspicuelta St, Mourato Coelho St with Aspicuelta St, and, Fidalga St also wit Aspilcuelta St. They’re famous for having 95% of the bars that agitate the bohemian nights at the village.
Where to stay in Vila Madalena
The same principal used on the item above, can be used here: it is a hard task since this part of São Paulo offers so much in therms of accomodation. For that reason, I will leave a some names that we really like and trust, either by the location or because we heard positive reviews from friends and readers of the blog.
We heard great things about whole apartments that you can rent for a few days or weeks like this one here, but in my opinion, it is valid more for groups due to the language barried that most probably you’ll have to deal with. Solo apartments are great but if you’re travelling with 1 or more people.solo
If your budget is smaller or if you’re a solo traveller, maybe getting a private room or a bed in a hostel could be the best way to find people to hangout with while you’re in Vila Madalena. All options here are close to the subway giving you a bit of freedom when it comes to find your way around this beautiful concrete jungle called São Paulo.
Why we love Vila Madalena
And, the village has also incredible bakeries, Le Pain Quotidien, Villa Grano and St. Etienne, the famous ones. The village is also famous for having a big number of yoga studios. Bars and places to eat opened all night long. Beers places that are not only bars, but also sells homemade beers. Several options of vegetarian restaurants. Nice hostels. Carnival parades, the famous ‘blocos de carnaval’. The revelation chef of the year, is also there, in the restaurant Tuju, at Fradique Coutinho St. For all that and more, we love Vila Madalena.
With all that said, it’s impossible do not appreciate this adorable village 🙂
Have you been to Vila Madalena before? Do you have any special tips that we forgot to add it here?
If yes, leave your suggestions on the comments below! We also have a Facebook group filled with locals and people who had already been to São Paulo in case you have more questions, please consider joining.