The London 2012 Olympics saw an influx of well-heeled socialites arriving in the capital looking for a place to party. It’s not just Usain Bolt and Jessica Ennis-Hill who soak up the Olympic limelight: the greatest show on earth is an excuse to see and be seen, to flash the cash and ogle the beautiful people. And this year’s Games in Rio – famed for its itsy-bitsy bikinis and laid-back style – promises to turn things up to eleven.
British events organiser Nigel Peters (whose budget-busting clients include Prada, Gucci and the Elton John AIDS Foundation), however, felt the city’s hospitality offering just wasn’t exciting enough, so decided to set up a Soho House-style pop-up venue especially for this year’s event.
It’s a retreat from the hustle and bustle of the scorching city, a place to entertain clients and drink the best G&Ts in Brazil. After checking out a few options, he picked a stunning white mansion in the hilltops of Santa Teresa, the cool and colourful Rio suburb where Ronnie Biggs drank his beer, Mick Jagger threw wild parties and Amy Winehouse once stayed for some much-needed R&R.
The Lodge, as the venue is now known, is pricey but dreamy. You can recline on gorgeous locally-sourced furniture while watching Jessica Ennis-Hill on the big screen, admire beautifully bespoke Rio art over afternoon tea or just sit by the pool and enjoy the sun setting over the Sugarloaf Mountain. It’s all very chic and Great Gatsby-ish. But Peters admitted doing business in Brazil was an eye-opener.
“Deals are done over Whatsapp and there’s no sense of urgency. It’s the Carioca way,” he told me. “Carioca” is the local word used to refer to anything intrinsically “Rio”, be it the laissez-faire approach to getting anything done or the omniscient tapioca pancakes on every menu (they’re as underwhelming as they sound, don’t bother).
If you’re planning on making the journey in three weeks, you might just need a dose of the Lodge: when I was there last month, things were a little... hectic.
“Confuso!” gesticulated my taxi driver, taking both hands off the steering wheel. “No placas, confuso!” Even without knowing Portuguese I could work out the lack of road signs around the new Olympic Park meant we were both lost. It was 50 days before the opening ceremony and, quite frankly, it looked like they would they need at least 500. Rio was one day away from declaring a state of financial emergency and while the swimming pool and handball arena were ready (phew, at least there’d be handball!), train lines and spectator stands were still being built across the city, the athletes’ village wasn’t finished and nobody seemed in any sort of hurry.
As a fun added extra, the organisers also had the International Tennis Federation complaining in their ear that the tennis courts needed to be repainted, this time in a better shade of green (you need to be looking your best when Roger Federer is en route, I suppose). I remembered Stratford appearing much slicker by this point.
“It’s fine, we throw street parties for a million people all the time” breezed my local tour guide, Marco. “We can put on the Games tomorrow if you want”. My inner Londoner was twitching to tie my hair back and at least help them string up some bunting.
While the Lodge offers a sexy serving of the Carioca vibe, rest assured the service and attention to detail are quintessentially British.
While only a select few will have the chance to experience the Lodge, Santa Teresa is a treat for every visitor. Away from the posers prancing around in their new Havaianas flip flops on Ipanema Beach (yes, I’m talking about myself on the last day, don’t judge me), the ‘village at the heart of the city’ is a leafier, quieter neighbourhood, defined by a bright yellow tram that darts up and down the steep cobbled streets.
Beautiful, bold graffiti zinged from the walls, while tiny macaque monkeys swung from the electricity pylons. An ‘I heart Santa Teresa’ mural appeared on the wall opposite my hotel in the space of 24 hours and there were countless cute bars and restaurants where you could enjoy a Caipirinha or three.
Side note: I did discover a local obsession with sugar, and after being given five sachets of the sweet stuff to accompany a small glass of passion fruit juice I did briefly consider texting Jamie Oliver.
Guests can hire the Lodge for a full day, book a dinner table for six or anything in between. While the experience will be exquisite, there are plentiful wonders to behold down the street in Santa Teresa when it ends. Fingers crossed it all comes together in time – no doubt even the laid-back Brazilians will panic eventually and get it all done. And if not, well, just enjoy a G&T at the Lodge instead.