Help, the notorious night club in Copacabana, in the South side of Rio, that became legendary for catering to foreign tastes offering music, easy booze and plenty of women ready for sex for a price, tried a last delaying tactic to keep its doors open at least till Carnaval, in mid February, but this time it didn’t work.
Rio’s governor Sergio Cabral gave an ultimatum determining that the place should be empty by Saturday. The location will be used to build the new Museum of Image and Sound (MIS). Construction should last three years starting in 2010. Wednesday night ended up being the last time the place was open for business after an afternoon auction to sell Help’s belongings.
The process to close the night club started in January 2008. In November, an agreement between the Windsor Group, owner of the club and the state of Rio extended till the end of 2009 the deadline to close the place.
A banner hung on the facade of the club “begged” the governor to let the place keep its doors open for a few more months. Through a note, the state government informed that “the owners may end their activities in the period they deem appropriate, provided that they remove all the equipment and release the site until January 9.
Till the last day, the main attractions of the club were there as if nothing was happening: on one side the foreign tourists looking for sex, on the other, prostitutes looking for money.
Maître Amilton Silva de Oliveira, who started working for Help 27 years ago when he was 18 and who speaks English was there to witness the last moments of the Rio institution.
He talked to daily newspaper Extra about his pride of working there, telling the time he served former boxer Mike Tyson. “I am feeling very sad,” he said. “It was a whole life here. I don’t know what I’m going to do. All my colleagues feel the same. I will fight to see if I can do something, but after you get in your 40s, it’s difficult.”
Security guard Sandro dos Santos, 13 years at the club, was trying to work normally but couldn’t hide the concern that he will have to look for a new job now. He sees his work as more than maintaining order:
“Many tourists who come here already know me. We don’t work only as security, we also help those who do not know Rio well. If a tourist needs information, I give it to him, and if someone drinks a little over the limit, I’ll put him in a taxi.”
The paper also interviewed Cátia (not her real name), a call girl, who like the others seemed worried with the future. With the closing of Help she is even thinking about leaving the sex trade confessing she does not want to get clients on the streets. She felt protected inside the night club:
“They would not allow a man laying hands on you. They would throw them out.”
Italy’s Daniele Ponti who was visiting Help for the first time knew about the place’s fame. He told Extra: “To visit Rio and not going to Help is like going to Italy and not seeing the Colosseum.
Furniture and objects of the club were auctioned inside the place. There were in all 117 lots available, among them. German businessman Mark Hutny, 35, took home a “souvenir”: a safe sold for 230 reais (US$ 133).
He expressed his disappointment at the news that Help was closing: “I come here several times a week, I will miss this very much. Help is a city’s institution, like the Christ.”
According to the coordinator of marketing of the auction company RC Leilões, Bruno Cruz, all the material used during the operation of club was put up for sale.
“The 117 lots put up for auction include appliances, furniture, electronic equipment used in the lighting of the hall and around 2,000 vinyl records, used by DJs in the house. The assessed value is approximately 300,000 reais (US$ 173,000). We hope to raise around that amount,” said Cruz.
Maria Emília Malhio de Faria, a cashier, wasn’t happy and complained aloud: “We wait the whole year to get to the months of December, January and February. It is the best time for tourism professionals,” she stated. She was part of the committee representing about 200 Help employees who wanted to keep the doors of the Avenida Atlântica institution open a little longer.
Opened in 1984, Discoteca Help was geared initially toward Rio’s upper middle class as a place to dance, but at the end of the 1980s it found its new vocation as a space for sex tourism turned mainly to foreign tourists.
The MIS project should cost 65 million reais to build. A spokesperson for the museum says the cornerstone for the building should be laid before the end of the month.
Some of the auctioned items:
About 2,000 vinyl records with House and Dance Music from the 70s, 80s and 90s. Sold for 9,500 reais (US$ 5,491). It was the most disputed lot. In the end, the old collection was purchased by Kurt Maier, a partner in a nightclub in Liechtenstein.
Rectangular mirror, granite countertops, Formica door, toilet and cabinet. 354 reais (US$ 205).
Zinc and canvas panel with words Varanda Help (Help Balcony). Went for 160 reais (US$ 92).
Four large varnished colonial windows. 500 reais (US$ 289).
28 emergency lamps and 10 aluminum handrails. 440 reais (US$ 254).
Set of four wooden tables and 24 wooden chairs. 400 reais (US$ 231).