Note: This article was written by Rolando Rodriguez and Marco Torres.
In March of this year, Houston beat the likes of Los Angeles and New York as the most ethnically diverse metropolitan area in the country and that landmark development was mainly due to the growth of Latinos. Back in 1990, Latinos in Houston comprised of one-fifth of the population. As of 2010, they're one-third of the population.
So it's no surprise that the city's Latin-night scene is as plentiful as it is thriving and full of variety. Club Tropicana currently reigns king, hanging its hat on the rich musical cultures of bachata, merengue and salsa, and it draws a diverse crowd of amateur and expert salseros giving their best twirls and shoulder and hip action before authentic live bands.
But the city's Latin-night scene is fast becoming increasingly more diverse than it once was. Places like Tropicana, Elvia's Cantina and Havana Latin Grill & Bar aren't the only games in town anymore. Latin-night mainstays and new kids on the block from Rice Village to the Galleria to downtown make up the best of the rest.
Let's get to it. R.I.P. SkyBar.
8. Paparruchos: Paparruchos is like your alcoholic uncle: They could fuck up Christmas every year, but you still love them. This is the bar where the stamp "Hecho en Mexico" is tattooed on shoulder blades.
Parking is a bitch. It's crowded. It's hot. They serve piss-warm chango for beer. Service is bad, but dammit if it ain't a good time. The crowds keep coming and have been for several years. One of the best places to see a Mexico-versus-anybody soccer game. Fridays you'll find DJ Juanito hosting "Noche Internacional," and Saturdays are "Noche de Salsa." Remember, uncle is bipolar.
3055 Sage Rd., 713-212-3177, Web site
7. Mi Luna: Mi Luna is a Rice Village favorite. This tapas restaurant has a dance floor no larger than a B-boy's makeshift cardboard dance floor but the lighting, ambience and family-restaurant setting lend themselves to a lovely, intimate and romantic feel.
Get a spot at the bar or grab a table near the live band for a spot-on pre-game experience, or get stuck standing in everyone's way dodging waiters and fielding dirty looks from people who feel like you're crowding their personal space. If you're looking for an all-out club experience, this isn't it. It's your launch pad to get you into the groove and mood for a serious night of spreading your salsa wings at places like Club Tropicana.
Thursdays, Fridays or Saturdays. Pick your poison. By the way, this place was recognized for having the Best Calamari in 2007, Best tapas in 2005 and being the Best Place for a First Date in 2000. Lots to offer.
2442 University, Blvd., 713-520-5025, Web site
6. Belvedere: Yes, Belvedere's Latin night on Thursdays is still going...and going strong. You'd only need to show up at 11:36 p.m. to find out. This narrow corridor of a bar where perfume and people equally complete for space still has most of the appeal it once had last decade. Ladies give off very flirtatious eyes -- or maybe we were having a good night -- and men stand shoulder to shoulder scoping out their targets.
Getting a drink is a major challenge at this bar. It hasn't solved that problem and it won't. There isn't much of a regard for crowd capacity here, so order a double. Hell, order a triple. And find a corner to enjoy the great variety of reggaeton, salsa and Spanish rock, while taking in accompanying videos on the big projector screens plastered on the walls.
The period during and after happy hour and before it becomes sardine city is probably the best. Beware of the Affliction-drenched guy who has "Redemption" on his back. Who knows if he's there to party or slay a dragon.
1131 Uptown Park Blvd., 77056 713-552-9271, Web site
5. Foundation Room at House of Blues ("Beso"): House of Blues' Foundation Room is the epitome of elegance and luxuriousness. Hosting Latin night on Saturday in this hotbed of sexiness can't be a bad idea.
The Foundation Room's breathtaking lounge area serves as a precursor to the spacey-enough, neighboring dance floor fielding initial guests with stimulating electronica bouncing off the hand-embroidered Gujarat wall coverings. On this Saturday night, anticipation builds for doors to open to the dance area of the venue for a night of hard-thumping Spanish rock, pop, salsa and merengue.
But the lounge area never dies. Instead it rivals its next-door party space offering two distinct nightlife experiences -- one bumping lounge and the other traditional club. Whichever floats your boat. Despite the cosmopolitan feel of the venue, the crowd is far from snotty. You won't find a telenovela crowd here or a gathering of People En Español's 50 Mas Bellos (most beautiful). Egos are mostly absent, leaving room for a good time.
1204 Caroline, 888-402-5837. Web site
4. Scott Gertner's at Houston Pavilions: A nicely dressed, clean-shaven guy asks a lovely young lady to dance. She doesn't say yes, but rather says, "Okay, I'll try." That's all we ask, ladies. And if salsa dancing is your passion, then the place to be on Thursday nights is Scott Gertner's new place in Houston Pavilions, which has butted up against its bigger neighbor over who has the right to be the big dog.
