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Pacific Northwest Salsa Road Trip

Portland, Seattle and Vancouver, B.C.

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This is an all ages, family friendly, article. All inappropriate trip-antics have been edited out. It’s a road trip, so you can use your imagination! It's important to note that this is not a review of Salsa in the Pacific Northwest, nor is it a review of clubs or teachers.  It's an editorial about personal experiences that may or may not appeal to you (disclaimer is now over).  It's about a wild, crazy, unbridled trip up to the Pacific Northwest.

We left Beautiful sunny San Francisco and started the drive up to Portland.  It’s about 10-12 hours in a straight shot, but we took our time.  First stop – Mt. Shasta.  No, there is no salsa in Mt. Shasta, but there is a great lake, a cool dam, and fast powerful speedboats.  On our way up, we stopped and took out a speedboat for a couple of hours ($65).  The lake is beautiful anytime, but during the summer, it’s crowded . . . and it’s hot.  Did I say hot? I meant scorching hot!  I mean 100 degrees+ hot.  Take your sun-block, grab a towel, and enjoy Shasta Lake.  It’s a lot of fun.

The first real stop was Ashland – and if you’re driving, I wouldn’t miss it.  This is one of the first cities you hit when you cross the border from California into Oregon, and it is a very relaxed and fun place. It has a great small town feel to it, with a thriving "Main Street" and a large number of restaurants and coffee shops. It’s also the home of the Shakespeare festival – which runs several great plays during the summer months (and a little before and after). 

Very Important (and funny) Side note for people from California: At any Oregon gas station, resist the urge to reach for a weapon as people approach your car. That's the attendant that's approaching.  Relax. They pump your gas for you.  I nearly clocked the attendant as he approached my car!  It was late, and he just walked right up - and looked kind of like a thug (no uniform or anything), so I grabbed my club and started towards him (he was looking a little shocked at this point). Anyway, the moral of the story is: relax, you're in Oregon. In Oregon it is against the law to pump your own gas! ;)

Quite apart from having some excellent pie (most of Oregon has excellent pie), you’ll also find some of the nicest, friendliest people in the world right here in Ashland. From the Hotel you stay at, to the restaurant where you eat, you’ll be surrounded by talkative, friendly, and relaxed people. No, Ashland is not home to any huge salsa clubs, but it is a great stop on your way up North, and highly recommended.   It really starts a vacation off right . . .a nice strip with cafés and small-town stores.  It gets you into the feeling that you’re actually on vacation. We stayed at the Best Western Bard's Inn (right off the center of town, $75 ).

We missed the Shakespeare plays as we arrived on a Monday (there are no plays running on Mondays, a key thing to know), however on Mondays they have a “Ballet in the Park”.  Leave it to Ashland . . . This is a very nice event which draws a nice sized crowd to a beautiful open Meadow in the large, clean, city park to watch a ballet.  It was well done and fun!  All the locals have chairs, and you can probably find some to rent as well.  Otherwise, just relax on the grass.  It’s not a bad way to spend a Monday night (when there’s no dancing of course).

Culturally enlightened, we continued the trip up to Portland. 

PORTLAND

A word about Portland Salsa: A few broad thoughts before getting into the daily clubs scene.  Portland was the most surprising city of the trip, in that I found the city to have a vibrant and friendly salsa scene, with some live music, plenty of good (fun) dancers, and a variety of different clubs.  I guess I just wasn't expecting to be able to go out on almost every night of the week, and was very pleasantly surprised.  It seemed, during my brief stay, that there were more women than men in the "Advanced" Salsa department, but that it was evenly matched in the beginner/intermediate level.  There is also a Portland Salsa Troupe (SaborLatino) whom were "Salsa Troupe" style advanced dancers. The Website to see is: www.portlandsalsa.com - or of course, use the SalsaWeb Cityguides (at www.salsaweb.com). As a leader, I was never turned down (even prior to people seeing me dance) - which made this city one of the "Friendliest" leader locations I have ever been to.  As a follower, visiting this city, I can see that you might have trouble getting asked to dance by some of the better leaders, but there seemed to be a fair supply of beginning and intermediate dancers.  The best place to dance in Portland was the Viscount Ballroom on Saturday night!

Arriving on a Tuesday, we had dinner with friends, and then went for a quick trip to the Crystal Ballroom (a.k.a. Lolas, 1332 W. Burnside, 2250-0047 x8811) and were pleasantly surprised by the salsa experience there.  Parking is easy (no real problem, especially compared to San Francisco), and the city is generally pretty safe (with the exceptions noted below).  When approaching the ballroom, we could hear the salsa music from a block away. It came pouring out of the second story of a very large building - very loud!

