Shaking Things Up

A São Paulo Bartender Spices Up Cocktails With Influences From His Native Bahia
Laércio de Souza Silva, who goes by the nickname Zulu, uses flavors from his native Bahia in his cocktails.
Laércio de Souza Silva
Mixologist, Raiz Bar, Anexo 474; Creator, Zulu Bitters

Growing up on a farm in Tapirama, a small village in the state of Bahia, Laércio de Souza Silva, who goes by the nickname, Zulu, would help his father create homemade medications to help sick livestock get well. "My parents used modern medicines, of course, but I also learned about infusions."

With shells, roots, leaves, fruits, and flowers, Laércio would help create cures for simple ailments. He recalls using a jurubeba leaf tea and green Balsam tree bark infused in cold water to solve liver and digestive problems. As he got older, he came to apply the knowledge he had grown up with in creating his exotic cocktails, infused the flavors of Bahia.

By using only local ingredients in Zulu Bitters, the creator says he shows off the best of Brazil.
Bahia Heart & Soul
In Creating His Own Brand Of Bitters, Zulu's Drinks Reflect His Heritage

You'll find him behind the bar at Raiz in the eclectic Pinheiros district, and at Anexo 474, in Itaim Bibi, one of the most stylish neighborhoods in the city. For the past eight years, he's been perfecting Zulu Bitters, which he makes by hand, on the side. "I mixed everything together that aligned with my culture, and was an expression of my family tree of flavors. That's when Zulu Bitters was born."

The product's branding comes from his own nickname, Zulu, which he adopted when he was in high school. "I was researching the Zulu king, Shaka, and I fell in love with the story. Now, anyone in São Paulo who knows me knows me as Zulu."

Some of the bitters he creates are barrel-aged, imparting a spicy, woody flavor to the botanicals.
Free To Create

"I am motivated by my freedom to create as a bartender," says Zulu, who has a passion for reinventing classic Brazilian cocktails with his own point of view. In his take on the Piladinho, a muddled cocktail popular in Bahia during carnival, he grinds coffee beans by hand to release their aromatic oils, then infuses the oil into Tangueray gin. He then mixes in his own bitters, and honey from the Abaetetuba region, produced by an indigenous tribe in the Amazon. Finally, to capture the flavor of the forest, he uses the shells of the Amazonian cupuaçu fruit, similar to cocoa, as the shaker.

"What I try to show in my work is something different than the kitschy perception of Brazil. We don't wear hats with fruit on our heads like Carmen Miranda. My goal is to leave that behind, and put forth the beauty of authentic Brazilian flavors."

Zulu learned about infusions while growing up in Tapirama, a small village in Bahia.
Learning His Craft

"I came to São Paulo because there isn't much of a cocktail culture in Bahia, and I wanted to become a mixologist," says Zulu, and there was no better teacher than the city itself. "For me, São Paulo has become the 'school of life.' "

In 2010, he created Zulu Bitters, and four years later, he was awarded Best Bartender In Latin America by Diageo Reserve World Class, an international mixology competition.

Zulu’s bitters, and his cocktailing style have a distinctive Bahian spirit. "Our way of being is something special," he explains. "We're known as the 'little piece of Africa' in Brazil. We look at life with a smile and a sunny disposition. That's the way I am behind the bar, and how I approach mixology."

Local Recommendations

Explore São Paulo with Laércio de Souza Silva

Growing up in a small village almost a 24-hour drive from São Paulo, Laércio de Souza Silva, better known as Zulu, decided he'd have to move to Brazil's largest city to make his way as a mixologist. Here, he offers his curated guide to exploring the metropolis like a true Paulistano.

Bars & Nightlife

Where The Mixologists Go

A star among Brazilian mixologists, Marcio Silva, opened his bar, Guilhotina (84 Rua Costa Carvalh; +55 21-97545-4896) in Pinheiros in 2016, and is recognized as serving some of the best cocktails in the city. Two of the most popular? Vitriol: a combination of house-made hibiscus syrup and raspberry cordial blended with bourbon; and Classy As F**k, a heady mixture of gin and whiskey, flavored with chai masala spices. The quaint Boca de Ouro (1121 Rua Cônego Eugênio Leite; +55-11-4371-3933) is known for expertly prepared classic cocktails. If you’re feeling adventurous, Zulu recommends the Macunaima, a mix of Brazilian cachaça and Fernet-Branca, an amaro popular among bartenders the world over.

