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Patricia Ribeiro

From General Store to Bar: Armazém Sao Thiago, Rio

By February 24, 2013

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Armazém (a general store, a warehouse) is, to me, one of the most delicious words in the Portuguese language. For one, it's a linguistic gift come all the way from the Muslim presence in the medieval Iberian peninsula; according to Dicionario Aurélio, it derives from the Arabic term al-makhazan (same etymology of the French magasin and therefore magazine).

The word is also charged with the feel of small, family-owned neighborhood businesses, especially from a time predating supermarkets. When I was growing up in Andaraí, in Rio's Zona Norte, our mom shopped at one or another armazém de secos e molhados (dry and wet goods store) at least once a week.

Those shops had arched stone doorways, mosaic tile floors, marble countertops and dark wooden shelves. They smelled of the toucinho (salt pork), linguiça and salted codfish slabs hanging on hooks. At my favorite, the owner, a Portuguese immigrant, never failed to give us kids a plump, juicy green olive from a glass jar the size of my little brother.

When a bar or restaurant calls itself an armazém, I feel it had better live up to its name. In Rio, Armazém Sao Thiago (aka Bar do Gomez) doesn't use the term just for effect: once it was, in fact a grocery/general store, and the aura plus some very hearty foods are part of the reason why this Santa Teresa spot is so attractive.

In nearby Lapa, Armazém Senado (R. Gomes Freire 256, phone 55-21-2509-7201) also has transitioned well from its original purpose. And just as when it opened in 1907, it still sells some grain in bulk, though most customers these days would rather just linger for some cachaça or beer with appetizers such as tremoços (Lupin beans).

Look for similarly converted places as you travel in South America (with an even more Arabic sound to their almacén). Buenos Aires has a good example of a historical emporium turned into a gourmet/nightlife spot - El Almacén. That Argentine flair, by the way, has spread to this bistro in Williamsburg and made its way back to its origins in this tango place in Madrid.

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