You enter the club; walk up some stairs, and into a fairly sized room towards the back.  The dance floor could hold far more people than were actually there, and I would estimate the crowd at about 75 or less.  There was a bar, and plenty of seating for everyone.  A row of nice booths along one wall - but a little too dark to actually see who was in them. This was a great club, with what I would notice as a recurring trend throughout Portland – plenty of women waiting to dance! The environment is friendly, the drinks are great, and as a Tuesday night destination, it was a lot of fun.  The DJ booth - much like in many clubs, was "Dancer's Corner". 

Andrea’s Cha-Cha Club (832 S.E. Grand, 503-230-1166, Wed-Sat @ 9):  There are a couple of spots that offer salsa on Wednesday night.  My first stop was Andrea’s Cha-Cha club.  When I first walked in to this club I was sure I had made a mistake.  It was crowded alright, but it was crowded with people singing Karaoke music.  I’m not a big karaoke fan, so I felt a little out of place there.  I asked meekly if there was salsa going on there, and I was directed downstairs.  While the club posters implied a five dollar cover charge, no one actually collected any money from me.

When I came downstairs to the club, there were not many people there (I had arrived early), the beautiful teacher, Alicia (of Bay Area fame, Gabriel and Alicia), was gearing up to teach the salsa lesson.  The people, once again, were really friendly, and I met a bunch of people whom I would end up seeing at every club during my stay.  Unfortunately, we left the club and went to another one rather early, so I'm not sure if this club really gets going on Wednesday or not, but regardless, if you're in from the Bay Area, you'll want to stop by, support Alicia (buy her a round of drinks), and give her warm regards from the Bay Area.

The bigger night out on Wednesday is a club called Sergay’s.  Located in Downtown Portland, it’s an upscale club with a nice dance floor (not wood, but slicked stone), and an upstairs that might be wood. Located in Downtown Portland, this place had a good crowd of dancers.  With Alicia there to properly show me off, I met quite a few excellent followers, and was asked to dance by multiple people (a bonus for lazy and/or shy people like myself). The club seemed equally populated by leaders and followers (another plus).  That, along with some friendly bartenders, easy parking, plenty of room, and a good DJ who played plenty of salsa, made this a great place to be.

Thursday I traveled to Club La Rumba.  The only night in Portland during my stay that was offering live salsa music. The band was fun and played a variety of music, not just salsa. In fact, they played far more cha-cha than salsa. The dance teacher was energetic and friendly, and the overall club/restaurant feel made for a nice night out. I saw several of the people here that I had met the night before, and that made for a very good dance night. The dance floor is very small (less than "Jelly's" size), and there aren't a ton of dancers (of either gender), but there's enough to get by. La Rumba offers dancing on many nights, but I've been told that Thursday is their big night. 

The other club happening Thursday  is Fernandos - a club that is right next door to Sergay's (described above).  This club looks very nice, and I received conflicting advice on if it was good for salsa dancing or not.  Many people said it had turned into a pick up joint - that played mostly house music, others said that there was salsa played, but rarely enough room to dance.  I'll have to save this one for my next trip . . .

Friday, I went back to Andrea’s Cha-Cha club.  This night was definitely more lively than Wednesday night, but still hard to recommend due to lack of followers.  There were definitely more men there, waiting to dance, than there were available women to dance.

Saturday is THE night for Salsa in Portland.  You won’t want to miss this night as it is really great.  The Viscount Ballroom (yes, a ballroom, a recurring theme) is a beautiful location, offering two large floors of dance, multiple pool tables, various bars, and a ton of dancers.  The Viscount is not located in a very nice area (722 E. Burnside, 503-233-7855).  Nothing compared to really bad areas of San Francisco, but still, not someplace you’ll feel comfortable going without warning.  Be careful around here, park close, and come in a group if you can.  I didn’t have any trouble, but then again, I probably don’t look like the easiest of targets.  When I was walking some ladies back to their car there were a few catcalls but nothing beyond that.

The Viscount Ballroom is a great club.  Very large, with two huge, accommodating dance floors, plenty of good salsa (they played the most straight salsa out of any of the clubs I visited), nice bars, and even plenty of seating.  There was rarely anyone in the upstairs – and it was like a huge private dance floor, which I took advantage of.  I closed the place down at 1:30, and would have gladly stayed far later.

After hours!  No, there is no after-hours salsa in Portland, but there is a really fun, hysterical, after hours coffee/eating/drinking establishment.  I ended up there almost every night I was out, and had a great time.  On the weekend, this place was packed at 3 am!  Not only does it have great coffee or tea to relax after a hard night of dancing – but also some fantastic food.  I recommend the Macaroni and Cheese which is unbelievably good – or the chicken Caesar salad, which is also fantastic.  You can’t go wrong here.  Be forewarned, the music is all hard rock, and very, very loud!  The waiters are all totally insane . . . Out of the frying pan and into the fire. 

