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Swirling The Night Away; North Jersey Clubs Pulsate With Latino Rhythms
BY MIGUEL PEREZ, STAFF WRITER
January 2, 2004
It's a weekend night in North Jersey, and thousands of Latinos are venturing out for an evening of nightclub entertainment - Latin style, of course.
Soon they'll be spinning and twisting to the contagious rhythms of salsa, merengue, cumbia, and bachata. All over North Jersey, they'll be celebrating "la Cultura Latina" as if they were back in Puerto Rico, Cuba, Colombia, or any other country where singing and dancing are as essential as eating and breathing.
With dozens of dance clubs competing for their business, Latinos have a wide variety of entertainment to choose from. In New Jersey, the number of Latin nightclubs is growing as fast as the Hispanic population, which leaped by 51 percent from 1990 to 2000.
"There has been an explosion of Latin clubs in North Jersey," says Carlos Rendo, who manages Son Tabaneras, a traditional Cuban music band. "The Latin music scene is huge and exciting. There are many more places for Latin musicians to perform."
Teresa Arias is just as excited. She manages the Carlos Boyz, another Cuban band. "In the Hispanic neighborhoods, many new places have emerged, and they all get packed," she says. "But there is also much more interest in Latin music in the suburbs and other communities where they never had a Latin dance before."
In North Jersey, huge discotheques present live bands, club- restaurants offer dinner and dancing, and bistros feature music typical of Spain and practically every country in Latin America.
On Fridays at Crystals in Lyndhurst, an older crowd is dancing as if in a ballroom competition. On Sundays at La Esquina Habanera in Union City, crowds of predominantly black Latinos are digging out the roots of Cuban music, especially the rumba beat that comes from Africa.
"In the past, New Jersey Latinos always had to go to the clubs in New York," Arias says. "But now people are coming here from New York. It's amazing."
In many of these clubs, the food and entertainment may be from one country, but the patrons are usually from all over the Americas.
And as they taste each other's foods and swing to each other's music, Latinos are being joined by a growing number of Americanos.
One of them is Susan Tel of Bloomfield, who twists and turns with such powerful force that you think a tornado just hit the dance floor.
"I'm handicapped because I'm not a Latina," says Tel, who goes Latin clubbing as often as four nights a week. "But for a non- Latina, I'm not bad."
For Monsy Hernandez of Elizabeth, dancing salsa is essential. Standing at the bar at Crystals, Hernandez dances even when she doesn't have a partner to spin her.
"I love my salsa," says Hernandez, whose parents were born in Puerto Rico. "I don't know why I love it so much, but I do. It's my heritage. It's in my blood. In fact, I learned how to dance salsa, with my grandmother, long before I learned how to speak Spanish."
Tel says she has a hard time persuading some of her non- Hispanic friends to go Latin dancing. "I don't understand why everyone wouldn't want to dance to this music," she says. "I'm always trying to recruit my girlfriends to come with me, but I think there are actually more American men doing this than American women."
She says newcomers are often intimidated by the great dancers, as she was when she took up Latin dancing a couple years ago. "At first, you see them on the dance floor and you say, 'No way, I could never do that,'-" she says. "But there is a way to overcome that fear. You take lessons."
At many of the clubs she frequents, modestly priced salsa lessons are offered early in the evening.
From his perspective behind the bar at Tribecca, a three-level discotheque in Fort Lee, Juan Benavides has seen a tremendous boom in interest in Latin music by non-Latinos.
"It has been growing, big time!" he says. "Every club that has Latin music is packed with people of every nationality. I've been here for six years, and I see many more white Americans and a lot of Asians coming in to dance Latin. Many of these people must have taken lessons, because they are great dancers."
While most Latin clubs offer music and dancing several nights per week, many non-Hispanic clubs offer a "Latin Night." It happens Wednesdays at South City Grill in Rochelle Park, Joey's in Clifton, and the Taste Lounge in Bloomfield. On Thursdays, the Latin beat moves to The Planet in Hoboken, Club Cubano in Elizabeth, and Diva Lounge in Montclair. On Fridays, it goes to Saints Cafe in Teaneck.
