Nightlife in Salvador is legendary, and meant to be enjoyed in large, hot helpings. Pelourinho is crammed with little clubs, but for the really great ones head to Rio Vermelho. Along the beach on the east are several good bars and clubs as well.
Many nightclubs and dance venues in Brazil have live music. You'll find clubs with DJ's also, but the live music venues are tons of fun!
In the evening, Salvador's cool winds and outdoor cafes become most inviting. The Pelourinho, in particular has tremendous variety of night time activity. The folkloric shows here are more authentic with very talented musicians and dancers. It is easy to bar hop in the Barra and some of the most happening spots will be on Avenida Setembro de 7. One of the best places to see contemporary bands is the beach neighborhood of Rio Vermelho. Teatro Castro Alves is home to the Bahian Symphony Orchestra and the Balé (ballet) de Castro Alves and the occasional concert. Teatro Vila Velha is a famous place to catch a show.
Salvador has some of the best nightlife in Brazil. After dark, Pelourinho just explodes with music and people and activity, a lively mix of activities that Brazilians call movimento. Wandering from bar to bar and square to square, you'll catch five or six different bands playing. Search harder and on any given night in Pelourinho you could probably uncover at least 20 groups playing. Many of these concerts are free; most others cost only a nominal sum. Further out along the beaches music venues are bigger and more geared towards the club crowd, but it is still easy to find places with live music. True, the "high arts" of theater, dance, and classical music do suffer a bit in Bahia, but with everything else going on, odds are you won't notice. The scene in Bahia is very laid-back and casual; you won't find any upscale yuppie pretensions here, unless you look really hard.
Music & Dance Clubs In the evenings, Pelourinho transforms itself into one giant music venue. We've given a few suggestions of bars and clubs, but the best tip we can give you is to get out and explore. Especially in the summer, there are concerts every night, and most of them are free. Two of the most popular venues for concerts are the Praça Quincas Berro D'Agua and the Largo Pedro Archanjo. For more detailed program information, stop by the Pelourinho tourist office and pick up the free entertainment guide for a list of all the upcoming events for the month.
Tuesdays are known in Pelourinho as Terça da Benção (Blessed Tuesday). It's the day parishioners of the São Francisco de Assis Church give out bread and donations to the poor. Somehow, this simple act of charity has grown into a happening street party that kicks off every Tuesday after the 6pm Mass.
Carnival is Salvador's biggest party of the year. Over a million and a half people (locals and tourists) join in to celebrate. In contrast to Rio's more spectator-oriented celebration, in Salvador the accent is on participation. There are no samba schools with outlandish costumes and big floats -- in fact, there is hardly any samba at all. The beat of choice is axé or Afro axé, the unique Bahian rhythm that combines African percussion with Caribbean reggae and Brazilian energy. The action is out on the streets with the blocos.
In Rio, blocos are a group of locals who gather up a few instruments for an impromptu parade. In Salvador, blocos started out years ago as flatbed trucks with bands and sound systems, leading people on an extended dance through the streets. The concept's still the same, but as the number of participants has grown, Salvador blocos have evolved into more highly organized affairs. All now follow set routes. Many have corporate sponsorship. Some even belong to production companies. Your dancing-through-the-streets-of-Salvador experience now comes with a better sound system, security guards, and a support vehicle with washrooms and first-aid attendants. Unavoidably, it also now comes with a price tag.
The revelers that follow a bloco must buy a T-shirt (abadá) to identify themselves. In return they get to sing and dance behind the music truck in a large cordoned-off area, staffed by security guards who keep troublemakers out. Following the revelers is the support car with a first-aid attendant, bar, and bathrooms (to which only abadá wearers have access). If you follow the entire route you can expect to be on your feet for at least 6 hours. Most blocos parade 3 days in a row, and your abadá gives you the right to come all 3 days if you've got the stamina. It is also possible to purchase an abadá; for just 1 day.
Carnaval officially begins at 8 p.m. on the Thursday evening before Ash Wednesday, when the mayor of Salvador hands the keys of the city over to King Momo, who will rule for the next 5 days.