Here's a copy of a message I received from "Paul Ellison" a dance teacher in Portland, detailing nights of the week from a Portland Salseros perspective:

"We've got salsa at least 5 nights a week. I'm at dance instructor at Andrea's Cha Cha Club, so some of these are our competitors, but most folks like to rotate from club to club anyway...

Lola's Room at the Crystal ballroom (1332 W Burnside)
    Tuesdays: the regulars/great dancers

Andrea's Cha Cha Club (832 SE Grand)
    Wed (Ladies' Night), Thurs, Fri, Sat, Sun (Noche Cubana 5-8 pm)
    Wednesdays and Fridays are our big nights!
    http://members.tripod.com/chachadancer
   
Viscount Ballroom - Fri (722 E Burnside)
    The big scene on Sat. night. (maybe Friday?)

Fernando's - Thursdays & Saturdays (824 SW 1st)
        Thursday has always been packed

La Rumba (130 NW 3rd) Tues-Sat
    packed Fridays & Sats."
___________________________

Oh, and who can leave Portland without mentioning . . . the coffee! There’s a coffee shop on every corner.  I was very wired during my entire stay . . .

SEATTLE

Some Thoughts about Seattle Salsa: Quite a vibrant scene, which is more or less what I expected. Seattle was very comfortable, very familiar, and very similar, to the Bay Area.  You'll find multiple dance troupes, experienced teachers, and all of the "big city" salsa feeling here.  The scene is not nearly as large as the Bay Area - nor do they have the same number of live bands (but then again - I haven't seen anywhere, save New York, that have the number of live bands as we have in the Bay Area) but they have live music and national acts that come all the time. Very evenly distributed - there were a large variety of both leaders and followers. I had a very beautiful, friendly and gracious host in Seattle, but let's talk about things before she came on to the scene! Until being introduced to people - I did find it quite hard to get a dance with some of the better followers (yes, I did ask - no, I didn't mention who I was). For whatever reason (bad hair day, etc . . .) I got turned down a lot during my stay in Seattle.  Everybody gets turned down, no big deal. Typically, after a few dances, it wasn't a problem, but it could have been.  As a leader - come prepared if you want to dance, as a follower, I think you'll have an easier time here, as there were quite a few capable leaders who seemed to be mixing a great deal (not dancing only with one partner). Make sure to note: things get going later in Seattle. Nothing's happening before 9 (not even a lesson), and there's no real dancing before 10:30-11. 

Sunday was trip day, as I traveled from Portland up to Seattle.  It’s a short three hour drive.  When I arrived in Seattle it was around eight and I checked into my hotel, The Ace.  The Ace hotel is quite an interesting place, located right on 1st street in downtown Seattle.  Across the street is a phenomenal bakery, and pretty good pizza place too.  There’s a lot of homeless in the area, but it’s generally safe, although you can get hassled late at night.  The Ace Hotel isn’t cheap at $75 a night, but it is shared accommodations.  That means, bathrooms are down the hall, and not in your room.  Want a bathroom? That will cost you $150 a night! Instead of chocolates at night, they left you a condom on the bedside (which I thought was a nice touch), and instead of the bible, every room comes equipped with the Kama Sutra (light nighttime reading with good friends).  You can see why this place was so nice to stay in - total party hotel!

The hotel is kept very clean, spotless, and the decorations, well – let’s say Nouveau “something”, art, for lack of a better word.  I’d recommend the place, but for the $75 they were charging, the Camlin (also located Downtown), is a better deal in a better location (if you can get it).   Alternatively - don't stay in downtown and save some money (see below).

Upon arriving and settling in, I quickly made my way to the first club, The Last Supper Club.  With salsa on Sunday night, this is the only game in town for Seattle on Sunday, and it’s a lot of fun. The club is located in Pioneer Square, off of 1st street and S. Washington.  I walked there from my hotel in about 20-30 minutes. Not a bad area, but I wouldn’t have wanted to walk back to my hotel at 2 a.m. Be aware, clubs start late in Seattle.  Not necessarily advertised late, but they get going late.  Each and every location, except for Thursday night, started getting going between 10-10:30, and wasn’t really going until 11.  The lessons usually start around 8:30 or 9:00 and don’t appear to be very well attended at around 10-20 people (versus the 50-100+ people lessons at most Bay Area clubs).  Not a bad thing, just something to be aware of.  Also, generally most club closed by 1:30 sharp. The DJ music was also quite good - with a lot of salsa.

