You would never know from looking at this non-descript building on a busy street in a lesser known part of Vancouver that beneath the tacky nylon sign out front and next to the even tackier low-end hotel is a perfectly recreated Spanish bistro complete with mustached Latinos, curvy senoritas and fueled by a Latin beat.
Make no mistake. This is the location of an exclusive club. By no means on purpose, but certainly by default:
- It’s located far from the city’s main weekend nightlife hot spots
- Although the club opens @ 10PM, the party really starts around 2. That’s 2AM. Yes, the 2am in the morning
- Finally, you only find out about this place from a friend of a friend of a friend. It’s not properly advertised or well known amongst the general public. It’s like the wives’ tale of late night hangouts
You can try to search for it online but that won’t get you far. Even calling the hotel and asking for details about the salsa night will only provide you with a few ‘Huh’s’ and a couple ‘What’s?’ from the hotel staff (It’s like you can feel the blank stares over the phone lines). This is the most popular club you’ve never heard of.
Welcome to good old-fashioned after hours entertainment in Vancouver. You know, the kind that doesn’t involve poles, tassels, pasties or a visit to the medical clinic the next day.
12:47am- Enter the hotel
There’s no designated front booth and certainly no coat check. When you enter, a woman in the front with a stamp pad looks at you sceptically until you bring out your admission money. Smiles follow.
Slipping down the stairs into the darkness below, we’re greeted by leftover Christmas decorations (green and red tinsel), strobe lights, unnecessary laser beams flashing across the room, ‘ Happy Birthday’ banners on the back walls for some reason and a large, empty dance floor.
12:51am- I need a drink…
And please make it a double. It’s almost 1 in the morning and the party hasn’t started yet. The bar is poorly stocked and after making 4 low cal drink requests that were subsequently denied I’m informed they carry 3 mixes –coke, sprite and cranberry juice and 5 types of hard liquor. I’m one of the first people to order a drink but due to a lack of glassware, my double crown and sprite is served to me in a wine glass. With a straw.
As for fellow guests, besides an energetic man playing the drums in accompaniment to the blaring loud Latin music, I can literally count the number of people in the bar. Including the DJ – 16. However, I also notice the guy/girl ratio here is 4 to 1. Sweet.
I am mentally pushing my snowboarding plans for the next day from 9am to 10am.
12: 58am- First dance
Everyone dances with everyone else and the overall vibe is friendly. People are here to salsa, mingle and have a good time. My friend and I sit restlessly on the sidelines and are ready to move our feet. As if on cue, the drum player and his friend approach us and pull us to the dance floor.
After initial greetings, I warn my new Spanish friend that I can’t dance and that he’ll have to teach me. He laughs jovially and proceeds to hold me around the waist and leads me to the music. He’s large and round but surprisingly light on his feet. I am spun and twirled then snapped back to his side like a pro. He loves the music and happily starts to sing along to the lyrics as I laugh good-heartedly by his side.
Mentally, snowboarding will now commence @ 11am.
1:45am – Salsa v Meringue
I’m now dancing with Saul from Mexico. I coyly tell him I’m bad at the salsa and he’ll have to teach me. He tells me he needs lessons too and that the Salsa is more Cuban than Mexican. Ohhhh. That explains his stunted dancing and unfocused rhythm and why we’re dancing in circles. He’s very friendly as we dance and in the time it takes 2 Spanish songs to play, he has suggested we take salsa lessons together, invited me to join him at his favourite Spanish restaurant this week, check out another salsa venue the following week and invited my friend and I over to his house in warmer weather for some ‘carne asada’ (My friend later explained that ‘carne asada’ means BBQ in Spanish. Ohhhh and a sigh of relief because I already agreed to it). Very friendly indeed. I think had we danced for another song or two he may have asked me to marry him (#5 in total for those keeping track) and/or to bare his children (not a chance for those wondering).
