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USA Today

10 Great Places To Dip Into The Salsa Scene

By Shawn Sell

July 25, 2003
Copyright © 2003 USA Today, Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved. 

With the Hispanic population now the nation's largest minority group, Latin culture is going mainstream. "Latin music is one of the fastest-growing genres," says Christy Haubegger, founder of Latina magazine. "Salsa (popularized by the great Celia Cruz, who died last week) is thriving, as is the Latin dance scene." With the World Salsa Congress meeting in San Juan, Puerto Rico, July 28-Aug. 3, Haubegger shares with USA TODAY's Shawn Sell some spots to find your ritmo (rhythm).


New York

Immortalized by Barry Manilow and others, "the old standard has reopened in a new, bigger space on West 34th and still features the great live acts it has been known for." The club features one level for salsa, another for classics and house music. 212-239-2672; www

Conga Room

Los Angeles

"Partly owned by Hollywood celebrities such as Jennifer Lopez and Jimmy Smits, CR brings in some of the best live acts in town, packing in a serious dance crowdWednesday through Saturday. Go early (8 p.m. to 9 p.m.) to catch beginner lessons offered nightly." 323- 938-1696; www.congaroom .com.

Cafe Cocomo

San Francisco

With a decor described as "palm tree ambience," this is a "really fun spot, with two levels and outdoor patio dancing. Lessons are offered Thursdays and Saturdays, with a live band after 10 p.m." Features include waterfalls, tiki huts, outdoor bars and a strict dress code: no T-shirts, jeans, athletic apparel or sports caps. 415- 824-6910; www

Club Babalu


Gotta dance? Known for its two packed dance floors, "Babalu is the spot for those with eclectic Latin music tastes. The DJs spin not only salsa, but lots of rock en espanol, Latin pop and everything else for the young, beautiful and often scantily clad crowd." Open Thursday through Sunday. 214-953-0300;

Bongos Cuban Cafe


"This cavernous space is Gloria and Emilio Estefan's fabulous pineapple-shaped supper- and nightclub, adjacent to the American Airlines Arena." Check out the patio scene on the terrace, where you can spot celebrities and models, sip a mojito or join an ongoing game of dominoes. 786-777-2100;

Club 720


"Club 720 offers a fun, young atmosphere with a mix of music that shouldn't intimidate beginners." Open Tuesday, Friday and Saturday, the club offers lessons, so patrons can learn to dance the salsa, merengue, cumbia and tango, not to mention Spanish rock, hip-hop, house and progressive -- all on the club's four levels. 312-397- 0600;

Brasil's Restaurant and Nightclub


This unique Brazilian restaurant in the heart of Philly "also offers some great live Brazilian, Latin and Caribbean dance music. Sip a caipirinha as you admire the crowd." Closed Monday. 215-413- 1700;

Loca Luna


"This cute tropical-themed tapas restaurant is also home to Atlanta's growing Latin scene. There are some great dancers to see, but the diverse crowd is welcoming and forgiving on the dance floor if you're a beginner." 404-875-4494;

Crystal Nightclub


"Visit this big old standard-bearer for fun and dance," but just be sure you pronounce the name correctly (it's cris-STALL). It offers a wide variety of live Latin music, hip-hop and "old school" on selected evenings. Stop in for free salsa lessons on Fridays and Saturdays. 713-784-7743.

Havana Village

Washington, D.C.

"Located in the heart of the Adams Morgan neighborhood, this tiny spot is a perennial favorite" in the nation's capital. Salsa is the specialty here, with lessons offered Wednesday through Friday, "so head upstairs to the second and third floors for the best spot in D.C. for dancing merengue and salsa." 202-462-6310; .com.

Destinations & Diversions; Travel

PHOTO, B/W, J. Fernando Lamadrid,; PHOTO, B/W, Robert Gonzalez Jr., Estefan Enterprises; Caption: At the Copa -- NYC's Copacabana: Salsa dancers make their moves during a performance by Jose El Canario" Alberto. Clubgoers can learn those moves, too; free dance lessons are offered on Thursdays. Come on, shake your body: Do the conga, or tango, or merengue at Gloria Estefan's Bongos Cuban Cafe in downtown Miami.

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