In Sao Paulo, on life’s front seat

by Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Concierge Sérgio Bezerra de Menezes hails from Hotel Unique, a member of the Legend Collection from Preferred Hotels & Resorts, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, which was voted by Condé Nast Traveller as “The Best Hotel in South America” in 2016. Sérgio is a Les Clefs D’Or International member who has been working as a Concierge for the past 20 years. He loves “the adrenalin of the unknown; of not knowing what will come my way each day, because when you’re dealing with people and desires, you don’t have a routine; you never know what to expect. That makes the job much more exciting. And on a totally different level, you keep updated with the trends in restaurants, bars, nightclubs; with people’s wishes and all that is very refreshing, being in touch with people and with what’s going on in the city and in the world. It puts you on LIFE’s front seat.” Let’s go to Brazil, shall we?

Sérgio Bezerra de Menezes.

Favourite locale when enjoying a day off

Personally? Cinemas, restaurants, museums, theatre, but it all depends on what’s going on in town that demands special attention from the city’s Concierges. For instance, at the moment, we are having a great exhibition on Alfred Hitchcock at our Museum of the Moving Image, and this year’s Art Biennale – our 33rd edition – will take place from September 7 to December 9, 2018 so, during that time, I will keep myself well informed about that important art show. But also, in October, as usual, São Paulo will host its 42nd International Film Festival, and following that, the Grand Prix Formula 1, so my focus keeps changing or mingling. The point is to keep myself updated, but my personal passion is cinema.

Where he takes his own guests when they visit

Personal friends? It depends on what they wish to see in town. Some will ask me about art exhibitions; others, opera, nightclubbing, as São Paulo is famous for its night life, alongside gastronomy; some will want to see graffiti street art and some will ask me about the Botanical Garden.

It’s a rainy day but we want to explore, what we should do

If people need to get some shopping done, that will be the perfect day for a mall, with shopping, a good restaurant, a movie or even a musical in a theatre at the mall. That will keep visitors dry and healthy!

His recommendations for night-time entertainment

It depends on the kind of guests we have. There are theatres; 24-hour restaurants; shows with dinner; theme bars; gay nightlife; and rooftop terrace bar/restaurant/nightclubs are now very much the trend. The essential for a Concierge is to LISTEN to the guests; to suggest something that will make them happy, so we have to strip ourselves of our egos and be at the guest’s service. So even if I don’t like Brazilian country music, I will suggest some of those venues, if that’s what our guests like.

Key phrases should visitors learn

“Fala inglês”, which is a short version for “Do you speak English?”. Other than that, “obrigado / obrigada” (men will say obrigado; women will say obrigada), which is “Thank you”, and “Por favor”, which is “please”.

The best shopping

If visitors want a mall, definitely JK Iguatemi. If not a mall, a good, reliable place for quality souvenirs, such as Galeria Arte Brasileira.

Souvenirs we should buy

There’s a great array of choices; handcrafts or not, and it depends on how small they have to be, but I’d be careful with two choices: Those glass bottles with coloured sand, composing a “round the bottle image” inside the transparent bottle, and Brazilian art. The bottles are great gifts, but they if they get taken for inspection at customs, back in the guest’s country, custom officials will open the bottles to investigate their contents and this will destroy the lovely work with the coloured sand. The second big no no: Brazilian works of art. They need authorization from the Artists’ Syndicate, otherwise they may get confiscated at the Brazilian airport at departure. If a guest wants to buy Brazilian art, they have to make sure they do it through a good art dealer, whose gallery will handle those impediments first.

A child-friendly thing to do or place to go

The Catavento Museum, great for kids from seven years of age: KidsMania (an interactive game); the São Paulo Aquarium; Pet Zoo; theatre plays for kids; gastronomy workshops especially designed for children; and Museum of the Imagination. I’ve been seeing more and more kids in art exhibitions not particularly meant for children and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by their response.

His best kept secret or favourite hidden treasure

Outside the fancy guests/fancy restaurants radar? A simple, shabby, but delicious Spanish/Peruvian restaurant – Don Mariano – which serves a superb rice with octopus, and a popular bar – Vaca Véia – that serves the best and truly charcoal, barbecued top sirloin cap, “picanha” in Portuguese, and you’ll never forget it, unless you’re a vegetarian or vegan. Both places are not “touristy”, though most people who go there are not even aware of those special tips.

The best way to get to the airport

Taxi, hotel executive car and Uber. There is a train line running less than a year, but we don’t recommend it.

The best time of the year to visit

It depends on what people want to do in Brazil, as Carnaval do Brasil is in February or March. If people want beaches, I’d suggest November, because it’s off high season (that is, between 15 December to 15 March), therefore not expensive or too crowded. Besides, in the northeastern beaches, it won’t have rained for two months, so the water will be very clear for diving enthusiasts.

Anything else we should know when visiting

Yes, most importantly, about the country’s geography, so you can make realistic plans when travelling from one place to the other, as distances are great in this vast country. People are extremely friendly and welcoming, and they will do their utmost to communicate with a non-Portuguese speaking foreigner, but also be careful not to wear huge cameras around the neck, or to walk on the streets texting on smartphones. Downtown (the old part of town), it is better and safer with tour guides. Apart from that, São Paulo is one of the world’s great food cities and one of the top three cities in the world for graffiti street art, alongside New York and Berlin, as well as the nightlife capital in Brazil so, despite not being a great beauty like Rio, it’s here where you get the best restaurants and nightlife.

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