Ara Vartanian’s perfect weekend in São Paulo

The former Nasdaq trader joined his family’s jewellery business as a gemstone buyer before turning to design, and is renowned for his edgy approach to artisanal high jewellery

Ara Vartanian next to the Ibirapuera Auditorium by Oscar Niemeyer, Ibirapuera Park
Ara Vartanian next to the Ibirapuera Auditorium by Oscar Niemeyer, Ibirapuera Park | Image: Tommaso Rada

On a perfect Saturday morning, I have crushed banana with seeds and honey for breakfast, then, just after 6am, I meet a friend; we drive out of town with our motorbikes on top of my car, then ride them for a couple of hours through the Romeiros countryside, around the winding waterways at the source of the Tietê. I really enjoy riding my ’68 Triumph and love the connection with nature.  

I head home, shower, then go with Sabrina and our children, Alec, Lily and baby Leona, to walk around the Oscar Niemeyer-designed pavilions in Ibirapuera Park – they love to skate there too – and the gardens by Burle Marx

Then, we go for lunch; I labour over which car to take – I collect vintage cars, and have eight of them – but usually decide on my Bronco ’67, which is like a little bus. My friend Alex Atala’s place, DOM, is a favourite: he prepares Brazilian dishes with his own special touch. I love being surprised by ingredients such as tucupi, a yellow sauce made from the Amazonian manioc root, and I always drink their take on caipirinha, made with jabuticaba – a sweet, blueberry-shaped native fruit. We sometimes go to a restaurant called Spot, which serves great cauliflower fritters and is a cool place to meet and bump into people; it is close to Avenida Paulista – there’s usually a long wait, but you can sip a drink outside and people-watch with a view of the fountain.

One of my passions is vintage vinyl – I have two great sound systems at home, one in the lounge, one in the garage – and after lunch, I like to check out the weekend record fairs and Locomotiva, one of my favourite music stores. I was born in Beirut but I came to Brazil aged one, and I consider myself a Paulistano; I like classic Brazilian music – bossa nova, jazz, anything by Elis Regina.

The city has a huge Japanese culture, especially in the Liberdade neighbourhood, which has lots of different Japanese stores, markets and restaurants. I love going for sushi at Shin Zushi, a traditional place with no music and the best fish; the chef gets annoyed if someone asks for salmon – he is very purist. 

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Sabrina and I might go to Bar Numero, which has some of the best mixologists in the city, for drinks. It was designed by the Brazilian architect Isay Weinfeld, known for his graphic, clean lines, and the food is great; they have the best coxinhas in town. 

If we haven’t had too much sake at dinner, we get up early on Sunday for the Feira do Bixiga antiques market, which is full of vintage furniture. I bought a great Norman Foster table a few years ago, and I also found one of Sergio Rodrigues’ Sheriff chairs there; it’s very comfortable. I really like 1970s Brazilian furniture; it is a little brutish but elegant at the same time.

After the market I head to my favourite galleries. I often visit the Luciana Brito Galeria, which is in a superb 1950s house designed by Rino Levi and has great works by the contemporary artist Tiago Tebet. The Fortes D’Aloia & Gabriel gallery also has a strong selection of Brazilian artists. Then I stroll along Avenida Paulista to the Lina Bo Bardi-designed MASP museum, which is a modern landmark. The Paulista area is closed to cars on Sundays, so it’s a good part of town to hang out – you can skateboard or ride your bike.

Sunday is pizza night in Brazil. We always go to Carlos – it’s a family spot, and the pizza is great; the dough is light and thin, and the toppings are generous. 

Back at home, I might head to the garage with some friends who are all into motorbikes. It is every man’s dream garage, with lots of car and motorcycle parts, tools and vintage decor, in the same style as my office and stores. We stay up late playing loud music or go out and ride until dawn.

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