Photograph by Felipe Buitrago
Arroyo Musical plays at Miami Beach Club in San Jose.
The Latino club scene runs a generational gamut
By Colleen Watson
SAN JOSE can boast many things, and a strong, multilayered Latino scene is one of them. It's not just salsa and Mexican music, although you can find that, too. From what I've seen from my travels is a Latino scene with three different subgroups that share a couple of traits but are also very different. The clubs also span the South Bay with hopping outposts in Mountain View, Palo Alto and Santa Clara.
The first one is for the purists. These are usually first-generation Latinos; Spanish is their first language; and they put in long days and want to kick back and simply have some fun. They can be found at bars like Club Caribe on First Street in San Jose, which is decorated with neon palm trees, and country bars like El Rodeo Club on Coleman Avenue.
Banda music, which is usually a Spanish band with about eight to 15 people singing and playing instruments at top volume, is the popular music here, with dancing all night long. The crowd ranges from the barely legal to about the mid-40s; tight jeans, boots and cowboy hats are the uniform here for both men and women, although women also dress up a little nicer as well. Coronas are the drink of choice, which at some clubs can be ordered by the bucket, which is always helpful.
The next group is what one insider called the Cosmo Latinos. These are usually second- or third-generation, in their 20s and more, and they are seriously into a club atmosphere. A lot of the patrons grew up listening to Mexican music but have moved on to more mainstream hip-hop music.
This group hangs in downtown San Jose at the Miami Beach Club or at Club Barcelona in Sunnyvale. The guys sport buttoned-up shirts and gelled hair; the women strut in wearing tight jeans or tiny skirts and stilettos. DJs spin a mix of popular Spanish music and hip-hop sprinkled with a salsa beat. The dance floor is filled with couples twirling and shaking with updated salsa, meringue and cha-cha moves. This is not the place to come and dance with your girlfriends; this is the place to come and find a sexy Latino guy to dance the night away with.
The third and last group is the pure salsa cohort. These you can find at downtown hot spots like Azucars. This group ranges in age and ethnicity from the just 21 to old gentlemen who can still burn up the dance floor. Though there is a strong Latino presence in the scene, salsa has become very popular over the years and brings in other groups as well. With a strong partner, a rhythmically challenged girl can probably get by, but guys need to know what they are doing. A mojito or two also helps newcomers get into the swing of things.
All three subsets have their ups and downs. In general, each group is just out to have a few drinks and some fun. Yes, there are occasional fights, although a lot of clubs have this problem, but overall I found a friendly atmosphere and happy people. A lot of the Latino venues take cash only, so come prepared. But once you get in, I found that most of the patrons are very friendly, and even for those who don't speak Spanish, it's possible to dance for hours without uttering a single word.
Send a letter to the editor about this story.