By Pedro Widmar, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO – After nearly two years of planning, January 6, 2010 marked the last day of Help Discoteca’s existence. For some the establishment’s closing signifies the end of a golden age, for others it is a welcome change and a significant step towards Rio’s first-world aspirations.

Club Help on Copacabana's beach for decades, photo by Doug Gray.
Help Discoteca on Copacabana's beach for decades, photo by Doug Gray.

For years the Copacabana beachfront property stood as an icon of Rio de Janeiro’s well-known prostitution business.

As the club doors opened each night hundreds of sex workers would stream into the lounge, attracting the predominantly tourist clients. By 11PM the club was full, and usually bustling until 4AM, dominating any would-be competition.

The name of the club said it all. From local Cariocas to sex tourists, anyone could go inside for a few drinks and come out accompanied, for a price. The club started as an upper-middle class discotheque in the Eighties, but its success soon caught the ambitious eyes of Brazilian call-girls who recognized the captive audience.

Synonymous with Copacabana prostitution, the club has been a top Rio nightspot for over two decades. Its closing will affect the lives of many, including Help employees and the those who benefited from its existence. While opinions differ on the social and economic implications, what is clear is despite all the false starts and delays, Help is now closed.

A mural encompasses the builiding where Help functioned for over 20 years, photo by Pedro Widmar.
A mural encompasses the builiding where Help functioned for over 20 years, photo by Pedro Widmar.

Officially expropriated as of January 9, 2010, the building and land, which have been subject to several legal disputes in the past, will serve as the new grounds for the Museum of Image and Sound (MIS). The Museum, which celebrates its 45th anniversary this year, currently functions as an archive of Rio’s musical history and is mostly used by researchers.

The move into Copacabana will mark a reformulation of the museum’s concept by opening the collection to the general public. Aiming to be the cities foremost culture museum, the project is a mixed initiative between Rio de Janeiro’s State Government and the Fundação Roberto Marinho. As Governor Sergio Cabral explained, “the state can’t take care of everything on its own, through partnerships and collaboration we can make things more efficient.”

Museum of Image and Sound, photo courtesy of Fundação Roberto Marinho.
Museum of Image and Sound, photo courtesy of Fundação Roberto Marinho.

As for the nightclub, which was operated by the Windsor Hoteís group, it seems to have become a page of history. Aside from speculation that it would reopen in the former Arpoador Bingo building, also owned by the group, sources claim that the Help Discoteca name was bought in order to prevent the club from reincarnating.

At the January 19th Cornerstone launch of the MIS, Governor Cabral denied the move as being morally founded “This is a present to the city. All morality aside, it’s a radical change from what used to be here. The MIS will add cultural value to Rio.”

The expropriation proved to be a complicated and time consuming process for the state government. The property still belongs to Jadwiga Lewandowski Swirski, who has been deceased for over 10 years, and rent payments for the venue have allegedly been made to her daughter Krystyna Swirski. There is however, a long-standing legal battle for ownership of the property.

Governor Sergio Cabral at MIS event, photo by Pedro Widmar.
Governor Sergio Cabral at MIS event, photo by Pedro Widmar.

The earliest records show Stefania Plaskowiecka in Nodari originally owned the property. After Nodari’s death, Jadwiga, her servant and eventually adopted daughter, took possession of it fighting off distant relatives in a legal dispute that reached Brazil’s Supreme Court. However, other claims made by distant relatives and suppressed decades ago, were reopened in 2002.

This web of intricacies was one of the factors that delayed the MIS project, which was originally scheduled to open in 2010. To sidestep this conundrum of litigation and legal ambiguity the state government has deposited the indemnification amount in holding awaiting the resolution.

And with that, the second semester of 2012 will mark the inauguration of what is planned to be amongst the most modern museums in the world.


  1. Dear Rio Times,

    Your paper issued an article in which you have made the mention that Jadwiga Lewandowska-Swirski, my GrandMother and a highly educated academic, was a “servant” in the pay of the Nodaris, when both Com Nodari and Stefania Plaskowiecka in Nodari were still alive. That is utterly incorrect, and slanderous. When still alive, the Count and Countess Nodari adopted my GrandMother, as their daughter, because of their fondness for her. This was then officialised.

    After the end of WW2, it was very common for Poles to include other Poles, destituted by the war and having lost members of their Family, as one of their own. That is what is “slzachta” in Polish nobility culture akin to “giri” and “miri” concepts in the japanese feudal society.