2:30am – Get the party started
The club is now full. Most of the downtown Vancouver clubs have closed for the night and the resulting outcasts are now streaming in. The dance floor is packed and the music moves between Latin favourites and top 40 beats. My friend and I dance to Shaggy’s ‘It wasn’t me’. I’m relieved that I can relax and at last dance to something I don’t need lessons for.
2:40am – Raoul
Yes! Regardless of the outcome, I still love Spanish names! This petite man fell over us as we rested our feet on the sidelines. Trying to avoid him, I made a beeline for my beverage. I tried to explain how thirsty I was when my friend (who is now my ex friend!) pushed me over to dance with him while she slipped away to dance with someone else. Left alone with ’10 hands Raoul’ I pushed him aside and kept the 3 feet rule intact as we danced. With hooded eyes, he drunkenly tells me I’m an amazing dancer. I agree and tell him I’m an expert salsa dancer and so good I should teach a class.
I cut an evil eye to my friend as she dances deftly with a tall, handsome Cuban man across the dance floor. Thankfully the song soon ends and I excuse myself graciously and take off quickly to the restrooms.
2:46am – Paco
From Costa Rica! I’m hoping to meet a José later on. Maybe even a Jesus. On my way to the restrooms I am spun around and asked to dance by Paco. A lovely gentleman who can move his hips smoothly and beautifully to the music. Oh why wasn’t I born Spanish? I tell him apologetically that I’m a terrible salsa dancer and to please excuse me. He assures me I’m doing fine and tells me to follow his lead. I get twirled and spun around the dance floor and feel very light on my feet (or maybe just light headed?) Oh Paco!
I’m hoping to push snowboarding to noon. Noon’s kind of like the early morning, but way later.
3:47am – William, Heron, Saul, etc. but sadly, no José.
I get the chance to dance with the man whose hips my friend and I have been staring at all night (Shakira was right, the hips don’t lie!). I’m having fun but my stomach is now starting to ache (damn you double crown whiskeys with a sprite finish, for you have forsaken me!) but I must press on. After several spins I tell Heron to stop spinning me because my stomach hurts. He says okay and spins me around only half as much. I may have to get my friend to translate this for us. Mercifully the song ends and I dash off to the bar to get a glass of water that’s now served to me in a martini glass.
4:38am – Time to go
The bartender informs me that closing time is 5am but that no one is ushered out until 5:30am. This is the cue to leave to catch a cab home before the rush. My 22-hour day is finally catching up with me and I may have fallen asleep for a second on the dance floor. Thank goodness it wasn’t with 5-foot Raoul as I might have squashed the little guy.
William, Heron and Paco ask me for one more dance as I pack up and head out to leave. I forgot that Spanish men like curvier girls (read: no skinny chicks) and I regret not wielding this power more effectively throughout the night (read: free drinks and summertime Spanish retreats). I respectfully decline with promises for another time and slip out the front door and into the night.
Salsa dancing was a great idea and I’m glad I was dragged along. I had a lot of fun and it was a wonderful time. Despite the late start time, despite my friend’s aching feet (her black pumps came off early) and especially despite ‘lil Raoul, I’m definitely going back.
As I walk out onto the dry Vancouver street, I pray for rain to come. This would cancel out snowboarding completely, allowing me to siesta all day Sunday. Otherwise, I will be expecting a 9 am call from a friend I promised to go snowboarding with and who will be eager to hit the slopes. Checking the time, that leaves me less than 5 hours to sleep, wake up, get dressed and get ready for all day snowboarding…
Ay Dios mio!
Salsa dancing anyone?
Spanish phrases you will need to know:
- ¿Quieres bailar? – Do you want to dance?
- Bailemos! – Let’s dance!
- No bailemos. – Let’s not dance
- Un cervesa, por favor – I would like a beer please
- No tengo novio – I don’t have a boyfriend
And most importantly:
- Para bailar la bamba/ se necesita/ una poca de gracia/ – To dance the “bamba” one needs to be graceful