It started as an improbable hybrid of English pub and Mexican restaurant, but once Elvia's Cantina [2727 Fondren, (713)266-9631] found its feet as one of the hottest Latin dance venues in town, business boomed. Every weekend the tiny floor is jammed with a dressed-to-kill crowd of Ricky and Evita look-alikes pulsating to fiery salsa and merengue tunes.

If it's this hot on Fondren, reasoned ex-spouses Ed and Elvia Parsons, imagine the sizzle downtown. Thus the twosome will tango their way to a second location at 818 Travis, in the dramatic classical environs of the Niels Esperson building. Elvia has taken a new investment partner in Assad Boulos, he of former Sempers fame (see "Sempers Fugit," June 24, 1999); Ed will continue as manager of both the new room and the old.

"The new venue will be like the original Elvia's, only more so," Ed promises. "It'll be twice as big, with so much more space for dancing, I know everybody will love that." Many of the same bands from Elvia's I will keep things moving at Elvia's II. The food will lean more toward the Latin and less toward the Tex-Mex end of the spectrum, he says, and lunch service will be added to the lineup.

So when will things get hopping at the new Elvia's? "Well, that's always an interesting question downtown," Ed says, with a laugh. "There's the date we want to open, there's the date we might open, and then I guess we'll find out the date we can actually do it." Currently the Parsonses are aiming for a grand opening on Valentine's Day, just in time for some sultry swaying, cheek-to-cheek.

Help Wanted

The turn-of-the-century newsprint photographs of downtown Caracas displayed on the walls of Houston's Café Caracas [8383 Westheimer, (713)334-1449] now bear less resemblance than ever to that pretty Venezuelan city on the southern rim of the Caribbean. Judging from the horrifying news footage, Caracas and the nine northernmost states of Venezuela now look more like the ravaged surface of the moon, after a week's worth of rains in December triggered mud slides that may have killed up to 30,000 people.

"We don't even know yet how bad it really is, and we may never know how many people died," says Maria Carolina Pedrique, with a heavy sigh. Carolina, in partnership with her father, Pedro Pedrique, owns the tiny Café Caracas, nostalgically named after their hometown. The Pedrique family emigrated to Houston in 1995 and opened their restaurant in 1998 (see "Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant," February 11, 1999).

In mid-December the Pedriques closed the cafe to act as a collection point for the community relief effort. By the week of Christmas, the family resumed service at the restaurant. "Of course, we had to reopen, because we must continue," she says tiredly.

The relief drive continues at the Venezuelan Consulate General Houston.

"We need medicines most of all, it's very important," says Pedrique, rattling off a list that includes everything from multivitamins to penicillin. "Things for the babies, like Pedialyte and formula and baby food and diapers." Nonperishable food is also at the top of the list, basics such as tuna, Spam, powered milk and beans. Once those needs are met, Venezuela will then need assistance rebuilding itself; the consulate is asking for tools, mud removal equipment and prefab homes.

Those wishing to donate can take items directly to the consulate at 2925 Briarpark Drive, (713)974-0028. To deal with the heavy volume of calls, the consulate has also set up cell-phone lines to answer questions: Call (281)435-4080, (713)862-4771 or (713)303-6902, 6903, 6904 or 6905 for more information. Financial donations can be made directly to the Venezuelan Relief Fund at Sterling Bank. Carolina and her family will also accept goods at their restaurant during operating hours.


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