Back to the club – Salsa music most of the night, with a  few merengues for good measure.  Got there early, around 8:30, very few people there, lesson was small.  People arrive at around 10:30, and the club stays open until 1:30 or so.  Not a bad club – good music, a lot of people, but quite clicked out.  It was the not only a teacher's birthday, but also a celebration that the DJ (Victor) was going to have a baby. It wasn't until the end of the night that I got my dance "fix" - unexpectedly (as usual). 

Monday – A day of rest.  I was really starting to drag by now, so I was happy to have a “day off” (don’t I have a tough job).  Here are some sites not to miss!  First off, Pike Market.  A huge fresh fish market, has enough to keep you busy for a good morning. Plenty to eat, including the Three Girls Bakery and also a tiny family-run business, where you can watch the chefs, sleeves rolled up, deftly filling and pinching pastry dough. They turn out fresh pastries and piroshky’s several times a day. The apple cinnamon swirls are too good (it's the Russian Bakery), and . . . the dim sum located a few doors down.  In addition, a great breakfast place located right inside the fish market where you can get some good diner-type breakfast food.  Now you're full . . .and sick as a dog from eating all of that!

Tuesday – Bellevue, The Doubletree Inn has the Misty Club. Located in the upscale Doubletree Hotel (everything is upscale in Bellevue I’m told), this club has a nice look.  It also has a large amount of free, safe and secure parking offered by the hotel.  It has two, small, dance floors and gets started at around 10:30 or 11:00.  They had great music from 8:30 until 10:30, with salsa playing to empty dance floors.  It was unfortunate! I tried to get people dancing, but got turned down four times straight (a personal best, almost). Everyone seemed to be waiting for the crowds to show up – and show up they did.  At about 10:30 – 11:00 the club goes from nearly empty, to totally full.  It happens just that fast.  After that, no problems finding people to dance with – more of a problem finding space to dance in.  Seemed a fairly even number of leaders and followers. I met some people from San Francisco here too.

Wednesday – Club Vitos, interesting little place - a nice walk from my Hotel. It was small, but there was plenty of room to dance.  I ran into quite a few dancers - all of the "fun" variety (versus show variety).  A small restaurant, I didn’t get a chance to try the food.  There were more people in this small place at an earlier time (non dancers) than in the others (at an earlier time).  Full Lesson – with about 15 – 20 rote beginners dancing.  Dancers show up by 10:30 (the norm), and while there are only a handful, they are good.  Once again, I was turned down again, multiple times, in the early evening. Towards the end of the evening I ran into Melissa, a petite, attractive blond woman (who teaches at China Harbor).  She was there with her dance partner, Shawn, and she was great.  A fun dancer - fast and rhythmic. I felt a little bit like I was totally dominating her time, but I got my fix at least! ;)  Totally over did the drinking (and I mean totally). Strong drinks, and I could have done without that last Long Island Iced tea.

Thursday, definitely the hot night out in Seattle, and guess what?  It’s a ballroom again! The Century Ballroom (915 E. Pine Street, www.centuryballroom.com) is a hotspot for dancing.  They have all sorts of stuff going on there and I recommend going by and picking up a schedule. Yep, another alcohol serving, food enabled, large sized ballroom that’s spinning out salsa, cha-cha and bachata/cumbia.  The building is big, but the actual room is not nearly as large as the Viscount in Portland, and it draws far more people.  The good news is that it is easy to avoid the crowds if you arrive on time at 9:00.  The dance floor fills at around 11:00 to 11:30, but then clears out again an hour later.  The club/ballroom itself closes quite early, by 1:30.

Apart from my discussion above, I'm going to post a "Dance Week" from a Seattle (Salsera) resident's perspective. Here's what she has to say:

Saturday: Beso del Sol on 45th and Stoneway in the Wallingford District. Check to see if there will be a local band playing there. It's a tiny place (slightly bigger than Jelly's and a little more elegant ambiance) and has got a great neighborhood club atmosphere. Street parking is safe. $10 cover. Another option is China Harbor, on Lake Union. Bigger place, more clubby atmosphere, more of a pick up joint. You’ll hear salsa, merengue, and hip hop during the night. Plenty of free parking in the lot, but there car break-ins/thefts have been known to happen. $10 cover.
 

Sunday: Last Supper Club on Washington St and Occidental in Pioneer Square (borders Chinatown and downtown)  Cebrina, a local instructor, is a promoter of the club. She and her husband Victor, who djs', formed a group (Somos el Son) that performed at the Congress this year. Good DJ music. $5 cover.
 