The speakeasy style Drosophyla (163 Rua Nestor Pestana; +55-11-3120-5535) is one of the city’s hippest hangouts. “With the low lighting, artworks, and classic furniture, amid intoxicating aromas of incense, it’s like being inside your own cozy townhouse," says Zulu. And the basil caipirinha is to die for.

Walking into Drosophyla feels like coming home to your own cozy townhouse.

Where To Eat

Restaurants Serving Up Brazil's Regional Dishes

"This is where I go for a meal when I’m feeling homesick,” says Zulu, referring to Consulado da Bahia (534 Rua dos Pinheiros; +55-11-3085-3873), known for its traditional dishes like moqueca, a coconut milk seafood stew, acaraje, black-eyed pea fritters, and carne seca, salt-cured beef, as well as its colorful, carnival-inspired interior. For beautifully plated, and equally soulful cooking, head to Ivo Lopes’s Avenida Café Bistro (52 Rua Ibipetuba; +55-11-2373-7213) for dishes of razor thin octopus carpaccio, peach palm pasta dotted with salmon roe, and any one of the decadent house-made desserts.

Zulu was a fan of Rodrigo Oliveira's eatery Mocotó (1100 Avenida Nossa Sra do Loreto; +55-11-2951-3056) long before it was named one of the best by Latin America's 50 Best Restaurant's Academy. Mocotó was the first restaurant where Zulu found the flavors of home in Sao Paulo. Don’t miss the torresminhos, crispy pork rinds, and the famous dadinhos de tapioca, small golden tapioca cheese cubes. Delicious.

Crispy, chewy dadinhos at Mocotó.

Music & Dance

Feel The Rhythm Of São Paulo

Get a taste of contemporary Afro-Brazilian life at Jongo Reverendo (170 Rua Inácio Pereira da Rocha; +55-11-94021-5991) in the bohemian neighborhood Vila Madalena, a gathering spot for the best of Brazilian music and art under one roof with a small menu of appetizers and brandy drinks. There are African dance classes, and on weekends, you may see Zulu taking part in a percussion jam.

Zulu is also a student of capoeira, a dance-like martial art brought to Brazil by slaves from west Africa. Zulu thinks of the Associação de Capoeira Casa Grande e Senzala (1.207 Rua dos Pinheiros; +55-11-99282-4377) as his second home. Sign up for a class when you’re in town, or, if you'd prefer, join the capoeira circle and watch as two opponents partake in an elegant form of combat that looks more like a choreographed dance.

The iconic Centro de Lazer Fabrica de Pompéia (Pompéia Factory Leisure Center), now known simply as SESC Pompéia (92 Rua Clélia; +55-11 3871-7700), was re-imagined by Italian architects Lina Bo and P.M. Bardi in 1982. The 1920s steel drum factory, then later a refrigerator factory, became a community center intended to have something for everyone. The striking, architectural complex now contains theaters for plays and films, galleries, and gymnasiums.

Inside Sesc Pompeia. Photo courtesy of Marco Antonio.

Neighborhood Guide

Explore São Paulo’s Diverse Enclaves

Zulu is drawn to the up-and-coming neighborhoods of São Paulo. Laid back Vila Madalena is quirky, with an over-arching bohemian vibe, making it a mecca for specialty coffee shops. One of the most interesting is Coffee Lab (1340 Rua Fradique Coutinho; +55-11-3375-7400), where owner Isabela Raposeira sets out to give her guests an education in java. Sign up for a barista course, where you'll take part in a sensorial ritual of taste comparisons, and learn how to make espressos and other coffee drinks properly. In Pinheiros, sample local flavors, everything from coffee to fresh produce, at Municipal Market (306 Rua da Cantareira; +55-11-3313-3365), referred to as Mercadão by the regulars. "It is very reflective of São Paulo itself; the products on sale are from all over the world. Step into the market, and you will see people enjoying the environment, and taking in the smell of the fruit and spices. It is an excellent place to experience."

To unwind, Zulu heads to Karaoke Box Kampai (638 Avenida da Liberdade; +55-11-3277-1766), where he meets friends for impromptu singing sessions. It's his chance, too, to spend some time in the Liberdade neighborhood, home to the city's Little Tokyo. Enter the neighborhood through the red-porticoed archway, and check out the shops on Avenida Liberdade selling specialty items imported directly from Japan.

Coffee Lab is more than just your average café. Photo courtesy of Renato Parada.