By Tony Maiella, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The game of pool referred to as “sinuca” or “bilhar” in Brazil is an beloved pastime in Rio de Janeiro with, “malandros” (Brazilian folkloric hustlers) as symbolic figures. Historically, pool was immensely popular here from the beginning of the twentieth century, peaking in the early sixties. Although its popularity has diminished over the years, the prevalence of international regulations has made the game more accessible to a wider audience.
There are some differences between Brazilian sinuca and the international regulations. The old style Brazilian billiards use a smaller table and eight balls with two colors only.
Attempting a game in this variation can be awkward for a foreigner, as the strategy is different (not to mention the unforgiving pockets.) Still, one can find both versions of pool in the city, which keeps it interesting.
A logical place to start is in the centro with two of the oldest traditional pool halls in Praça Tiradentes. Bilhares Guarany is over 111 years old and has eight tables, the younger, a spry sixty years old. Bilhares Guanabara is another classic pool hall, which holds sixteen tables and decades of vibe.
The cobblestone streets of Lapa are the proverbial home of the above mentioned malandro. Sinuca da Lapa on Rua do Riachuelo, 44 is a lively, affordable place for a game a pool beginning everyday from 4PM onwards.
Apolo Rezende, a graphic design student at Universidade Estácio de Sá enjoys the venue because, “it’s pleasant with well-maintained tables, beautiful people and great drinks.”
Lapa 40° is another pool shark haunt, also on Rua Riachuelo. With a total of thirty tables it’s the largest pool hall in all of the Rio de Janeiro state. There are small Brazilian tables on the first floor and larger tables on the second. This is an immense complex with high quality equipment and in addition to billiards, there is also live music most nights.
Since 1945, Boteco Taco nestled in Humaitá has offered tasty food, cold chopps, six pool tables and even a jukebox. Best of all, this pool hall never rests as it’s open 24 hours from Tuesday to Saturday. It’s a hidden gem for the hopeless pool addict.
For a more off the beaten path experience, one should creep down into Bambina da Sinuca also known as Sarreufa Taco Club. Leandro Brandão, Sales Consultant for Dotlib, comments, “the bar is intimate and is always attended by the same friends coming together over cheap pool and beers.”
Brandão describes: “The decor is simple; so simple that the basement is decorated with peeling walls and a sinking ceiling. This place “underground” in the broad sense of the word and attended by a mostly young crowd.”
In Copacabana, Clube do Taco offers an experience for players that are in it for the love of the game. The venue has big tables with a full snooker set here. Though the decor isn’t much to look at and the prices are higher, the quality of the tables is noticeable. There are also weekly tournaments on Saturdays with mostly Brazilians competing.
With all the pool playing happening in Rio, the question remains: who are the better pool players in Rio, Cariocas or gringos. Apolo Rezende confirms, “The Japanese. They play ‘pra caramba’ (a ton).”
Below is a list of the pool halls in the Zona Sul:
R. Pedro, 7, Praça Tiradentes, tel: (21) 2220-5375
Praça Tiradentes, 87, Centro, tel: (21) 2242-4569
Bola de Cristal
R. Ministro Tavares Lira 116 and 105, Flamengo, tel: (21) 2265-9696
R. Humaitá 122, Humaitá, tel: (21) 2539-5109, Tue-Sat 24h Sun, Mon 7AM-7PM
Café e Bilhares Feirense
Praça Tiradentes, 83, tel: (21) 2232-3215
Clube do Taco
R. Barata Ribeiro, 655, Copacabana, tel: (21) 2255-4934, Mon-Sat 1PM-3AM Sun 4PM-2AM
R. Visconde de Pirajá, 112, Ipanema, tel: (21) 2267-5860, Mon-Thu 6PM-2AM, Fri 6PM-3AM, Sat 2PM-3AM, Sun 2PM-2AM
Sinuca da Bambina
R. Bambina, 141, Botafogo
Sinuca da Lapa
R. do Riachuelo, 44 (close to the corner of R. do Lavradío), Lapa, tel: (21) 2242-4501, everyday from 4PM
Lapa 40 Graus
R. do Riachuelo, 97, Lapa, tel: (21) 3970-1338, everyday from 6PM