A hidden gem: Bar do Mineiro serves up piece of traditional Brazilian culture

Passengers load into the old, wooden seats of the historic Santa Teresa Tram, three to a row. The two-car tram rumbles over the tracks, jerking occasionally as the cars travel up the hill and the downtown skyline shrinks below.

The tiny neighborhood of Santa Teresa waits at the top of the hill, with 18th century colonial style architecture and graffiti-painted walls. Its winding roads lure in visitors with what some consider to be the best feijoada in all of Brazil.

Bar do Mineiro opened in 1989 and has been bringing tourists and locals to the heart of Santa Teresa for decades with its everlasting family atmosphere.

“This place is different than any other place in Rio,” said Pedro Paixão, an employee whose uncle bought the place originally. “It wouldn’t be as successful if it was in Botafogo [a nearby neighborhood], for example, because here there are different things. [Santa Teresa] really matches what the bar is and what it represents.”

The former butcher-shop-turned-bar wasn’t always called Bar do Mineiro.

It was originally named Café e Bar Rosa Mauá. The owner was from Minas Gerais, whose natives are called Mineiros. All the locals caught on to the nickname, and it was officially renamed Bar do Maneiro in 1994.

Paixão has worked at Bar do Mineiro for 24 years now with many of his cousins. The bar’s success has meant everything to his family and him.

“I think of this place as my house,” he said. “I’ve spent more time in here than my house. I like and love to stay here.”

Bar first, then restaurant — that’s how Paixão describes Bar do Mineiro. But its homestyle approach to cooking keeps a steady line stretching out the entrance on most days.

Feijoada is the bar’s most popular menu item, a stew made of pork and beans served over rice. The dish was invented during the era of slavery, when the slaves would bake beans and add meat scraps from their master’s meal, according to Rodrigo Elias’ Feijoada: A short history of an edible institution.

It started popping up in Brazilian restaurants in the mid-1800s, and gained popularity throughout the rest of the 19th century.

Feijoada is a dish that’s always developing. Bar do Mineiro tinkered with its recipe until it made a change in 2001, and it has been a hit ever since.

“This feeling of family — people really get attached to eating this dish that is so popular,” Paixão said. “We prepare it differently than other places. It makes the dish taste differently.”

Maria Lucia, a cook at Bar do Mineiro for the last 17 years, works in the kitchen and is in charge of preparing the feijoada.

She said the bar’s secret is using all pieces of the pork — and lots of garlic.

“I prepare [the food], so to see everyone liking and enjoying it, I think it is so amazing,” Lucia said, moved by emotion.

Visit Bar do Mineiro today, and you’ll find the walls covered with art, honoring the bar’s heritage.

Puppets sitting on a shelf behind the bar, old advertisements, yellowed newspaper clippings, portraits of famous Brazilians, a series of paintings telling the story about a man marrying a mermaid. A real Picasso painting hangs on the back wall near the kitchen.

“I like the fact that this place has been here forever. It has a lot of character,” said Andover, Maryland-resident David Hout, who discovered Bar do Mineiro online.

Large groups of family and friends pack the tables from the entrance off the street to the back wall of the bar, leaving minimal walking room for employees to get through.

Meals, like the feijoada, are available for orders of two or three as opposed to the traditional single order. Food emerges from the kitchen in a big bowl, leaving the group to pass around their favorite Brazilian cuisine.

“I think food represents every culture in the best ways,” said Derek Hardin, who lives in Dubai and is visiting Rio for his honeymoon. “Because you take local ingredients, and you kind of formulate them into your own style. You have the people and the place coming together.

“It’s stylistically with the approach to the food. It’s family style. So everyone has to say, ‘Can you pass the plate? What’s this? What’s that?’ It brings everyone together.”

Angela Esteves was born in the Santa Teresa area and started coming to Bar do Mineiro with her family when she was young. She said on Thursday she likes the feijoada there but has had better. Still, Esteves appreciates Bar do Mineiro for what it is.

“It’s still important,” she said. “It’s so traditional because it’s old and homemade. Everything here means something.”

The family aspect of the bar is a big part of what makes it so successful. Paixão said people get attached to eating there because they learn about it from the generations before them.

The bar is very important to Paixão, but he doesn’t know if he’ll work there for the rest of his life.

Of one thing he can be certain: the core values of Bar do Mineiro will never change.

“Before it was like this too,” Paixão said. “This is the place forever.”

Jake Fox is a Ball State University student and writer for BSU at the Games, a group of 50 journalism students traveling from Muncie, Indiana, to Rio for the Olympic Games. Follow them atbsuatthegames.com, @bsuatthegames on Twitter and Instagram, and BSU at the Games on Facebook.

Jake Fox

I'm Jake. A reporter and writer at heart, but I'm always willing to learn new things. Lover of sports and social media who's always striving for improvement. Everybody has a story. Tell me yours, and I'll put it into words.

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