Pub/Bar of the Month December 2014: FrangÓ, São Paulo, Brazil
FrangÓ, São Paulo, Brazil
There may be an awful lot of coffee in Brazil, but there's another drink that is developing apace in this enormous country and that's beer.
As in many countries, small breweries are opening all the time, extending the total to beyond 200 from nothing just twenty years ago, and there are now a number of go-to bars for the beer cognoscenti.
Most of these bars are relatively new developments, but there is one that has been leading the way by putting beer centre stage for many years.
FrangÓ has been in operation since 1987, and, according to its co-owner, Cássio Piccolo, it was the first beer bar in the country.
Word quickly whizzed around that this was a place that took beer seriously even though, when it opened, it had no foreign contributions, as there were none imported into Brazil.
That was soon rectified. 'As soon as imports started coming in, I stocked them,' Cássio recalls. He turned heads with these new exotic offerings and continued his missionary work with a suitably religious fervour, holding regular tastings by candlelight, with Gregorian chant music humming in the background.
Today, as beer knowledge has grown in Brazil and demand for quality beers has risen, Cássio's beer menu – a chunky, hardback tome – features around 450 beers that are listed by nationality and then cross-referenced by style.
It's a terrific range, with getting on for 200 Belgian beers and smaller but well chosen selections from other countries, including – and this will be important to you should you visit – around ninety from Brazil.
These feature beers from established 'new' breweries such as Eisenbahn, Baden Baden, Bamberg, Amazon, Wäls, Mistura and Bierland, topped off by an excellent American pale ale house beer brewed for Cássio by his friend, Marcelo Carneiro da Rocha, at Colorado brewery, based in Ribeirão Preto, north of São Paulo.
In appearance, FrangÓ is, like most great beer bars, wonderfully unpretentious. At street level it divides into two areas, a small front room, with a clutch of tables and a sparkling display of branded glassware and bottles, and an L-shaped rear section linked by a corridor. It's a simple, bareboards and high-ceilings sort of environment that is comfortable without being plush.
Downstairs, a cellar bar was opened in 1994. A spacious, open-plan room, littered with brewery posters and ephemera, it has its own separate entrance but can be accessed from above by a stroll down a twisting staircase that leads you past Cássio's storerooms, filled with cases and shelves of tempting bottles.
Between the two upstairs rooms stands a barbecue area where golden, marinated chicken rotates over hot coals. This – along with coxinha, a pear-shaped rissole of chicken and cheese, said to be the best in Brazil – is a house speciality and draws customers back time and again.
This simple menu is as much part of the establishment's identity as its reputation for beer.
It even inspires the bar's odd name. Frango is Portuguese for chicken, to which Cássio (pictured left) has added a twist – the final accented ó, taken from the name of the local neighbourhood, Freguesia do Ó.
For all the accolades the bar has received in its time, Cássio is phlegmatic about his success.
'We've been doing the same thing since we opened and people keep coming back,' he says with a shrug of the shoulders that suggests he has no plans to change very much at all or to take the concept further.
He has no intention of ever opening a second bar in São Paulo, in Brazil, or in another country – he doesn't believe in homogeneity and laments the passing of local colour and individuality from many of the world's cities – so there will only ever be one place where you can experience FrangÓ, although it does take a little work to get there.
The bar sits in a residential, northern suburb of São Paulo, about five miles from the centre. The traffic is horrendous and public transport is not particularly obliging but, if you're in this part of the world, do find a way of paying a visit. You won't regret it.
FrangÓ, Largo da Matriz Nossa Senhora do Ó 168, Freguesia do Ó, São Paulo, Brazil
Tel.: +55 (11) 3932-4818
Opening Hours: 11–3, 5–midnight; 11am–2am Friday and Saturday; 11–8 Sunday; closed Monday