Thursdays at the old Skybar location on Montrose were an institution, and the city has been missing a party like this since their doors closed two years ago. But now the magic is back and better than ever. DJ David Cruz keeps the Latin beats moving, and a live band (Grupo Kaché on this night, Orquesta Salmerum starting on Thursday, May 24) generates enough power to keep you moving well into the early morning, work on Friday be damned.
The new place is immaculate, like a new white Cadillac with all the features. There are several bars with talented bartenders that keep the drinks flowing. The huge dance floor is not as cozy as at the old location, which gives you an ample platform to showcase the skills you picked up at those expensive dance lessons. Throw in several big-screen TVs, a variety of food and even a bucket of Jello shots, and you may never want to leave. According to the general manager, a rooftop patio will be open soon, just in time for summer.
1201 Fannin (@ Dallas), 3rd Floor, 713-520-9688 or 832.245.4305, Web site
3. Vue Houston: We visited this club on a dark and stormy night, not expecting much of a crowd. But Latinos like to have fun, and on Friday nights that means joining veteran promotions team Impresario Entertainment at their "I Love Viernes" party at Vue. The event is branded as "Houston's No. 1 Upscale Latin Party," and they certainly deliver.
In an otherwise sleepy corner of Waugh drive, between the flashy/trashy Washington Avenue scene and the Montrosian hipsters, the salsa music pumps. Ladies in short dresses line up at the door, ID in hand, flirting with the doorman. Ladies get in free all night, so the flirting is not necessary, but much appreciated.
The club is filled with glamourous light fixtures and equally glamourous patrons. The music shifts effortlessly from hip-hop to reggaeton, salsa to bachata. We spoke briefly to DJ Pollo, who was giving out mixed CDs on this night. He works for Univision Radio, but says that he loves the energy of spinning at Latin clubs.
The main room features an impressive island of a bar, with speedy bartenders pouring decently strong drinks. There is a second room with a DJ booth and a small elevated stage. White linens are draped from ceiling to floor, giving the room a distinct Miami Beach vibe. A mixed crowd of Latinos and gringos dances with arms raised.
The mood is friendly, girls dance with girls and groups of four or more are not ashamed of dancing together. The lighting system is top-notch. Long-legged waitresses keep the drinks flowing at the reserved tables. It is at once crowded yet roomy, with lots of space to spin a dance parter without the fear of knocking someone else's drink over. Oh, and expect to see lots of cleavage, if you're into that sort of thing.
526 Waugh Dr. at Allen Pkwy., 713-533-9333, Web site
2. Fox Hollow ("Bombón"): Not all Latinos are created equal. If you prefer comfort over fashion when you go out, then this monthly dance party at off-Washington Avenue gastropub Fox Hollow is for you. Bombón features the best (if not only) Moombahton party in Houston, with Cumbia, Bajo Tropical, Guarachero, Salsa, Latin Breaks, Baile Funk, Tribal and Reggaeton thrown in for good measure.
Sounds are provided by a spectacular team of DJs that includes OG Bobby Trill, Navo and Panchitron, led by veteran dance master DJ Gracie Chavez. The night is hosted by the beautiful Miss Mel, and also features live percussionist Ilya Janos that is certain to shake your coconut. Monthly themes are carefully selected, and guest DJs and instrumentalists keep this party fresh.
The feel is unpretentious and welcoming, like the best house party you have ever been to, without the cleaning up or risk of the law shutting it down. Spending a few minutes on the sidelines is difficult. The music flows deep into your soul and compels you to hit the dance floor. Drink specials keep you refreshed, and the unisex restroom makes for interesting interactions with that cutie you've been flirting with all night.
This isn't a traditional Latin Night party by Houston standards, but it very well might be the best the city offers. First Saturday of each month.
4617 Nett, 713-869-2117, Web site.
1. Club Tropicana: Salsa hot spots come and go, but Tropicana will always be there when you need to dance away the night. Inside an unassuming strip mall storefront on Fondren, you'll find a Casablanca-esque nightclub of dark reds and deep mahogany. The hardwood dance floor is spacious, and the salseros who wear it down are the city's best.
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Weekends are a blast at Tropicana, when you can groove to the bachata, merengue, salsa and chacha of live Latin bands. We love Tropicana for its mindblowingly diverse crowd. In a single night, you can twirl your way through the arms of a United Nations league of salseros, all brought together by the desire to dance. (2011 Best of Houston Winner, Best Latin Club)
3222 Fondren, 713-977-4188, Web site