São Luís  is a pretty quiet city. Although there are some options across the bridge in the beach bairros of Ponte d’Areia and Calhau, the most lively and interesting nightlife takes place in Praia Grande ’s bars, specifically in the streets surrounding the Casa das Tulhas. Between Thursday and Saturday, live music draws large crowds.
A favorite spot to check out the action is O Armazém da Estrela (Rua da Estrela 401, tel. 98/3254-1274, Praia Grande, 11 a.m.–midnight Mon.–Sat.). Apart from serving good food and cocktails, this restaurant/bar has an attractive gallery/café where you can check your email and purchase CDs by local musicians.
Somewhat more bustling, Antigamente (Rua da Estrela 220, Praia Grande, tel. 98/3232-3964, 10 a.m.–3 a.m. Mon.–Sat.) lures crowds with live MPB performances while the more funky and alternative Chez Moi (Rua do Giz 17, Praia Grande, tel. 98/3221-5877, 8 p.m.–close) features different types of music every night of the week. The bars on Beco Caterina Mina are quite picturesque and fill up during happy hour.
In Centro , Ambulatório Santos (Rua Humberto Campos 205, tel. 98/3232-7521) is a pharmacy that offers cures for all ailments. Aside from giving vaccines, the friendly owner, Seu Tonico, prescribes homemade liqueurs infused with medicinal fruits and herbs. One of the most popular brews is Bom Que Doi (“So Good It Hurts”), a brew of cachaça, lime, honey, cinnamon, anise, and cloves that leaves imbibers feeling alegre. As a side note, Seu Tonico is father of homegrown talent, Zeca Baleiro, one of Brazil ’s most prolific and interesting contemporary musicians.
São Luís  is associated with two very distinctive types of music with strong African roots: tambor de crioula and reggae.
Tambor de crioula is a traditional form of dance and music that dates back to the early colonial days of slavery. While men pound out frenzied rhythms of long drums (played horizontally), women dance in a circle, dressed in bright, billowing hoop skirts and lace blouses. Associated with the cult of São Benedito (a black saint), tambor de crioula groups perform during Carnaval as well in the streets of Praia Grande.
Few foreigners are aware that São Luís is South America’s reggae capital. Back in the ’70s, the city’s proximity to Jamaica allowed tunes by Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and others to be picked up by shortwave radio, which were then adapted into Portuguese. In São Luís, reggae—live or played by DJs—is blasted through a massive wall of multiple speakers known as radiolas. Dancing is done in a romantic cheek-to-cheek style.
The most authentic reggae festas are held in the poor suburbs, but a few take place in Praia Grande  and the beach areas, which are safer for gringos. Festas usually occur between Thursday and Saturday, beginning at around 8 p.m. In Praia Grande, try Bar do Porto (Rua Trapiche 49, tel. 98/3232-6418) and Roots Bar (Rua da Palma 85, tel. 98/3221-7580). Bar do Nelson (Av. Litorânea 135, Calhau, 9 p.m.–close Fri.–Sat.) is a classic bar with a cult following.