Those who've been exposed to any media related to Rio de Janeiro will probably bring to the table a slight misconception of flamboyant headdresses, taut, bare midriffs, and more debauchery than Sodom and Gomorrah. For four days in February (Carnival), this tends to be the case; if you miss out, not to worry, the other 361 days of the year also have plenty to offer a lover of a varied and culturally significant nightlife.
For those who just want a cold beer (or chopp, as the cariocas call it), there are plenty of bars throughout the city, particularly in the ever-popular neighborhoods of Leblon, Ipanema, and Copacabana. They'll usually have shacks on the boardwalks or a Devassa (a famous Brazilian beer brand) bar in every district, so grabbing a brew is never hard to pull off. Another Brazilian specialty is Caipirinha, which is made from the regionally made cachaca liquor (a rum made from sugarcane), which is available in uncountable establishments.
What you're drinking is important, but when you're in Rio, the atmosphere is paramount. Clubbing is big, and the "rave" environment is well-advertised, although in the aforementioned neighborhoods you'll find that most places will charge a pretty steep cover. For a cheaper alternative, check out the Botafogo or Barra da Tijuca (Zona Oeste), where a few staples like Casa de Matriz and Nuth can be found.
We've included live music last because of its unique and vibrant place in Rio's nightlife scene. The most popular Brazilian forms of live music are Samba (percussive dance music with horns and strings) and Forro (think rhythm and fun, accordion and triangle), although there are plenty of fusions and funky styles. Centro and Copacabana have a handful of venues, but you're best bet for dancing the night away is in strolling the Lapa neighborhood, which has gained quite a reputation for its street parties and live music clubs. There are some nightlife gems to be found the various favelas, but, without either traveling with a local that you trust or having been to a place before, we don't suggest heading out of the more comfortable zones of Zona Sul and Centro.
What are you waiting for? Rio de Janeiro has for decades been considered one of the wildest nightlife centers on Earth. It has not lost its flair. If you're not convinced, take a look through our related travel pictures and videos and put together an itinerary that will test that proclamation.