Salsa and the city

Taking a dip on the dance floor at Yuca on Lincoln Road. Photo: Alex Mateo de Acosta

Miami’s got a reputation – and it’s a hot one.

Steamy nights, trendy clubs, little clothing and lots of spice. The city is a melting pot, and nothing captures the essence, the feel, the vibe of the place and its people like salsa. This style of music and dance, derived from the Cuban son and mambo, exudes sensuality and passion. No wonder it’s often the soundtrack for movies and shows that depict Miami and its sexy inhabitants.

A city so full of Latin influence is also full of clubs claiming to be the definitive salsa spot. But which are worth your money and time? We did the research and found the perfect clubs for every sabor of salsa lover.

The Beginner

If you have a desire to swivel your hips and turn or be turned, head to South Beach’s Yuca. Located on the northwest corner of Lincoln and Drexel, Yuca offers salsa classes hosted by Salsa Mia every Friday and Sunday night beginning at 8:30 p.m. All dancers – regardless of skill level – are welcome. The two-hour classes teach hordes of eager dancers everything from the basic step to the more complicated Rueda – a group dance where couples form a circle and rapidly swap partners through fancy moves.

A one-time class will cost you $40, but you’ll save money if you purchase several classes up front. A 5-night lesson pass runs $100. That’s $20 per class. Yes, it’s still pricey but that pass gets you free admission into the nightclub, which opens once the classes are over, and half-price drinks. This is a great place to master the basics, gain some confidence and join the party on the dance floor. Come with a partner or alone. Yuca provides a friendly atmosphere perfect for mingling.
Yuca, 501 Lincoln Road, Miami Beach; 305-532-9822

The Dining Dancer

For those who see salsa dancing as the perfect workout after a gut-busting meal, we’ve got three restaurant lounges that know the party isn’t over once dessert has been served. We’ll start with the jewel of the Miracle Mile, Uva. This Mediterranean-inspired venue in Coral Gables is a major date-night destination on Saturdays.

Fuel up on dishes from fillet mignon to shrimp linguine with pink vodka sauce, and gather your courage with a few glasses of wine. The party atmosphere picks up around 9 p.m., with a belly dance show that might inspire you on the dance floor later. Not strictly salsa, the DJ plays old-school Latin classics early in the night. As the night progresses, the music turns to merengue, and the main dance floor gets very crowded. If you don’t mind being away from the action, a side room towards the back of the lounge is usually crowd-free and gives you ample floor space to show off your salsa moves.
Uva, 2626 Ponce De Leon Boulevard, Coral Gables; 305-476-8111

Heading west, we come to Mojitos Cuban Restaurant, located at Entrance 3 of the Dolphin Mall. The restaurant’s décor is Cuban colonial: mosaic fountains, stained-glass windows and colorful artwork. Mojitos serves authentic Cuban dishes followed by authentic Cuban music performed by the house band on Fridays and Saturdays. The place has an upscale feel but the crowd is warm – perhaps thanks to the 14 different varieties of mojitos on offer here.
Mojitos Cuban Restaurant, 11401 NW 12th St., Miami; 305-406-1002

For the Broward set, Giorgio’s Grill offers spectacular views of the Intracoastal Waterway. Watch the yachts pass by while you dine on the outside deck. Inside, the large lounge has a European touch with stone pillars adorning the outskirts of the dance floor. Friday nights start with salsa instructions from the DJ. The brief classes are followed with about an hour of salsa standards. You’ll see a wide spectrum of patrons on Giorgio’s dance floor – young experienced dancers that are a delight to watch as well as an older crowd practicing the basics. As the night progresses, the music switches to Latin hip hop and reggaeton. The best part: no cover charge.
Giorgio’s Grill, 606 N. Ocean Drive, Hollywood Beach; 954-929-7030

The Convenience Seeker

For the working professional who wants a nearby spot to feel the rhythm, Alcazaba inside the Hyatt Regency Coral Gables is the place to go. Stop in on Wednesday for salsa and ladies night, where women get free admission and 2-for-1 drinks. The hotel entrance, modeled after a fortress in Spain, and chandelier-lit marble lobby set a sophisticated mood. Alcazaba’s singles-focused theme nights help break the ice and create a lively scene on the dance floor. Alcazaba is locally famous for the nuts and bolts game, in which men are given bolts and women are given nuts. Each spends the night looking for the right match. Those who find their other half win a complimentary dinner for two.
Alcazaba, 50 Alhambra Plaza, Coral Gables; 305-569-4614

For South Broward residents too weary on Wednesday nights to head south to Miami Beach or north to Fort Lauderdale, Café Iguana Pines offers a Latin night just a short drive away. The 25,000-square-foot club is located near the corner of University Drive and Pines Boulevard in Hollywood. The expansive Café Iguana has several bars, including a martini bar and a sports bar, plasma TVs throughout, and six separate rooms. Despite the size, the club draws a huge crowd and feels packed even on a weeknight. But the more the merrier, right?
Café Iguana Pines, 8358 Pines Blvd., Hollywood; 954-433-8787

The Savant

If you want to experience the nostalgia of traditional Cuba and its music, Hoy Como Ayer Bar & Lounge offers an authentic experience. The cozy club in the heart of Little Havana features an eclectic mix of local live acts as well as internationally known singers and bands. If live salsa music that channels Celia Cruz and Benny More is what you crave, come here Friday and Saturday nights when Luis Bofil performs. A fan of the Spam Allstars unique fusion of Latin and electronica? They make their rounds Thursday nights.
Hoy Como Ayer, 2212 SW 8th St., Little Havana; 305-541-2631

The Days Inn on-site lounge, Café Mystique near Miami International Airport won’t win any awards for hipness. But it is a stalwart institution of salsa in its purest form. You don’t come here on Friday nights for the atmosphere or the location. You come here to dance salsa until your legs are numb. And then on Saturdays you come back to see the best salsa artists and bands perform live. Upcoming performances include Lefty Perez, Luis Enrique, Roberto Torres and Eddie Santiago. If you need to brush up on your technique, salsa classes are offered Thursday nights.
Café Mystique, 7250 NW 11th St., Miami; 305-26 2-1000

For skilled Broward dancers, The Paladium on the corner of Sample Road and U.S. 441 in Margate promises to play the classics on Saturday nights. The club’s slogan: “Paladium is a serious place for dancers.” DJ Alex Gutierrez of La Kalle 98.3 keeps everyone happy spinning salsa standards from Hector Lavoe, El Gran Combo, Willie Colon and other old-school legends from 10 p.m. until 4 a.m.
The Paladium, 5688 West Sample Road, Margate; 954-977-7752