And other non-Hispanic clubs, like Tribecca, have a separate floor devoted to Latin music. From Thursday through Saturday, the club features DJs playing hip-hop, techno, reggae, and house music on the first and second floors, and Latin on the third.
"At other clubs, the music is up to the DJ," says Benavides. "But people like it here because if you want to make your own choice, all you have to do is walk up or down the stairs."
Of course, at the Latin clubs, every night is Latin.
From Wednesday through Sunday at Casa del Faro (The Lighthouse), a West New York club-restaurant overlooking the Manhattan skyline, Dominican singer-pianist Max Gomez takes requests. If you feel like dancing, he'll play practically anything you ask for, in English or Spanish. And that's only on the first floor. The second floor is an elegant discotheque where the DJ spins all kinds of Latin dance music.
Less than a mile north, on River Road, the same thing is happening at Sabor, a trendy North Bergen club-restaurant where the dinner tables are removed and replaced by salsa dancers after 11 p.m. Sabor has become the place for young Latino professionals to gather from Thursday through Saturday.
On Friday nights at Havana Bay Coffee in North Bergen, the Carlos Boyz get together for a Cuban music jam that caters to those who are hungry for the old music that's been revitalized in recent years by groups like Cuba's Buena Vista Social Club.
More than a restaurant, Cafe Babalu in North Bergen is a swinging club, packing salseros like sardines to dance to DJ music on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. On Wednesdays, club owner Eugenio Vazquez welcomes a crowd of predominantly non-Latinos seeking a fiesta instead of a party.
The demand for Latin nightlife is so big that every summer promoter Juan Longo takes the music on a cruise. Longo, host of "Latin Nights" at Crystals, is also the host of a "Salsa Cruise" around Manhattan, sailing out of Weehawken on the Horizon, a four- deck luxury vessel where he offers different dance music on every level.
"Latin Nights in Bergen and Passaic have become so popular that we had to find another venue," Longo says. "The number of people interested in Latin music is expanding rapidly."
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WHERE TO GO
Café Babalu (Wednesday through Saturday), 7709 Bergenline Ave., North Bergen, (201) 861-9300, cafebabalu.com.
Casa del Faro/The Lighthouse (club/restaurant, live music Wednesday through Sunday), 759 Farragut Place, West New York, (201) 854-1004.
Crystals (Latin Fridays), 525 Riverside Ave., Lyndhurst, (973) 460-0048, crystalscaterers.com/ crystals_lounge.htm.
Diva Lounge (Salsa Thursdays), 369 Bloomfield Ave., Montclair, (973) 509-3000, divalounge.com/thursday.htm.
Havana Bay Coffee (Cuban Jam Fridays), Columbia Park Shopping Center, 3101 Kennedy Blvd., North Bergen, (201) 867-0990, havanabaycoffee.com.
Joey's (Latin Wednesdays), 955 Allwood Road, Clifton, (973) 773- 2110, joeysnj.com.
La Esquina Habanera (Afro-Cuban Jam Sundays), 1401 Summit Ave., Union City, (201) 864-9238.
New Tropical Nite Club (Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday), 52 Garden St., Passaic, (973) 472-2888, newtropicalniteclub.com/ index_n.htm.
Sabor (Thursday through Saturday), 8809 River Road, North Bergen, (201) 943-6366, saborofd.com.
Saints Caf (Latin Fridays), 827 Teaneck Road, Teaneck, (201) 833- 1160, njclubs.com/saints.
South City Grill (Latin Wednesdays), 55 Route 17 south, Rochelle Park, (201) 845-3737, southcitygrill.com.
Taste Restaurant and Lounge (Latin Jazz Wednesdays), 21 Belleville Ave., Bloomfield, (973) 748-6669, tastelounge.com.
The Planet (Latin Thursdays), 16-18 Hudson Place, Hoboken, (201) 653-6888, planethoboken.com/html/thursday.html.
Tribecca, (Latin floor, Thursday through Saturday), 2027 Lemoine Ave., Fort Lee, (201) 461-7744, clubtribecca.com.
For more information on Latin clubs in New Jersey, go to:
salsanewyork.com/other2.htm# NEW_JERSEY or justsalsa.com.