Story: Miami South Beach – salsa y playa!

Mimmis Olsson

By Mimmis Olsson
Written on 31 March 2008

I mainly had two objectives with this trip: to unwind at the beach and to go salsa dancing. This is my take on the latter.

I mainly had two objectives with this trip to Miami, Florida: to unwind at the beach and to go salsa dancing.

After dropping my luggage in the apartment I was staying at, I went straight down to Lincoln Road, which has plenty of outdoor restaurants and cafés on the boardwalk, sat down at one of them and ordered a cold beer. I let the fatigue of travel wash away and started enjoying watching people, the fact that I was in flip-flops in late March (usually winter with snow at this time of year in Sweden) and that I was going salsa dancing that night.

Salsa Mía is a social event that happens every Friday and Sunday at Yuca Lounge. You can take classes and then stay for Latin nightclub. Yuca Lounge was conveniently located on Lincoln Road, so it was very easy and close for me to walk there. This was a quite decent place with good music and a mix of beginners, intermediate and some more advanced salsa dancers. I met two nice fellows, Hiram and Juan, who invited me to dance and then we started talking. It turned out that they go out dancing regularly so they know the best salsa places.

For Saturday night, Juan and Hiram had actually recommended Bongos, a club owned by Gloria and Emilio Estéfan in downtown Miami, which apparently has an outdoor patio where people dance salsa, whereas inside they play a mix of reggaeton, merengue and rock en español. Since I didn’t have a rental car, and the mixed music description didn’t sound too great to me – it usually means “Latin disco” type of crowd, not salsa dancers – I however decided to stay in the South Beach area and try my luck with Café Nostalgia on Collins Avenue and 34th Street. I had read on the web that this "plush little club [...] draws crowds with guayaberas and tight glitter tops while sipping mojitos next to A-listers like J. Lo and Marc Anthony. It's business as usual with top-notch live bands (regional and national acts) until 1:30am or so. After that, the dance floor fills and the DJs spin latin-tinged hip-hop and salsa." After this description, I thought that this would be THE place to go and I anticipated a good salsa crowd.

I arrived to Café Nostalgia fashionably late, after midnight – and after spending $12 instead of $7 because the cab driver couldn't find the place and ended up driving around the nearest blocks 5-6 times ‘til I told him to just stop and let me out and I would find the place on foot. Café Nostalgia was a hole in the wall on 34th Street but when I walked in it revealed a very dark but decent-sized and authentic Cuban place. I immediately saw that there were only a few people, spread out in the bar and at tables waiting for the next set. I considered leaving again but thought I needed to give the place a chance. The Spanish-speaking only waitress asked me if I wanted a table and I sat down, ordered a Mojito and waited for the band to start. The band for the night sounded more or less horrible the first 10 minutes until someone in the band helped the keyboardist find the right buttons on the electric piano. Then all of a sudden something clicked into place and it started grooving. The singer was quite good. A few more people arrived but nobody (!) was dancing – the waitress admitted that this was more of a “sitting down and watching the band” place than a place for dancing – so after a second Mojito I gave up and left.

The waitress recommended me Mango's Tropical Café on Ocean Drive and 8th Street for best salsa dancing. Since she was Hispanic, I figured she should know. I guess the place would have been fun if you’re into watching scantily dressed girls dancing on top of the counter. I am not. Mango’s was a two-story nightclub with Latin hiphop and disco played in the front room and a salsa live band playing at the back. Upstairs was a small room where they played salsa and merengue. There was also a walkway, like a balcony, along the walls so that you could look down on the crowd and the bar in the bigger room downstairs. I met Johan, a nice Latin guy with whom I had also danced at Yuca Lounge the night before, and who actually knew about Sacuye (a well-known dance company from Stockholm and salsa friends of mine). He was about the only decent dancer there that night, so I ended up dancing with him almost all the time until the place closed at 5am.

Although Miami turned out to be somewhat of a disappointment from a salsa perspective, I thoroughly enjoyed the weather, the beach, shopping and restaurants. In this Hispanic Mecca, I had expected to find the same class of dancing as at international salsa congresses where you really find the crop of best dancers from around the world, but maybe I just didn’t find the right spots. I believe this city has more to offer. I have only begun to discover Miami.


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