Miami's a city that's bilingual when it comes to fun, thanks to our huge community of Latin American expats who have shown us how to convert our party into a parranda. So visitors and locals determined to boogie down get to take in a dose of pan-Latin culture that you can't find just anywhere. These are the clubs you need to find yourself in if you want to practice your pasitos, find a good mojito, drink a sub-zero President beer or just to try your Spanish pick-up lines on someone you'll probably never ever see again.
Mango's Tropical Café
With its tropical rainforest décor and wait staff wearing leopard-print catsuits, all who enter Mango's Tropical Café are in for a wild time, indeed. There's a reason Mango's reigns as the numero uno nightclub on SoBe for the Latin vibe; check out the waitresses dancing on the bar, the music blaring and island-inspired drinks flowing. (Ladies, skip this as a date spot -- the waitresses can be a bit distracting.) They pump salsa, merengue, bachata, samba and reggeton until the wee hours and often feature a live band and dance shows (professionals, that is, not drunken tourists). You may bump into some overly friendly travelers, but just slide to the right and dance yourself out of his grasp.
When to go: Pretty much any night that people are out and about on SoBe, but weekends are especially festive.
Mango's Tropical Café, 900 Ocean Dr., Miami Beach. 305-673-4422
La Covacha gives you that cozy feeling, as if you're partying in a neighbor's (incredibly huge) backyard tiki hut. The crew of DJs mixes salsa, Cuban classics, merengue and vallenato, and they even throw in some disco and house. The ambience is relaxed and the crowd is anything but pretentious. Many Miami residents go through a La Covacha phase, usually occurring when they are legally able to drink, have just immigrated, or when they are newly single (separated, divorced or undecided) and are ready to get out and meet people. So expect a good mix of folks of all ages ready to burn a whole in the dance floor.
When to go: Friday through Sunday, two-for-one drinks at the Friday Happy Hour, Saturday night features an open bar from 10 p.m.-11:30 p.m. and on Sundays, ladies drink for free until midnight.
La Covacha, 10730 N.W. 25th Street, Doral. 305-594-3717
Wednesday night is the night for serious salsa dancers to head over to Alcazaba. And since the bar is pampering the ladies, offering up complimentary Champagne and wine, and two-for-one drinks, the men are swarming as well. Needless to say, you'll find your share of guys on the prowl, but ladies, most likely he's gainfully employed and if you're lucky, he knows how to dance. For those who need a refresher course, an instructor from Salsa Lovers Dance Studio gives an intensive class starting at 8 p.m. Resident DJ Alex Gutiérrez is always on deck, assisted by Jammin' Johnny, Frank Banderas and others who know how to keep the couples dancing until their feet hurt.
When to go: Wednesday nights 6 p.m.-8 p.m. complementary paella, 8 p.m. Salsa lessons for the rookies and after 10 p.m. for the pros.
Alcazaba, 50 Alhambra Plaza, Coral Gables. 305-569-4614
Hoy Como Ayer
Where is that guayabera you once bought during that cruise of the Caribbean? Well, make sure to give it a good ironing so you can exhibit your affinity for all things Cuban at this cozy club in Little Havana. The place is a shrine to the greats of Cuban music, with photos of Benny More and Celia Cruz plastered on the walls, and it keeps the tradition going with weekly showcases of Cuban groups and bolero singers. To really get your groove on, go during Fuácata!, the Thursday night event where you can order yourself a Cuba Libre and give a listen to house band Spam All Stars with their funky brand of Latin fusion.
When to go: Thursday nights for Fuácata! if you want to shake it, door is only $7. Ladies free before 11 p.m. But Friday through Sunday they have balladeers and traditional Cuban ensembles as well.
Hoy Como Ayer, 2212 SW 8th St., Miami. 305-541-2631
Club Tipico Dominicano
Remember your last trip to Punta Cana? The palm trees, the merengue, the cold cold beer. Relive it in Allapatah, the heart of Miami's Dominican expat community. The merengue, bachata and salsa flow generously and the crowd somehow exudes that same Dominican joie-de-vivre that sends us running back to their all-inclusives every summer.
When to go: Saturday nights after 10 p.m. the throngs come out ($5 for ladies, $10 for guys). Sunday after 3 p.m. is Domingo Playero, which is for the entire family, especially the members of the family who would be interested in the two-for-one specials on Presidente beer.
Club Tipico Dominicano, 1344 NW 36 St., Miami. 305-634-7819
At Café Mystique it doesn't matter what kind of car you drive, what matters is how you dance. This is a club for serious movers and if you can't keep up, you might be returned to your seat. But maybe the free Thursday night salsa lesson with Ramani Nicola of Salsa Casino Dance will help you blend in. Café Mystique is a favorite with Cuban salsa lovers and is considered the birthplace of "Rueda de Casino," an intricate, circular group dance that you should not try to participate in unless you really know what you're doing.
When to go: Thursday-Sunday, it starts to heat up after 11 p.m. and the kitchen is open till midnight in case you arrive hungry. Sundays is for the experienced salsa dancers. If that's not you, you might just enjoy watching the couples that dance like pros.
Café Mystique, 7250 NW 11 St., Miami. 305-262-9500
What, like you've never seen leopard Spandex before? Photo: Raul Rubiera