Monday: No salsa, but head out to one of the local jazz clubs. Great place is Salty's on Alki Beach (West Seattle). Johnny Drago, a 60+ yr old salsero who loves great music plays congas there with the in-house jazz band. Local jazz artists and sometimes poets do impromptu performances there. Great music. Food is expensive, but you don't have to eat there to just sit and enjoy the great music and view of Seattle's skyline. No cover.

Tuesday: Misty's Bar/Club in the Doubletree Inn in the city of Bellevue (just a 10-15 min drive from Seattle) DJ Manny from Venezuela plays salsa, merengue, bachata, and hip hop. You'll find salseros there on this night.$5 cover.


Wednesday: Vito's Bar and Grill on 9th and Madison just uphill from Downtown. Another tiny spot, but classy dark decor. It's been hit and miss for dancing here lately. The promoter, Shawn, is a very popular local instructor and has a lively performance group "Salsa Salvaje.," who also performed in the LA Congress this year. $5 cover.


Thursday: Century Ballroom in Capitol Hill (centuryballroom.com). A large beautiful dance floor with many dancers of different levels. It's the Allegro's of Seattle. Hallie, the owner, and another popular instructor, has been bringing great acts such as Maracas, Wayne Gorbea, and Melcochita to her ballroom. DJ music. $5 cover, unless there’s a live band.

Friday:  Try the salsa cruise (a salsa option in the summer). I think a majority of the cruise-goers aren't necessarily hard core dancers, but there are two dj's on the two floors and it's a great summer Friday night salsa alternative to the club scene. $10 if purchased in advance. $15 at the boat.

So, what about Seattle in general?  Don’t spend too much time in downtown, or you’ll miss some of the great neighborhoods.  Here's some general Seattle information:

Seattle is not that big of a city, and driving from one end of town to the other shouldn't take more than 20 min. Given that, there are several locations from which to choose where you'll be staying. The Pike Market area is close to downtown, bus lines, museums, shopping, etc. All bus lines running in downtown are free as long as you get off and get on in downtown. Queen Anne and lower Queen Anne (by the Space Needle) borders downtown and is fine as well. Downtown will likely be expensive, but quite central. Consider looking for a place along Eastlake Avenue or Fairview or Westlake Avenue. Hopefully there is more affordable hotel places there. It's a 5 min drive from downtown. Wallingford, Fremont, and the University Districts are only a 10 min drive to downtown. Finally, you may find that hotels by the Seatac airport are less expensive. That would be a 20 min drive into Seattle. Advice: Avoid getting a hotel along Hwy 99 or Aurora Street. Many rent rooms by the hour...

More Seattle Sights and Sounds:

Highland park in Queen Anne is one of my favorite places to take visitors. Great tiny park with awesome postcard view of Seattle's downtown skyline.

Another place to check out is the Ballard Locks (Hiram Chittenden Locks). The US Army Corps of Engineers dug out a waterway to allow for easy passage between Lake Washington (freshwater) and Puget Sound (saltwater). Boats traveling through the locks must stop in a holding area to be lowered or raised (by filling or draining the holding area) for passage to continue as Lake Washington has a higher elevation than Puget Sound. This is also the site of the salmon ladders. Peak salmon migrations occur in the summer months, when you can view the salmon struggle upstream from saltwater to spawn at their freshwater birthplaces.

If you have some down-time, head over to Alki Beach in West Seattle. ALKI Tavern  (taco Thursdays!!!! at least it was so the last time I went a couple years back), 1321 Harbor Avenue S.W. Seattle, WA 98116 Phone:   (206) 932-9970.  Go for the happy hour at the local pub (motorcycle gang hang out on Thursdays). Get your fill of delectable beef tacos for something like $1.50. Put your own fixings (pile on the lettuce, tomatoes, onions, guac, and sour cream and cheddar cheese to your heart's desire). then sit back, and enjoy the leather clad guys and gals socialize and admire each other's rumbling rides...directions at bottom.
 

Alki Bakery & Cafe. Big windows and big cinnamon rolls go hand-in-hand with an Alki view and breezy cafe feel. 2726 Alki Avenue S.W. Seattle, WA 98116 Phone:   (206) 935-0616

The Scene: In the summer months, you'd swear Alki Bakery was in a more tropical locale, with roller blading locals and sunglass wearing canines just outside the big, sun-filled windows. Laid-back afternoons follow jam-packed mornings where patrons of all ages crowd in to get their hands around sweet pastry or sit down for some lunch hour people watching. The Food:  In addition to incredibly moist muffins and brownies, a variety of  fruit-filled Danishes beg to be inhaled. Even the loaves take on an intriguing spin: potato bread becomes Yukon Gold Dill, round, Italian flat breads begging for a taste. While the baked goods shine, equal attention has been paid to the "cafi" side of things as well. Simple sandwiches and light entrees like deep-dish lasagna are surprisingly inexpensive, and for just a little more a side of the daily soup or notable mixed green salad can be added.

