Coffee Conversations

‘Buteco’ Brings Brazilian Spirit To Atlanta’s Grant Park

Rafa Pereira opened Buteco Coffee & Bar in 2018 in the Grant Park neighborhood.
Rafa Pereira opened Buteco Coffee & Bar in 2018 in the Grant Park neighborhood.
Credit Grace Walker / WABE
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When percussionist Rafael “Rafa” Pereira opened Buteco Coffee & Bar in Grant Park, he was inspired by the Portuguese word saudade.

Roughly translated, saudade is a sense of longing for someone or something that has gone missing. For the Brazilian-born Pereira, it was nostalgia for his father’s buteco in São Paulo.

“Buteco means bodega in Portuguese,” Pereira said. “It’s a place that is open all day and serves coffee, alcohol and food.”

A buteco, short for botequim, is a bar where people eat and drink cheaply, and often hear live music. You can find butecos open late into the night on street corners in just about every neighborhood in Brazil.

Pereira grew up in the buteco environment and started studying drums and percussion at the age of 12. He went on to study music at Georgia State University and moved to Grant Park in 2006. That’s when he fell in love with the neighborhood.

Speaking to “Closer Look” host Rose Scott at the January installment of WABE’s “Coffee Conversations” series, Pereira said, “There were lots of artists, and I had so many musician friends who lived here. I could bike to jam sessions. I could bike to school. It felt closer to what home is, which is Brazil. There is foot traffic and a live environment in the streets.”

Since becoming a professional musician, Pereira has appeared on more than 70 albums with artists like Shawn Mullins, Zee Avi, Janelle Monae and India Arie. He’s been on stage with Prince and Bruno Mars. And he’s performed at the Grammys and Saturday Night Live.

But he’s always drawn back to the communal energy of Grant Park. It’s the reason he decided to create a buteco-style coffee shop and bar at the Beacon Atlanta complex.

“I felt like the neighborhood was missing a place that was open all day,” he said.

When Buteco started in August 2018, Pereira initially focused on food and drink. He served an adaptation of Brazilian street food – including appetizers like coxinhas, brigadeiros, pão-de-queijo – along with cachaça-based concoctions such as the Caipirinha, one of Brazil’s most popular drinks. He hadn’t planned to include a music performance space.

“Music was something I was kind of taking a break from, so I could still continue to love it,” said Pereira. “We performed music the first weekend Buteco opened, and it was fun. But people kept coming back asking,’ Where’s the music?'”

Buteco regular Matt Arnett is the founder of Grocery on Home, another small music venue in Grant Park. He said Pereira’s establishment has created a much-needed space for musicians.

“I was very excited and encouraged him to do it and promised to be a supporter,” Arnett said. “He’s got a very interesting music program there and has vinyl nights and meet-ups for folks in the music industry.”

While Buteco is only a little more than a year old, Arnett said he thinks it is becoming a place where people can expect good music.

“It’s a great place to hang out with other like-minded folks, while also being very diverse and with a diverse array of musical styles,” he said. “From Samba to songwriters to jazz, it’s an eclectic mix of sounds and something that is really needed in this town.”

As for Pereira’s music career, he still goes on short concert tours, but he’s a new papai, or daddy. It’s why he traded the touring lifestyle for bartending and changing diapers.

Pereira said he now gets excited about encouraging other musicians who perform at Buteco.

“This is a blank canvas for artists to do whatever they want,” he said.