The Maze: The one place you MUST visit while in Rio

Paris has cafes. London has English pubs. New York has Broadway or off-Broadway shows and late night diners. And until last night, I thought Rio de Janeiro was about Copacabana Beach and the Christ the Redeemer statue. But I now have one more to add to the list of “must experience” of international cities.

Rio’s favelas are infamously known for their crime and poverty. The movie City of God shone this up on the silver screen for the world to see. But while the history of Brazil’s favelas is one of poverty and lawlessness, the modern day incarnation provides an insight into the creativity that lies within even the poorest community, and the security that the recent “pacification” has delivered.

Tonight some friends and I are heading to a venue called “The Maze”, which opens just twice a month with musicians from across Latin America and further afield. Tonight, the first Friday of the month, is jazz night. Second Friday of every month is rock night.

Arriving at the “entry” to favela Tavares Bastos, near the Rio barrio of Flamengo, I wait with friends as the motor taxies wait near by. Motor taxies are a part of favela life, carrying residents up the steep hillside to their homes. And once I jump on the back of one, I understand why. It takes a few minutes at break neck speeds up a 20 degree, winding road to get to the drop off point. It would probably have been 30 minutes and being covered in sweat to walk up. All for R$2.75 (about US$1.25).

From the drop off point it’s a few minutes walk through narrow alleyways between houses to get to the venue. My first close up view of a favela, though this is obviously a more “up market” one than many others, everyone with electricity, TVs blaring out from most homes. But tonight is not the time to assess the pros and cons or realities of favela life, but to enjoy a particular event and place. I did have a Brazilian friend choose not to come tonight because the venue was in a favela, which was unfortunate as the area was very obviously safe, and with the list of international musicians and tourists who regularly came to the venue it was apparent why. A combination of both policing and community I would think.

This cooperation is further suggested when we arrive at the entry for The Maze, a nondescript wooden door with “No drogas” hand painted across the door. We are to see this written throughout the venue. I would imagine the owner has worked closely with the local community along with the police force to enable this venue, this event to exist at all in this location, and I’m sure “no drugs” policy and enforcement would be a fairly important part of the agreement worked out. We also later discuss the likelihood that the owner gives a significant percentage of the profits towards the local community, it would seem to make sense from both a social as well as a business & safety perspective.

Climbing the stairs into the venue, we pay our R$30 entry fee (that rises to R$40 after 10pm) and head into the main bar/stage area.

It’s early, so the place is just starting to fill up. The musicians are setting up on stage, we grab a beer and head out to the balcony to check out the view we’d been told about. And wow, what a view it is! Unfortunately with just my camera phone for photos, no evidence to provide of the amazing vista, but let’s just say it’s almost worth the price of admission itself. Though no room to sit, the balcony is full already, so we head back inside to the main room. Apparently upstairs there’s an even more impressive balcony & view, but this doesn’t open until 11pm. It’s a little after 10.

We don’t have too long to wait for the music to start, and from the little I can understand they seem to be all Latino musicians tonight, at least to start with. Later in the night we get to hear English and American singers, and some guy from New York City on the piano doing a short solo during one of the intervals.

piano

So what can I say about the music? I’m no jazz expert at all, so I can only provide a music loving layman’s opinion, but to put it bluntly, the music rocked! Probably as good a live gig as I’ve been to in a few years, and I’ve always sought out the best live music venues in the majority of places I pass through. And with everyone around me seeming to be enjoying the music as much as my friends and I were, the place was jumping. Along with the music, the atmosphere and vibe was one of the best I’ve ever experienced too. The only thing I felt I was missing was a joint in my hand… though of course with the anti-drug messages scrawled across the walls probably not the most appropriate thing to be thinking. But hey, it just seems very appropriate when listening to jazz or blues!

We got to check out the upstairs balcony a little later, quite a climb up a variety of narrow staircases and small rooms and hallways (it’s not called “The Maze” without reason). I actually don’t think it’s quite as good as the one off the main stage area, and you also can’t hear the music at all, which I think is probably good sound proofing rather than an oversight, with the surrounding favela residents in mind. The view is incredible, though I much preferred the downstairs balcony, where you could enjoy a similarly amazing view while still listening to the amazing music (though it was much easier to enjoy a sneaky joint upstairs…). If you do check out the upstairs balcony and view, avoid heading there during intermission, when everyone seems to head upstairs. With the VERY narrow staircases it takes some time, and there’s not that much room up there.

The music continued until the early hours of the morning, around 4am I think – though I was quite drunk by this stage, so if my recollection of closing time is not 100% accurate please forgive me. And the place was rocking right through until the end of the night, no let up in energy or atmosphere from either the band or the crowd until closing, which is not something you can say about many places.

Some quick prices: 600ml beers are R$10 to R$15, depending on brand. Caiprihinas & caiprioskas R$15 each, which seems like a lot until you watch how much alcohol they poor in. A couple of those and you’ll be feeling fine…

I’ll certainly be heading there again next month, and probably every month while I’m in Rio. The Maze was definitely one of the highlights from my two months in Brazil so far. Though next time I go, I’ll head up on the motor taxi an hour or so earlier, and hang out at the small street bar where you first get dropped off for some cheaper drinks with some of the locals before heading in before the 10pm entry price increase. There seemed to be a nice buzz happening there too, and a chance to mingle with some locals rather than just heading inside to a very unique &enjoyable, but hardly typical favela musical experience.

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