Description of Alki Bakery by: Jeff Walton
 

Directions to both places:
I-5 South
Take the W SEATTLE BR/COLUMBIAN WAY exit
Keep RIGHT at the fork in the ramp.
Merge onto W SEATTLE BRIDGE.
Exit HARBOR AVENUE (not harbor island)
Right on HARBOR AVENUE
If you keep on this road, you'll see the line of parked motorcycles leading to the pub on the left hand side of the road.  If you drive further past the pub, the road becomes Alki and you'll see the cafe on a corner on your left as well. Don't forget to catch the view of Seattle on your right.

The two website resources for Salsa in Seattle are: http://www.salsaseattle.com and http://www.seattlesalsa.com - confusing enough for you?  Also, the CitySearch guide at http://www.citysearch.com isn’t that bad a resource for other things going on in the city.

VANCOUVER

Vancouver Salsa, An Overview: I should note, I did not experience enough Vancouver salsa to really give a proper overview of the scene. I got sidetracked in my duties! Anyway, I've been hearing about Salsa in Toronto and Montreal for months now! I have a friend (Salsera) who returned from Toronto and raved about the salsa scene there. I entered Vancouver hoping for the best, but not expecting too much.  It turns out the scene is quite alive, and quite happening, with a few major stylistic differences. Even in the Salsa clubs, there is nowhere near 100% salsa played. The most salsa, of any clubs I visited, played around 35% - and the rest was house, merengue, cumbia and an occasional cha-cha (one).  The Cumbia style is still very noticeable and prevalent here (back and forth, single inside turn) but has mixed somewhat with West Coast style to form a sort of hybrid that's pretty cool, and very danceable.  The clubs were filled with people - and it was evenly distributed for both men and women.  The clubs felt very safe.

Here's the trip:

Friday – It’s off to Vancouver to check out salsa in Canada.  I’ve heard amazing stories of salsa in Toronto and Montreal (but those cities will have to wait for the next trip).  I’ll start with the website resource at: http://www.salsavancouver.com .

For the third year in a row, Vancouver has been voted the world’s most livable city (by some organization) and it’s easy to see why!  Low crime rate, diverse cultural scene, strong dollar, and friendly people all make up a pretty attractive package.

On Friday, unfortunately, I may have gone to the wrong place for the “Dance Crowd”.  Only afterwards did I hear that “The Polish Community Centre” (who would've thought?!) is the place to be on Friday night (for the dancers).  Did that matter? Well, I wish I had been able to meet more salsa dancers there, but really, not that much! 

I was drawn to the live music offered at Mesa Luna (1926 Broadway @ Cpyress, 1-604-733-5362, www.mesaluna.com). Located a short cab-ride from downtown ($6 cdn, $4 us) the club is easy to get to.  I actually walked there on Saturday with no problems.  The club is located in a safe area (as is most of Vancouver from what I saw). Both on Friday and Saturday Mesa Luna had live music, first with BC Orq. and on Saturday with La Clave Orq. 

What about the club – Let’s start with the music.  This is not a strict “Salsa Club”, as they play a large variety of music including lots of hip hop/dance music and a variety of merengue-esque pop stuff, with a lot of cumbias and a couple of cha-chas.  On Friday there were around 2 salsa’s an hour (including Cumbia), and on Saturday that went up to (maybe) three.

What makes this club stand out?  Why did I go back?  Well, in short, the people.  Friendly people!  Beautiful people!  Friendly and Beautiful people!  I’m sure you get the idea.  Both nights I had little problem meeting groups of people and dancing the night away. There was a noticeable difference in the attitude and outgoing nature of Canadians.  All I can say is . . . wow. While I did get turned down for the occasional “Salsa” dances, I never got turned down for Merengue or pop/hiphop numbers.  For the most part, there weren’t many, if any, die hard salsa dancers there, and most people danced Cumbia (side-to-side, single inside turn) style.  The few people I saw that could dance salsa were coupled, or dancing with themselves, and I didn’t really try that hard to break in. There were no "On2" dancers that I saw here.

Crowded!  This club is crowded, and it was like that on both nights.  I can understand why a lot of the die hard dancers choose to go to other places, because it is impossibly crowded on the dance floor (more so on Saturday). The dance class was entirely Merengue – but I am told that it changes monthly from Salsa to Cha-Cha to Merengue. The class is fun, if a bit disorganized - and about 20 people participated.  The teacher seemed nice, but I didn't really get a chance to meet her.  The long and short of it is - the club is fun!  Don't got expecting your salsa fix and you'll have a good time.

