Why you should care
Because once you’re in it, you can’t help but move.
It’s a true step back in time. At El Chorrito Antillano, the fashion and decor are reminiscent of the 1960s and ’70s — salsa’s heyday. Here, a gigantic embroidered tiger-on-a-shirt dances with teal blue tights. Carlos Arturo Quiñones, a regular salsero, alone and a bit tipsy, doesn’t hold back. He grabs a cowbell from the bar and sinks into “Sonido Bestial” with the confidence of a matador. He knows everyone and dances with anyone. On a Sunday night around 9:30 p.m., you’d never believe he’s 67 years old. “This is my pregame,” he tells me, plopping down on a stool and wiping the sweat off his brow.
Welcome to Cali, Colombia.
This is what la vida salsera looks like in what many consider to be salsa’s capital. What makes salsa so cool here? The music that hasn’t yet been beaten down by time. The older folks revel in its nostalgia. The young are reviving it. And with a budget of about $40 per person, this list, Cali and the night is all you need.
Arrebato Caleño Salsa School
Want a few hours of salsa lessons before you get into it? Start here and learn the paso Caleño with instructor Alejandra Tovar and her team of salseros. Arrebato is nestled up in the heights of Cali’s colonial San Antonio district. The school will help you out with getting around the city and finding the rest of these spots, too. Personalized classes range from $10 to $20 per hour, and group classes are available.
The chromed-out bar tables make you feel like you’re zooming through an episode of The Jetsons.
El Chorrito Antillano
Let’s get real. Quiñones’ joint is for those who enjoy the old school. But you can’t beat the chromed-out bar tables that make you feel like you’re zooming through an episode of The Jetsons. Like manager Luis Carlos Paredes says, “This is a place of nostalgia, of memories … the place where you come to listen to vinyl classics and remember that first girl you met.” Yup, at El Chorrito Antillano, 72-year-old disc jockey Wilson Gomez still spins vinyl from the 1960s and ’70s. The neighborhood might feel a bit sketchy, but don’t worry; the joint itself is safe, and plenty of cabs are always waiting outside to take you home.
La Topa Tolondra
If you’re into a younger, more hip crowd, look no further than this hole-in-the-wall. La Topa Tolondra is a more experimental scene, without the hardcore traditionalism of El Chorrito. But it’s a small space and gets packed on Fridays and Saturdays. Note their Cool Monday option, a place for practicing your Spanish and “cultural exchange” before the week ramps up. If you want to watch the serious dancers show off their moves, go hit it up on Wednesdays.
If Topa is jam-packed or you just want the night to keep rolling, the party here on Saturday night peaks at 1 a.m. Don’t be surprised if someone asks you to indulge in a shot of national rum and melt into their party. The cover of $5 per person gets waived on Thursdays. New to all this? Here’s a tip: There’s really only one way to sit at the rickety, wooden stools at a true salsa bar like Zaperoco. You stand up. You forget that cramped table in the corner. And baby, you move! And don’t fear that stranger who pulls you up out of your chair to dance. This is Cali! It’s what you do!