Wow, Seattle's Latin entertainment scene may seem lame compared to LA or San Francisco, but first appearances can be deceiving. Take February 20 - please.
As all diehard Salser@s know, Seattle's #1 Salsa hangout, Century Ballroom, has been in cabaret mode for the last few weeks. The first post-cabaret Saturday Salsa fling is on February 20. But there's a lot of competition.
I've long wanted to see one of Seattle's most unique Latinish performing groups, Children of the Revolution. As you probably guessed, they're performing in Kirkland on Feb. 20. Then I discovered another event that looks hard to resist: The 16th Annual Brazilian Carnaval of Seattle.
A couple nights ago, I learned about a THIRD mega-Latin event scheduled for February 20: The 11th Annual Fiesta de la Independencia de la Republica Dominicana, featuring plenty of Bachata, Merengue and Perico Ripiao. (If you don't know what Perico Ripiao is, join the crowd.)
Why do all these events have to be scheduled on the same night???
In the meantime, I've been checking out some local Salsa clubs, attending Rock Salt, China Harbor and Selena's Guadalajara for the first time - and I was impressed.
I've generally shunned clubs (other than Century Ballroom and HaLo), largely because I thought the people who hang out there are pretty good dancers. In fact, it looks to me like many of them are pretty average. Rather than dance better, they dance different than what those of us who have been living under the shadow of Century Ballroom or whatever dance teacher we've adopted are used to.
China Harbor and Rock Salt are interesting because they're so near each other, yet they're so different. China Harbor used to be Seattle's #1 Latin dance venue, but Rock Salt has stolen its thunder. In fact, many of the Salsa heavyweights who were headquartered at China Harbor have relocated to Rock Salt.
Which isn't to say China Harbor is a bad place. It struck me as a relatively mellow place, compared to Century Ballroom. With a smaller dance floor but a much smaller audience, it was a nice change of pace. It would probably be a nice place to take a date.
At first, I liked the music a little better, too, but I began to grow weary of the Merengue and "Mexican Cumbia" songs they played later in the night. However, the audience didn't seem to object. I assume the audience consisted primarily of people who have found their niche at China Harbor.
Rock Salt is bigger, fancier and more vibrant than China Harbor, with two dance floors (Salsa downstairs and Reggaeton upstairs). I had the impression that it catered to a younger, rowdier crowd. In fact, I didn't see any rough stuff, but I did see a major security team, with no shortage of big, burly bouncers and guys wearing black shirts emblazoned with the word SECURITY. A guy stationed at the entrance with a portable metal detector made sure no one brought any knives or firearms inside.
The Salsa room has far more seating room than dance floor, but the tables are spaced pretty far apart, and people aren't shy about dancing between them. It seemed like a really fun atmosphere. With several Salsa VIP's on the premises, I had some interesting/educational conversations, too.
China Harbor and Rock Salt aren't the only Salsa neighbors. Just two or three buildings seprate Babalu and Selena's Guadalajara in North Seattle's Walingford neighborhood. Selena's has that Mexican restaurant look - probably because it IS a Mexican restaurant. Babalu is much more posh. One might call it more of a yuppie hangout.
It's kind of like comparing Matador and La Carta de Oaxaca, neighboring Mexican restaurants in Ballard. Matador is a really fancy "Tex/Mex" place. La Carta de Oaxaca is much plainer but more authentic and really cool in its own way.
Having visited Babalu and Selena's Guadalajara just once, I can't really say which one I like best. Selena's was much less crowded, and I thought it seemed a little more fun. They kicked off the night with a free dance class taught by a local Cuban dance teacher, Carlos Lazo.
Incidentally, there probably isn't a lot of competition between the four clubs I mentioned above because Rock Salt and Selena's have their Salsa nights on Saturday, while China Harbor and Babalu do Salsa on Friday and Wednesday, respectively. (I think; I need to check the details again.)
I believe China Harbor is going to start featuring beginning Salsa classes, also.
Oh, I almost forgot to mention what appears to be a Latin mega-party at a new club called Republiq on February 19. I have't done a lot of research on it yet, but that's shaping up to be one wild weekend. Stay tuned!