On Saturday, before heading back to Mesa Luna I stopped by the Harbour Dance Center (927 Granville Street, 604-68-latin, www.latindanceteachers.com) which houses the “Salsa Factory” and was also offering salsa classes (and a night of dancing).  This is, without a doubt, where I should have stayed in order to get my Salsa Fix.  In hindsight, I should have hung out longer, but I was overly eager to return to Mesa Luna.

Went by a club called Legends, but since it was already 2 a.m. it was totally shut down. I heard later, from a Salsera that was there that: "I arrived at 1:30am to Legends. Initially, the bouncers weren’t going to let us in since they were closing. It took a good deal of convincing and pulling strings to get us in. The main room had just shut down, but it looked like a fair-sized sports bar with a high ceiling. Downstairs, the dj was still spinning salsa music to a crowded room (reminded me of Café du Nord, except the space was a little bigger than du Nord). We were there for the last four songs of the night, two of which were salsas, two of which were cumbias. Seemed as if there were slightly more females than males in the room. We recognized our friend Shawn and Allen, dancers from Seattle, as well as Nestor, popular instructor and promoter in Vancouver.  So, yeah, we got our fix =) Our harried bartenders remained friendly to the last drop."

Things close early in Vancouver! Be aware – the only after hours clubs (past 1:30 or so) are regular dance clubs (plenty of them available on Granville Street, all “underground”).

Monday – A day of rest (like Sunday, more or less).  Here are some recommended sites and sounds.  Stanley Park is great. Not only is it home to some great hikes (all flat I’m afraid), but it’s also got a few key attractions inside.  It’s a days worth if you want to do a lot of walking.  There are also several very good restaurants (we went to the Tea House and my friends and I had brunch that Saturday at the Fish House. Great service. Great food. We sampled the mmmm-mmm fresh oysters, shrimp cocktail, salmon special, and mussels in ginger coconut sauce, among other delectable selections.  – some quite expensive, others, not too painful

Another beautiful park not to miss is Queen Elizabeth Park. Beautifully manicured paths cut across this gentle hill and lead you along trickling streams crossed by baby foot-bridges or stepping stones below a gentle waterfall. Vibrantly colored flowers against lush green scenery make this a popular spot for bridal party photos. In the hour we were there on Sunday morning, we saw at least two wedding parties setting up for Kodak moments."

Robson street is THE place to shop or stop and people-watch at the local cafes and bars. The streets were teaming with locals and tourists, young and old, and lots of beautiful people.

Ended up a morning/afternoon of walking at Bojangles café, on Robson Street (at Denman, right off the park).  It’s a nice little café for various baked treats, sandwiches and, of course, coffee.  A little too crowded, but a nice stopping off place.  I also enjoyed Yaletown, with it’s fancy brewing company, and nice restaurants.  It’s definitely worth a stop (it’s only about three blocks worth of stuff).  Everything [nc6] in Vancouver is walkable!

Tuesday is Club Voda at the Westin Hotel (783 Homer).  One of the classiest locations of the trip. Very nice club, with small dance floor that does quite well on Tuesday nights!  Good, friendly staff, I was surprised to find out that it is not associated with the hotel (i.e. it is owned by a separate entity). As opposed to other nights, doing "undercover" salsa reporting, I introduced myself to the club owner and the DJ whom were both very nice people. There was some great salsa played here (although still not enough of it for my taste).  I liked the DJ - and heard some salsa from our town with Azabache and La Palabra both being played.  Lots of people show up (for a Tuesday), with about 150, but the floor is small, so be careful.  It clears out early, and there's plenty of room to dance later in the evening.

In Vancouver, there are a lot of hotels! The strong dollar (and weak Canadian dollar, the loonie) makes this an inexpensive place to come and visit, relative to say, the Bay Area or Seattle. Unfortunately, I arrived on a three day “Gay Pride” parade weekend, and everything was sold out for the first few days.  This forced me into the Howard Johnsons on Granville, and it was pricey.  I got them from the $200 ($150 us) advertised, down to $139 ($90 us), but that was as low as they’d go.  As soon as I could, I switched to the Best Western down the street which is a total deal!  It was $79 ($49 us) for a room with a queen OR double  bed.  Which means, with a friend, you can stay for roughly $25 a night at a clean, safe, and nice hotel which has secure underground parking (an absolute MUST).  There are even less expensive hotels to be found – but be warned – use AAA!  I saw a hotel in Gastown which was $10 - $20 less, but NOT clean (avoid at all costs, the __ hotel).  Always  ask to see the room before signing anything (I’m still arguing over the charge at a hotel in Gastown). There’s downtown (on Granville) where I stayed, Gastown, where I almost stayed (and then ran when I saw the room), or lower Robson (which is a nice, safe, central, shopping area).

