Although Rio ’s more exhibitionistic/hedonistic gay scene is more legendary, Sampa ’s gay offerings are much more diverse and eclectic, and often more underground. In Centro , the area between Praça da República and Largo do Arouche shows few signs of gayness during the day, aside from a smattering of funky clothing boutiques catering specifically to gay boys who want to make an indelible impression.
After dark, however, the area attracts a fantastically mixed (but definitely not fashionable nor yuppie) gay crowd of all ages as well as trannies and hookers. Most bars are on the once-elegant Avenida Vieira de Carvalho. The scene is kind of seedy, but very vibrant. Gringos are actually better off going in the company of a Brazilian pal or two.
In terms of clubs, Cantho (Largo do Arouche 32, Centro, tel. 11/3362-1295, www.cantho.com.br , 11 p.m.–5 a.m. Wed. and Fri.–Sat., 9 p.m.–5 a.m. Sun., R$15–20) reels in a 35-and-over clientele with ’70s and ’80s tunes, glittery globes, and lots of Cher and Madonna videos as well as strategically placed sofas in dark corners.
Just off Avenida Paulista  — in the Consolação district — the bars and clubs on Rua Augusta and Rua Frei Caneca (nicknamed Rua Gay Caneca) attract a younger, more alternative GLS (gay, lesbica, e simpatisante; i.e., gay-friendly) public. Although very eclectic, A Lôca  attracts a big gay and lesbian crowd, especially on Sundays, as does the Vegas Club  in Consolação.
On the other side of a Paulista, Jardins  is the playground of upwardly mobile and fashionable gays and lesbians, who frequent sophisticated cafés, bistros, and bars such as the Ritz . More geared to males is Director’s Gourmet (Alameda Franca 1552, Cerqueira César, tel. 11/3064-7958, 10 p.m.–3 a.m. Tues.–Sat., 9 p.m.–3 a.m. Sun.), a small and dusky bar that pays homage to the seventh art with a director’s chair suspended from the ceiling, classic movie posters plastering the walls, and a menu of gourmet sandwiches named after famous directors. Entertainment is provided by DJs spinning seductive mixes of pop, electric, and house music.
One of Vila Madalena ’s few GLS bars, Farol Madalena (Rua Jericó 179, Vila Madalena, tel. 11/3032-6470, www.farolmadalena.com.br , 7 p.m.–1 a.m. Tues.–Sat., 5 p.m.–midnight Sun., cover R$5–7) is a buzzing lesbian hot spot where girls let off steam while listening to live MPB and rock. The innovative bar menu includes petiscos such as sautéed shimeji mushrooms and chicken wings with banana sauce.
Meanwhile the biggest and trendiest club (gay or otherwise) in town is The Week (Rua Guaicurus 324, Lapa, tel. 11/3872-9966, www.theweek.com.br , 10 p.m.–close Fri.–Sat., R$30–40). Within its impressive 6,000 square meters (65,000 square feet) are two dance floors, three lounges, six bars, and a deck with a swimming pool. Saturday nights’ “Babylon” parties are legendary. Homegrown and international DJs spin electronic and techno tunes with such verve that the public often ends up quite literally baring their chests.
Several gay and lesbian happenings have become major city events. For two weeks every November, hundreds of short and long features from all over the world — all dealing with themes of sexual diversity — invade various cinemas and cultural centers during the Mix Brasil Festival (www.mixbrasil.com.br ). And in July, São Paulo  hosts one of the planet’s biggest and most festive gay pride parades. The Parada de Orgulho GLBT (www.paradasp.org.br ) offers millions of people an excuse to take to Avenida Paulista , which is flooded with trio elétricos blasting party music.
For an in-depth guide to gay Sampa (in Portuguese), pick up Guia GLS São Paulo by Sérgio Ripardi (Publifolha, 2007), a talented and openly gay journalist who writes for the city’s main newspaper, Folha de São Paulo.