    Because Stefania was herself exiled from Poland unable to return because of Communism, and living in Brazil, she welcomed my GrandMother, who was part of the resistance movement in Poland, doing work akin to those hunting for Nazi War criminals hiding in Sth America. My GrandMother obliged this courtesy by supporting Com Nodari in his daily work, as a dutyful daughter would be expected to; she herself had child to care for, my Mother, as she was divorced from a gentleman called Jerzy Swirski, the father of my Mother, Krystyna Swirska. Jerzy Swirski comes from an attested old Polish Princely House, the House of Lis-Swir, and he was born and raised in Brazil, where his father, Michal, married to Sabina, was a retired ambassador of Poland, where they lived in our Ubatuba properties.

    That is the background to my GrandMother ending up being adopted by the Com Lincoln and his wife Stefania Nodari, as their rightful daughter. Anything else is sensationalist rubbish appealing to dubious tastes for generic telenovelas, probably spread by the disenchanted few, and amounts to simple copy-pasting of previous slander by questionable reporters. A serious paper would have checked the facts, correctly, and not carried forward the flame of mediocracy.

    This should be thus amended to reflect the truth, and to stop spreading slander, cheap reporting and hurtful lies.

    Yours sincerely,

    Alexander Swirski, the son of Dona Krystyna Swirska

  2. Alexander,

    I am sorry if the inclusion of this fact has upset you. However, it is included in the STF (Brazils Supreme Court) decision which nulled attempts at discrediting Jadwiga from being a legal benefactor. This information is part of the Procurador Geral’s (Ministry in charge of defending the rights of brazilian citizens, which presented the case in Jadwiga’s favor) statement and is taken from direct interview of the people involved: namely Jadwiga herself.
    If that document or the declarations which make it up are inconsistent with your version of the story, I apologize. I know these matters can be insulting, but this was not a lack of “checking the facts” or bad journalism. I would not presume to speak for this paper, but I myself am a diligent journalist, and am at peace with my inclusion of this part of the story, for I believe it gives some insight into the reason behind the legal battles.

    Pedro Widmar

  3. I’ll risk the following prediction. I bet that there’s a better than 50% chance that MIS will never be built on that property. It will “somehow” be transformed into a hotel and the justification will be lack of funds and need for hotel space for the Olympics.

    Watch that lot closely folks.

  4. Another white elephant on the way, I fear!!! It will come in massively over budget due to corrupt contracters etc. One only has to look at the 1 billion reais spent on the Cidade de Musica, which is still standing unfinished!!! Help, for all its drawbacks did draw tourists to Rio, in their thousands, I will bet the kitchen sink that a museum, of whatever, will come nowhere close.

  5. I think the worst thing is to be in Europe and someone asks you if Brazilian women are really very easy, mostly prostitutes and/or prostitutes alike. I doubt any other European nationality are asked the same type of question. I recognized that whoever asked me that did not know much about this country, nonetheless I think Help did not contribute to Brazilian women image or pull the right type of tourist, it only paid a huge disfavour to most Brazilian women who do not choose to be in the sex trade, and honestly, that is most of us. The sex trade in Brazil was made legal to control AIDS, that’s all, not because we really condone it. This country is still in a mess due to many factors, but there are loads of people trying to do the right thing. I do not hear nobody appreciating that. Males in general are upset by Help’s closure, honestly get a grip! Brazilians never really appreciated to have a brothel right on one of our nicest spots! Go to the seedy places for them, because they are in those places for a reason, do not spoil our beaches. Or if you want more prostitutes go to Thailand, before the Thais change their mind about prostitution.
    I bet that in most places in Europe or in the US a similar move of putting a museum in a place of a brothel in a tourist hot spot would be highly appreciated, so why do you think we are so different that we would not feel the same? I’ve heard so many complaints about Brazilian prostitutes in Europe and in the US, because you do not like them there, although you like them here?! What do you think we really are?

  6. Whatever Club Help was, it’s glory will remain embedded in the eternal memory of the girls who worked there, and the men who came there from all over the world, and who needed a little help of their own. All good things come to an end and life moves on.

    On the one hand, it is sad that this landmark “instititution” of sorts, which formed part of the Copacabana landscape, will be lost forever.

    Having said that, and without waxing moralistic, prostitution has a criminal element to it being drug trafficking and women trafficking which cannot remain unabated and reconciled with modern society.

    Yes, it was fun for everyone concerned. The girls got to party and could easily take home in one night what the average unskilled Brazilian young girl would take six months to earn at minimum wage, and the men had access to girls who would not have given them time of day in their home towns in Europe and the USA, so it fulfilled a function at some basic survival level for the girls and human sexual level for the guys. It was a classic free market.

    The issues of whether these girls were exploited is neither here nor there, as, and let’s be honest, it was easy money for these girls in the sense of a society where, if you have no money, no education and no skills, what chance do you really have? So, this may sound sexist, but these girls milked the tourists for what they could get after having done the conscience/morality/safety/survival/financial reward calculation.

