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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Brazilian Big Mac Served Up With Samba

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil -- It was Friday evening, the end of a long workweek. Niraldo Aburque and his friends at the state transportation department in downtown Rio were in the mood for a happening Happy Hour.

So they cleared their desks, locked the office and headed for the one place they knew where for two hours the beer would be flowing, a live band would be playing and there was plenty of food to be had.

They went to McDonald's.

Welcome to the Golden Arches, Brazilian-style, where a Big Mac can be washed down with a cold beer, patrons can gobble their Quarter Pounder and fries to the sounds of live samba and, on certain nights, meals are served under candlelight by waiters bearing champagne.

"It's Brazil," says Peter Rodenbeck, a top executive in McDonald's eighth-largest market.

A burger and beer is not unique to Brazilian McDonald's. The U.S. chain's outlets in Germany, and France also serve beer and wine.

But across this country, Brazilians are putting their own special stamp on the McDonald's image, most noticeably with the creation of their Happy Hours, complete with beer and salsa bands, or disc jockeys and jukeboxes.

McDonald's gave its Rio restaurants permission to pour after franchisees and managers of company-owned restaurants insisted.

"We started getting calls from restaurants who said they wanted to serve beer and have music," Rodenbeck said. "We investigated and gave them permission to do it. It's a cultural thing."

The first McDonald's to embark on the transformation was in a poor community called Cashia in the northeast part of the city. Since the Happy Hours started earlier this year, about 200 people have crowded into the restaurant every Friday and Saturday from 7 P.M. to midnight to listen to music, have a beer with friends and eat Brazilian delicacies not found on U.S. menus.

The Happy Hour trend has spread to the capital, Brasilia, the resort community of Fortaleza and the cities of Goinaia, Sao Paulo and Vitoria.

Salim Maroun, a Lebanese businessman who owns a McDonald's downtown, started his Happy Hours four months ago after watching his lunch patrons walk past his outlet on Friday nights en route to other restaurants that served beer.

"Cariocas (as Rio de Janeiro natives are called) like to have their beer on Friday," said Maroun, who moved to Brazil from Canada four years ago. "They were asking for it, so I said, 'Why not give them beer for two hours?' I don't want anybody not to come to McDonald's because they can't find what they want."

Every Friday evening, Maroun reserves the top floor of his 250-seat McDonald's for government workers, bank employees and others from the nearby high rises.

In one corner, two workers in McDonald's outfits busily pump beer into plastic cups from huge kegs at a makeshift bar.

"It's been very good for business," Maroun said. "We've probably increased it by 60 percent."

Mostly, his patrons are workers who simply want to unwind before heading home, although there is some intermingling among the sexes.

Alex Apolinario, 23, and a fellow salesperson, Andrea Oliveira, 24, are enjoying the change.

"It's nice because of the beer and the atmosphere," said Apolinario, who also frequents the restaurant for lunch, "and the music is good, too."

In Brazil, where a Big Mac Special is equivalent to half a day's pay for many, McDonald's restaurants hold a different position in the dining hierarchy from their cheap and cheerful image in richer countries. The owner of the McDonald's in Ipanema has been trying to capitalize on their more upscale image. Every Tuesday night, from 8 to 10, the restaurant becomes the equivalent of Chez McDonald's. The houselights are dimmed, soft jazz is piped through the restaurant, and 12 tables are set aside for candlelight dining. Patrons order from menus and waiters bring the food on huge platters. Meals are accompanied by a bottle of champagne.