Which brings me to: parking in Vancouver.  If you drove up – never leave anything in your car.  Not a penny, not a lighter, and not Kleenex in the back seat.  While the incidence of violent crime is somewhat rare compared to the states, auto crime is totally out of control, especially in Downtown! There is shattered window glass everywhere.  It’s obviously a total epidemic.  I would walk down some streets and every single car would have their windows shattered.  Every parking lot I visited had several places of shattered glass, and I was warned on multiple occasions by the Downtown Tourist Patrol (very helpful people who ride around on bikes and help tourists) not to leave anything in my car.  Be careful – no one wants to replace a broken window on his or her trip.

Vancouver has friendly people, but one of the best breakfast’s in town is served in one of the most unfriendly of places.   Actually, not really unfriendly, but, let’s say “not service oriented”. Do not bring children to this place, as some of the language can be of a mature nature. The Elbo Room is located a couple of blocks off Granville, near Yaletown, and they serve some great breakfasts.  Just remember, don’t ask for substitutions, and get your own coffee and water (after the first glass).  Oh, and be prepared to take some abuse, because this café heaps it out.  Some people don’t know how to deal with it and end up leaving, others laugh nervously, and yet others, dish it right back.  You’ll have to choose how to handle it.  It’s all rather good-natured, but it can definitely catch you off guard if you walk in totally unaware.  The quick answer to your question is, yes – it’s worth it, the breakfast is great!

I also enjoyed Milestone’s in Yaletown for a causal bite to eat.  There’s also a Milestone’s on Robson, and about a million other places to eat (probably far better).

General Comments For Road Trip Travel

The Spare Key: When road-tripping, always bring a spare key.  You can keep one sewn in the interior lining of your backpack, and more importantly, keep one hidden in your car. I mean well hidden – no one should be able to find it easily.  You’ll only need to get to it in an emergency, so you can make it as hard to get to as you can.  You can cut a secret whole in your carpet, tape it to the bottom of a seat, or even be more clever with your technique. The key (ha!) is not to be unprepared. Thank god I did this – because of course, I lost my keys!  That’s a savings of at least $150 for the locksmith to come out and make you keys.

The Road Trip- Preparation is key.  Lots of food, lots of water, and these days – lots of money for gas! 

Hotels with Garages: It’s always nice to find a hotel with a garage!  Even if you have an old and beat up car, chances are you're going to have a lot of your clothing and other items in it.  That's what get cars broken into, not necessarily how nice and shiny it is.

The Beauty of Vancouver - I almost left this out, but figure people can take a joke! Disclaimer: This is just a funny perception - not anything to judge my character by. It’s always nice visiting a town with a high percentage of beautiful people.  You find, generally, that people are less standoffish, or stuck up.  Hell, if everyone’s gorgeous, people have less of an attitude about it.  I found this to be true in Miama and Palm Beach, and now, Vancouver. Everyone's just so damn good looking! On my trip I met one bartender from the Earls Court restaurant in downtown Vancouver.  He said that I had to drop by his place just to see the women that would be working there.  Well, who could pass that up – and all I can say is wow.  Single guys (and gals) reading this, take notes; Cactus Club, Earls, and Plaza.  Whoa. . .Vancouver is crazy!

Downtowns versus Neighborhoods: They both have pros and cons.  Generally, downtowns are centrally located, and have brand name hotels.  In addition, they often have parking (for a hefty charge), and are near many sights, food and clubs.  Generally, on this trip, downtowns also suffered from bad homeless problems, overcrowding, and not-so-nice neighborhoods.  Local hotels, in the various suburbs, are better bets if you don’t need to be in walking distance from everything.

 

AAA - They'll give you the maps and the books, all for free! Great service.  They also got me into my car when I locked myself out.

 

The SalsaCrazy/SalsaRoots Tshirt: Ok, this may seem like a sales pitch - and really, it is.  Go ahead and buy yourself one of these shirts.  If you wear it out to clubs you will have a MUCH easier time meeting people, dancing with others, etc . . . It's a conversation starter, and beats the hell out of a regular black tshirt (guys) or tube top (gals). Go ahead, check out the SalsaCrazy Tshirt and the SalsaRoots Tshirt.  Buy one of each! ;)

 

That's it for now - There's always more to say, but if you made it this far, congratulations!

 

All comments can be sent to: salsacrazy@salsacrazy.com





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