It was in this bar in the center of Rio de Janeiro that Vinicius de Moraes proposed the first partnership to Tom Jobim.
Vilarino, Vilariño, Villariño, Vilarinho. The name of this loveable bar has already been spelled in many ways. Although the current owner confirms that the “Villarino” sign behind the counter has been there since the bar was inaugurated in 1953. The chroniclers and regulars, friends and those who were there to witness the historic meeting all disagree. But it does not matter: in essence, the consensus is indisputable. Strategically located near the airport, on the corner of Avenida Calógeras and Presidente Wilson, Villarino was one of the favorite places for Rio’s artists, journalists, poets and intellectuals for a chat and a late-afternoon chopp (draft beer). Several early career artists have also shown up there, trying to make new friends. Some newsrooms, record companies, publishers, the Ministry of Education and Itamaraty (The Ministry of Foreign Affairs) were nearby the bar. At the Villarino entrance is a grocery store, selling fine foods and imported drinks. Further in, one arrives to a space with a few tables, where whiskey is the most requested drink.
In the 1950s, many of the artists who frequented the bar, left marks of their talent and some of their works on the walls. The painters Pancetti, Di Cavalcanti and Antonio Bandeira made drawings; Ary Barroso wrote the first notes of Aquarela do Brasil; Vinicius de Moraes and Pablo Neruda contributed some poems in their own handwriting. Also, there were the signatures of several regulars. Among them, Paulo Mendes Campos, Antonio Maria, Dolores Duran, Aracy de Almeida, Mário Reis, Sérgio Porto, Paulo Soledade, Irineu Garcia, Elizete Cardoso, and, even more rarely, Carlos Drummond de Andrade. Leaving work at Odeon Records, Tom Jobim occasionally passed by the bar, waiting for a more relaxed time to drive back or get a ride back to the South Zone.
In 1956, perhaps in the autumn, not the summer, as it says on the sign placed near the entrance to the bar, the poet Vinicius de Moraes, who had just arrived from Paris, used to tell his friends Lúcio Rangel and Haroldo Barbosa, at a table at Villarino, the novelties about the play he wanted to stage. Vinicius thought of adapting to the atmosphere of the hills and the favelas of Rio, the Greek myth of Orpheus, the divine musician of Thrace, who descends to the hells in search of his Eurydice. The project had been in his imagination since 1942, but the third act was only written in the early 1950s in Paris. At the suggestion of his friend, the poet João Cabral de Melo Neto, the text was registered in the competition of plays of the IV Centenary of S. Paulo, in 1954, in which he obtained first prize. It was also published in its entirity in Anhembi magazine.
Still in Paris, Vinicius obtained financing to produce the work. With the text ready and awarded, Vinicius needed someone to do the songs of the Rio de Janeiro tragedy, Orfeu da Conceição. The first to be consulted was Vadico, composer, pianist, and arranger, Noel Rosa’s partner in several hits of the caliber of Feitiço da Vila. Vadico did not accept the invitation because he thought the task was very arduous for someone who did not have an iron constitution.
And that’s how, back in Villarino, Lúcio Rangel suggested to Vinicius the name of the pianist Antonio Carlos Jobim, then 29 years old. Tom Jobim and Vinicius had known each other since 1953, but they were not friends yet and had only a cordial relationship. Soon they arranged a meeting between the two, sponsored by Rangel and Barbosa. In Villarino, of course. On that day, Tom, with his arranger’s folder in his lap, heard from Vinicius a detailed explanation of Orfeu da Conceição, and how the poet imagined the music that was to permeate it and put together some of the lyrics he had already done .
From Tom Jobim, worried about a difficult career launch and the bills that were due at the end of the month, was heard only the famous phrase, reported so many times by the composer himself at other tables in other bars: “Is there a little money in this?”
Lucius Rangel, perplexed, still tried to negotiate: “But Tom, how dare you talk to the poet about money at a time like this?” Tom had already been living in apartment 201 of Rua Nascimento Silva 107, in Ipanema, when he and Vinicius started working on the songs, around May of 1956. The poet had already given him a copy of the piece with indications of places where music would come in, and lyric sketches of some sambas. Tom Jobim used to say that the first productions of the new duo did not excite them. But soon after, they found the right course. Among Orfeu’s songs was the worldwide hit “Se todos fossem iguais a você”. Vinicius had already brought ready from Europe, the lyrics and music of the waltz “Eurydice”.
In the 60s, Villarino’s owner, annoyed by what he considered to be dirt on the walls of his establishment, had everything painted green. Nothing was saved. Years later, Antonio Vasquez Alvares, a former waiter and new owner, tried to recover the precious things that lay beneath the murderous painting, but it was in vain. Several photos of the time still show us a little of what was buried under the senseless attitude of the former bar owner. See next to the reproduction of a photograph that is currently pasted on a wall in the background of Villarino. Behind those at the table, one can see some of the drawings on the walls. Vinicius was smiling at the head of the table; just to the left of the picture is Lúcio Rangel; to the right of Vinicius, was little Peter, his son; standing on the right, the poet Paulo Mendes Campos; just below him, the radio host Fernando Lobo. Villarino is still in the same place, and several things, such as the kindness of the waiters, continue as before. The grocery store at the entrance continues to offer fine products. The tables at the back invite a drink. Apart from the crime done to the walls, the house remains until today more or less as it was in the 50’s, hence its special charm.
If you are in the center of Rio, it is worth stopping by Villarino for a late-afternoon whiskey. You will see above you, the full size picture, and you will recognize the table at which Vinicius sat with his friends; they will travel through your imagination, as if they were still there, those same artists painting the walls with their drawings and musical notes; and, in that now quieter environment, “at the time of the Angelus,” as Tom Jobim said, you will allow yourself to remain a little while feeling that you are breathing the air of history.
Villarino: at the corner of Calógeras and Presidente Wilson avenue, Rio de Janeiro.
Luiz Roberto Oliveira