Vast portions of Centro are deserted after dark. However, a nascent revitalization, coupled with the presence of some of the city’s most traditional happy hour bars, means that the area has some authentic watering holes that are worth checking out (as long as you take a taxi).
Salve Jorge (Praça Antônio Prado 17, Centro, tel. 11/3107-0123, www.barsalvejorge.com.br , 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Mon.–Fri., noon–7 p.m. Sat.), is the offspring of a favorite Vila Madalena bar and restaurant. Its recent arrival in the heart of São Paulo  has signaled the hopeful beginnings of Centro’s renewal. Upon entering, your eyes will definitely be drawn to the gorgeous crystal chandeliers and 4,000 bottles suspended from the sky-high ceiling. However, the bankers, lawyers, and stock traders (the Stock Exchange is across the street) who pour in after the work day is done are just thankful that they finally got a happy hour haven in their very own neighborhood.
Bar Léo (Rua Aurora 100, Centro, tel. 11/3221-0247, www.barleo.com.br , 11 a.m.–8:30 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 11 a.m.–6 p.m. Sat.) is a small, simple, and beloved old-style boteco that has been serving up the city’s iciest, frothiest, most delicious draft since the early ’60s (the bar itself dates back to 1940). You’ll be hard pressed to find sitting space during weekday happy hours and Saturday afternoons. However, the beer, bonhomie, and home cooking are worth standing for. Aside from daily lunch specials, tasty petiscos include bolinhos de bacalhau (salted cod balls) and a mean roast beef sandwich, known as the sanduíche polaco.
Part of the fame of Bar Brahma’s (Av. São João 677, Centro, tel. 11/3333-0855, www.barbrahmasp.com , 11:30 a.m.–1 a.m. Mon.–Wed., 11:30 a.m.–2 a.m. Thurs.–Fri., 11:30 a.m.–3 a.m. Sat., 11:30 a.m.–midnight Sun., cover R$5–45) is due to its location at the corner of São João and Ipiranga avenues. This famous crossroads—a symbol of Paulistano glamor days—was eternalized by singer/composer Caetano Veloso in his paean “Sampa.” Although the handsomely restored bar (which opened in 1948 and then was closed for most of the ’90s) has lost some of its former bohemian cachet, it continues to be a classic address that you should visit at least once. Old-guard singers perform standards from yesteryear, and the draft beer (Brahma, of course) is always perfectly chilled.
The Estadão (Viaduto 9 de Julho 193, Centro, tel. 11/3257-7121, www.estadaolanches.com.br , open 24 hours daily) earned its name from the fact that São Paulo ’s first ever 24-hour bar and luncheonette was conveniently located next to the offices of the Estado de São Paulo newspaper. When it first opened in the 1960s, it was a favorite haunt of journalists. They still frequent the place all night long, as do taxi drivers, politicians, office boys, rockers, and revelers of all stripes. Little has changed about the white-tiled, fruit-festooned bar since then—including customers’ predilection for its famously gargantuan pernil (pork) sandwich, a Sampa classic. The beer is always icy, but fresh fruit juice can be whipped up at a moment’s notice.