In Search of Value: The Maze, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
BACKSTORY: The Maze is a bed & breakfast with one of the most astounding views in Rio, a panorama that includes Sugarloaf and the islands of Guanabara Bay. But it’s also in one of the city’s most astounding neighborhoods; Tavares Bastos, a favela. The favelas of Rio, ramshackle squatter quarters on muddy hillsides, are best known for poverty and violence. The buildings themselves are a madcap assemblage of brick, cement, metal and wood, imaginatively fashioned into homes. But a glimpse into the life of a favela is pretty revealing. There are shops and bars and cafes to serve the residents, many of whom are serving you when you stay in a hotel in Copacabana or Ipanema. The maids, the taxi drivers and the waiters you encounter may well be living in one of the favelas above Rio. While visiting a favela on your own is deemed taboo for good reason, a night spent in one will open your eyes. The Maze is the self-built creation of Bob Nadkarni, a former BBC cameraman and documentary maker who’s been in Rio since 1979. He discovered this favela when he drove his maid home one day in the early 1980’s and was knocked out by the view. As for safety, Nadkarni was instrumental in getting BOPE, the much feared Rio anti-drug SWAT team, to set up a headquarters here. It’s been (relatively) quiet ever since.
THE ROOMS: The Maze is well-named. The actual bedrooms, 11 at last count, are on what appear to be the third and fourth floors, and best described as hostel chic: a double bed, towels, private bath. They’re quite clean. There are mosaics of broken tile, narrow staircases, and a series of ongoing projects involving lots of cement. To say that The Maze is a work in progress is an exercise in understatement. The main floor is a series of large rooms festooned with Nadkarni’s own paintings. The first Friday of every month, he opens the place up as a jazz club. He plays the piano and sings ("Anything Ella Fitzgerald might sing, I might sing") but also attracts jazz bands, bossa nova groups and samba ensembles. Not to mention people. The last jazz night, in September, brought upwards of 250. The record night was 500 guests, who consumed 1,500 caiparinhas, the lethal Brazilian cocktail. Getting people out the door by sunrise is Nadkarni’s goal.
MORE REASONS TO STAY: You’ll never know who you’ll meet. Charlotte Rampling was a recent guest, and British directors such as Alan Parker, Adrian Lyne and Stephen Frears, former work colleagues of Nadkarni, have stayed as well. So did Sir George Martin, the Beatles producer, and the cast and crew of "Hulk 2, the Incredible Hulk," which was shot here.
INSIDER TIP: It’s a bit like the Mad Hatter’s tea party and the Chelsea Arts Club, with an international cast of characters and morning views that Nadkarni (below) describes as "Kurosawa sunrises."
THE DEAL: Through the end of November, rates are R$75 (about $41) for a double including breakfast. In high season, staring December 1, they rise to R$100 (about $55). Christmas, New Year’s and Carnival are more expensive.
YOUR NEIGHBORS: Primarily Europeans, a gaggle of writers, artists, filmmakers and architects, intrepid backpackers and anyone else who wants to get away from the usual tourist beat.
CAVEAT: Not for anyone expecting a conventional hotel. And it helps to like stairs.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION: The views are amazing. But getting to The Maze requires a little work. From the neighborhood of Catete, you have to take one of the gypsy Volkswagen Kombi (van) taxis for about an eight minute bone-rattling ride up cobblestone switchbacks. From where the taxi drops you off, it’s about a five minute walk down a twisting alleyway to The Maze. They’ll supply specific directions.
THE DETAILS: The Maze, Tavares Bastos, Catete, Rio de Janeiro; T. 0055 21 2558 5547; email: email@example.com; www.jazzrio.com