Gray. Serious. Complicated. Enormous. A jumbled mix of thousands of mismatched buildings with jigsaw-style rooftops, all sitting at different levels both in height and décor. People walking on the main streets of Sao Paulo tend to be dressed down, covered up, almost aloof, and the vibe has you questioning yourself over and over again whether you're actually in Brazil. I've traveled to this megalopolis countless times and though I still haven't warmed to it, I've finally discovered how to enjoy it. Sao Paulo defies everything you've learned or thought about the famed carefree, colorful, sexy vibrancy of Brazilian life. That is, until you step inside.
The word inside means quite a bit in Sao Paulo and it's the difference between having an over-the-top strikingly fabulous stay, or a bland, perfunctory visit with the obligatory stops and subpar meals. Sao Paulo is deceptive. Buildings from the outside that house the most glamorous, chic venues or residences are often moderate if not run-down outside. Some might say this is for security; to me it's clever marketing as there's nothing more intriguing than gaining access to something mysterious, and getting to the root of Sao Paulo's sultry side takes a leap of faith.
A step into the impossibly enormous doorway of what otherwise appears to be a drab office-style building with a short drive-up that is the Tivoli Sao Paulo Mofarrej is to be swallowed up by breathy pulses of sound, stark eclectic design elements, and hidden corners where drinks and conversation last for hours.
A seemingly wrong turn down darkened, uninviting networks of complicated streets, paired with a stroll behind a softly lit boutique turns into an arrival at the doorstep of hidden local favorite Back Gastrobar for incredibly indulgent dishes and fabulous jazz.
A marvel of a gaze outside at the semi-circular Hotel Unique whose plain exterior, save for the shape, will have you stupendously surprised at the stark modern interior design and literally endless views at the Rooftop SKYE bar complemented by pulsating beats and smiling, beautiful people day or night. And a saunter through the Liberdade district will have your head spinning with the overwhelming array of Japanese emporiums and restaurants due to the city's robust Asian population which, for many first-time visitors, is also quite a surprise.
I've never been one for clichés, but Sao Paulo is a book that absolutely should not be judged by its cover.