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The Kansas City Star

Exploring Unpopulated Nations

March 26, 2004
Copyright ©2004 The Kansas City Star. All rights reserved.

On a recent Friday, the Boyfriend and I decided to get away. We couldn't make up our minds on where we wanted to go: Cuba, Puerto Rico, Spain, Brazil or Jamaica. Instead of picking one, we went to all five without leaving the Midwest. Or the Metro area. We hopped in the car and sailed to El Caribe for salsa night and some island cuisine.

We invited some friends to join us for dancing around 10-ish, but we got there two hours early to spend a little quality time with each other and watch some of the NCAA tournament. So when we walked in to an empty restaurant, give or take three couples, we didn't think much of it: Salsa night doesn't officially start until 10.

Instead, we enjoyed the fun scenery: the faux palm trees, Christmas lights, the cute jalapeño lights, bamboo-like roofs over the booths. What we admired most was the large-screen television at the head of the dance floor. There were also two baby TVs at the bar, which seats about 14.

About 8:30 p.m., we got our Caribbean wraps and jerk chicken. The food was scrumptious and reasonably priced. After our meal, we decided to burn some time with a game of pool. It could have been the longest game in the history of pool; at least we got our money's worth. It took four shots before we could determine who shot first and who was solid or stripes. Not that it mattered. I ended up sinking his solids and vice versa. Forty-five minutes later, the Boyfriend won, but we agreed it was a team effort in utter futility.

Heatseeker Louis Vuitton Don arrived promptly at 9:30 p.m., and we had a round of Red Stripe beer and some conch fritters.

Still, the place was relatively empty, and there was no line forming at the door. The waitress told us people start to pack the place around party time, but Heatseekers Shoe Girl and Bag Hag walked in without delay. By 10 p.m. there were about 10 people in the place, including the five of us. Then the manager came out and told us that Saturday was the packed night and that people didn't come in on Fridays until really late.

We were good sports, though; we gave it some time. We even endured what Bag Hag referred to as "possibly the worst DJ ever." The guy had no blending techniques and at any given moment he would switch from salsa music to '80s rock like Bon Jovi then to Metallica, Ja Rule and back to salsa again. And he would do it without mixing, blending or transitioning the songs. He was in his own world.

But the two gents playing pool didn't seem to mind. They danced with their pool sticks and seemed to enjoy every moment of the DJ's jarring rollercoaster ride. The rest of us just sat at our booths in awe (or maybe disgust) at the soundtrack and the lack of bodies on the dance floor. And normally, we don't mind being the party-starters, but nothing was motivating us, especially the music.

The only thing mildly entertaining was watching the Boyfriend dance by himself and listening to the Louis Vuitton Don convince us he hadn't gotten tipsy off two Red Stripes. We finally gave in to the night a little after 11 and danced to P. Diddy and Nelly's "Shake Ya Tailfeather."

But it was half-hearted. We could only two-step side to side the way old men do at basement parties. There just wasn't enough va-va-voom for some real party magic. At least the food was worth the drive.

El Caribe, 12112 W. 87th Street Parkway, has salsa night from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. There are pool tables and televisions, and the kitchen is open until midnight. Karaoke and salsa lessons on Thursdays. Call (913) 599-2270.

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