    I went there quite a few times in my youth, had a party of note. Would I go there again at age 38? I’d say probably not. You move on and so must the city, as well as these girls who work there and the guys who go there. Rio needs to move with the times and the Olympics represent an excellent opportunity for the city to attempt to make progress at all levels.

    Will the corruption come to an end? Will the museum become a white elephant? Who knows?

    However I do believe that the city mustn’t become precious about eliminating its decadence, and its free sexual spirit as the sensual is part of Rio’s eternal carnal appeal.

    In closing, I suggest the following:

    Have one last party there, a fall of Rome party. Invite the mayor, his cronies and other Government high flyers, and the hottest top-end working girls in the city. Funny thing is that these girls will probably recognise all these guys from before, but as long as it’s behind close doors, by invite only and the girls promise to keep their mouths shut(which they won’t), it will be a momentous and explosive ending to an era of Brazilian institutionalised decadence, corruption and good old fashioned fun.

    What’s life all about if there’s no fun in it!

    Viva a cidade maravilhosa!!!

    Um abrazo

    Barry Varkel

    Africa do Sul

  7. Lilly, the worst thing is not “to be in Europe and have people presume you’re a prostitute.” A MUCH worse thing is to be a prostitute and have to work for a pimp or on the streets where “good people” who are “ashamed” of Brazil’s reputation often throw full cans of beer at you from speeding cars.

    Help provided a clean, contained and safe environment where sex workers could meet clients, negotiate for services and go somewhere else. The management of the club did not take a percentage off the women who used the place and it was VERY safe. More importantly, women CONTROLLED what they did there, who they went with or even IF they would go with anyone.

    If you’re worried about prostitution and its effect on your good girl reputaion, I can give you a list of 300 brothels in Rio de Janeiro, many of which exploit their female workers.

    Why did the government choose to close Help? Property values. It has nothing at all to do with saving your precious reputation as a menina de família.

  8. By the way, Lilly, I think you are deeply prejudiced against prostitutes and I think that is a damned shame. Most of them are women just like yourself who do what they do to make money. That’s it. If you are ashamed about Europeans thinking you’re a prostitute, then I suggest that you support prostitutes’ right to be treated with dignity as citizens and human beings.

    By basically confirming that prostitutes are scum, you do nothing to help them or to remove the stigma which you feel is attached to you as a Brazilian woman. You are supporting the sexist double standard when you imply that there are “nice” and “normal” women like yourself and “bad” women who are prostitutes.

  9. Hi Lilly
    I do sympathies.
    My wife and I have travel extensively in Latin America. My wife is a 48 year old doctor. Who by the way happens to be a black woman. I am a white 54 year old engineer.

    We tend to divide our time between Europe and Brazil. Where do you think we have experienced the most insulting prejudicial behavior, even to the point of my wife being call a puta in public.
    Brazil has many social problems. Wasting money on improving the image of the places where the privileged Brazilians live (pin pricks on the map). Just increases the number of rural Brazilians moving to the favelas around these islands of wealth to try and fulfill their dream. As a result many women find themselves drawn into prostitution where they can earn a minimum salary in a few hours. There are plenty of pimps flying lazy circles to help these girls into this sad life.

    Money should be invested in local government audit and policing throughout Brazil. The local government systems all over Brazil are intentionally disorganized. This makes it much easier for local officials to steal money that was meant to be used for education, health care and infrastructure maintenance. Bottom line is all the time you have state school teachers all over Brazil earning a minimal salary. This tells you the rich puppeteers have no interest in changing anything that doesn’t put money in thier pockets and it is most definitely is not in their interest to have the general population better educated. Educated people are more difficult to exploit.

  10. “Yes, it was fun for everyone concerned. The girls got to party and could easily take home in one night what the average unskilled Brazilian young girl would take six months to earn at minimum wage,”

    haha they must have loved you if you think they could easily get 2000-300 $R :)

  11. God forbid Brazil or any other country should allow people to travel there for pleasure and sexual fun. Oh no, we need misery and oppression.

  12. ‘Oh no, we need misery and oppression.’???????
    It;s the misery and oppression that gives people with money the abundance of prostitution. You care-free pleasure seekers with your rubbish superficial mentality about sex can use others for fun because you have MORE MONEY than them. IT’s just exploitation, fun for you, but slavery for some of your toys. Try laying a woman with more money than you!!! Try getting a high-status woman into bed because she likes/admires/fancies you, not because you have $30 or $300 to have YOUR fun. I guess you are fine with your mother/sisters making her living taking losers, wankers and perverts off the street to bed for money.

  13. I sense tremendous hatred directed against straight white men in some of these comments. No one dares to criticize the gay scene in Rio, white women going to Jamaica to have fun with buffed black boys half their age or the lesbian couples and cross dressers who roam Bangkok’s girlie bars. You would be instantly labeled a homophobe or sexist pig if you dared to blame those groups, but straight white guys are easy game.

