Night Life

The Great Salsa Debate

When you hear the phrase "salsa music," two musicians immediately come to mind (of course): Timbaland and Magoo, the Virginia hip-hop duo most famous for making a song about a boogie that jumps up and a song that lifted the theme from Knight Rider.

Actually, that may not be entirely accurate. Timbaland and Magoo might be the last two you think of, but still, that doesn't stop Wyatt Scott from annihilating the dance floor at Taco Milagro (2555 Kirby) with spins and dips when the twosome's 1997 hit "Luv 2 Luv U" accidentally cycles on during the restaurant/bar's Wednesday-evening salsa bombast.

"I was improvising," laughs Scott, a 54-year-old risk manager. "That's what you call 'wine dancing.' I mixed a little bit of everything in."

Like many others in the room, Scott has become a regular at Taco Milagro's salsa events. By day a Mexican restaurant, Milagro has become one of Houston's marquee recreational salsa clubs. A single salsa night 13 years ago has grown and grown so much that it now encompasses five nights a week.

Wednesdays start with beginner and intermediate lessons at 7 and 8 p.m. respectively, each for $5, followed by a free open dance session. Thursdays through Saturdays, two separate Venezuelan bands bookend a Colombian group. Sundays, DJ Salsa Eddie, generally rated among Houston's best salsa DJs, spins a mix.

"This is such a great venue," says Steve Gekas, who has been dancing at Milagro for more than a decade and teaching the Wednesday-night classes for two years. "You meet people and dance, and it doesn't feel like you're just trying to get their phone number."

Impeccably, Gekas works the room, dancing with this girl or giving advice to that guy. At times, when he chooses to fully invest himself in a dance, he appears to float clean off the ground. He's polite and fun, and his eyes do their very best to squint shut when he smiles. It's hard not to be impressed with his skill, harder still not to like him.

Taco Milagro has no dress code, no cover charge and, ultimately, no pressure. Have fun, dance and be merry. Until about 10:30 p.m., we watch a preteen girl sit at a table and watch a woman we assume is her mother get whisked to and fro.

Where TM's salsa night feels bright, exotic and friendly, the salsa party that takes place mere minutes down the street at Sullivan's Steakhouse (4608 Westheimer), is dark, sultry and sexy.

Sullivan's salsa night, which management says has gone on for "years and years," takes place at the restaurant's posterior, in an ancillary room called Ringside. Like the Steakhouse, the decor in Ringside is nuanced, weighty and impressive. The cover is $10, no exceptions, and the dress code is professional and strictly enforced. The restaurant's sharply suited GM, Zaidi Syed, can typically be found at Ringside's door, welcoming those coming and thanking those leaving.

Inside, a six-piece band of a keyboardist, conga player, drummer, attractive male singer with loose hips and a snazzy fedora and two female singers (one of whom plays something similar to a clave) tears through all sorts of Cuban goodness. The crowd, generally well-established and older than 25, dances itself into an exciting lather.

The question begs itself: Which venue features the better salsa night?

Or not. One's jovial, one's ­mysterious; one's uninhibited, one's a bit more self-aware; one is entirely fun, one has an air of mystery to it. Which one you'll enjoy more is really just a matter of preference.

It's Yankees vs. Red Sox, Waffles vs. Pancakes, Tupac vs. Biggie, Mac vs. PC. Both are doing the same thing, just a wee bit differently. Fajitas are really just cut-up steak, you know.


Fan Halen, Guns 4 Roses

We understand that cover bands are mostly seen as uncreative and a tad silly, but we like them. Admitting that is not even the least bit embarrassing They're fun when they're good, and they're funny when they're bad. If we never get the opportunity to see the full lineup of Journey again, that's fine, because we can catch one of the 4,200 Journey manqués now populating the Earth. That's why we're plugging Friday's show at House of Blues (1204 Caroline), featuring Fan Halen and Guns 4 Roses and threatening to kick all sorts of ass. We'll go ahead and let you figure out which two mega-bands they're saluting...but it's Tool and Sublime. Duh.

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Shea Serrano