    These guys now live shorter life spans, are less educated and cultured then women and are almost guaranteed to loose their wealth and their children in a divorce. As a result, some of them have found a way to beat the system by going off-shore to get a life. So what?

    The claim that tourists are causing poverty in Brazil or elsewhere is absurd. Tourists only bring wealth, NOT poverty. Spending millions of tax payers’ money to force the scene a few blocks further down the strip is wasteful. Nobody goes to Rio to visit film museums. Some go to enjoy cheap sex, some to exploit cheap hotel and service prices, some to watch naked women dance at the carnival. If Brazil wants to become a first world country, they should start by tackling crime. It is not tourists who stab and shoot people by the dozen every day.

  14. momo giraf says
    Jake says

    Both have valid points. Their are always going to be victims on both sides.

    The male sex tourists that frequent Rio (Europeans and North Americans), 50-60 percent of them are not particularly old or ugly. Most will have a good chance of finding sexual partners within their own peer pressure group. The fact is men want sexual closure, IT IS THE WAY THEY ARE MADE. Women know this and a high percentage dress to enhance the effect they have on men. In London to take a lady out for the evening without being extravagant will cost the man about 200 pounds(approximately 600 reais). It will always be hit and miss whether or not the evening will end in sexual closure. For the same 600 reais he is guaranteed sex 3 times with 3 different beautiful Rio prostitutes. Granted for most not as gratifying as the real thing (the sad men are the ones that believe it is the real thing (sadder! the ones who don’t care)). For many of the men who have no problems attracting women, they are not paying for sex, they are paying for the privilege too leave with no strings attached. Also without a doubt the most abusive (and less generous) clients for the prostitutes will be from there own culture.

    The down side.
    If it is two consenting adults agreeing on an arrangement without cohersion OF ANY KIND, then fair play.
    The problem is for many (not all) of the prostitutes they are trapped in this life due to poverty. So the idea of two consenting adults without cohersion has just gone out the window. As they are being exploited either by their own families or possibly a pimp.
    As I have written in previous posts.
    While the police are receiving money from the brothel pimps to turn a blind eye. There is no system in place to protect the more vulnerable, as the police are then are more likely to turn a blind eye to every layer of prostitution. The budget prostitutes who are not blessed with the physical attributes of the higher end prostitutes. These women are far more at risk from disease and physical abuse. The precedent is being set higher up the food chain

    As said before. This is not the real problem:
    Travel anywhere in small town Brazil one thing you will find no shortage of is pregnant adolescent girls (no tourism here). The systems of local government throughout Brazil are intentionally disorganized. This makes it easier for local officials to steal money intended for education, health care and infrastructure maintenance. Until the Brazilian central government instigate disciplined audit procedures through out local government Brazil. The education and pride of the Brazilian people will not improve. Spending money on cleaning up the image of tiny areas where the privileged Brazilians live will not help the rout cause (just helps the privileged Brazilians sleep better at night). It makes it worse, as more people will travel to these rich areas to try and fulfill their dreams. Many of these people will be young girls who will find out very quickly that there poor rural education leaves them with limited options. Rich Brazilians are the worst at paying there domestic staff and are lousy tippers. So the choice of these girls is earn a minimal salary in a crap job, or if they have the physical attributes, they can earn a month salary in a few hours by prostituting themselves. Their are many pimps (male and female) flying lazy circles looking for fresh meat. The pimps now have the advantage and steer these girls along this new career path.

  15. Jake: ‘I sense tremendous hatred directed against straight white men in some of these comments’ – I don’t know where that is coming from. You ‘sense’ it? Right.

    ‘The claim that tourists are causing poverty in Brazil ‘??? Nobody is saying that prostitution causes poverty. It’s obviously a result of poverty, tho. And oppresion, since women are just seen as fair game and have no kind of protection. And the customers love and need that poverty cos it gives em all these desperate girls (and boys). That don’t bother you?

    Bill Smythe – thanks for a really excellent post!

  16. People have sex for so many reasons. Why shouldn’t money be one of them?
    Why are people so weird about it? Eeek a prostitute! At least the Romans gave them some respect… along with virgins. People should get over their scorn and fear of women who have sex professionally.

  17. Oh, and let me say… remember, men don’t pay women for sex, what they are paying for is for them to LEAVE. Just ask Charlie Sheen or any experienced woman. The people who are against prostitutes are hypocrites… preserving their petty illusions about human instincts. Prostitutes are usually much more honest than wives.

  18. @ Hazel Motes

    You are 100% percent correct. They are promoting politically correct fantasy, and a pure Marxist agenda.


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