Milwaukee club serves salsa, merengue

Tom Kilian

Merengue and salsa are not just dances, they’re addictions. But for those dance addicts around the state who wake up in a cold sweat, you may have trouble finding a hot Latin beat. Still it is possible to find a place, a place not too far from Appleton, to turn and twirl. This place is Milwaukee’s El Babalu.El Babalu Caribbean Club and Restaurant is not hard to find. In fact, you may just hear it before you see it. Follow the sound of salsa until you get right around the 600 block of W National Ave. You’ll see a rundown bar called Felipe’s Place. Don’t go there. Instead, go across the street where you’ll find a fairly large building, windowed in a manner that gives the lucky passerby a view of the dance floor. That’s your place. On a Friday night, if there’s a D.J., cover is $5.00. By all means pay it.

Once you’re inside, you’ll find that the property is well kept and attractive. The atmosphere is comfortable and friendly; something that can be attributed to the venue’s staff and patrons. Most inside the club dress stylishly, but you can leave your suit and tie at home.

Among a largely Hispanic crowd, you’ll find the non-Hispanic, the young, the old, those who are gifted dancers, and those who haven’t a prayer. Overall, everyone is having a good time. There’s no velvet rope and most of the razzle-dazzle comes from the moves on the dance floor.

The music, well, the music is buenIsima. If the D.J. is spinning, expect sets of salsa and merengue to dominate, with a hint of other Caribbean beats, hip-hop, and techno. If not, prepare to swivel your hips to top merengue, salsa, and cumbia acts hailing from the states and abroad. And if you like to watch, then you’ve come to the right place. Even if you don’t Latin dance, the view is more than entertaining. Word on the street is that dance professionals and instructors from around Milwaukee frequent El Babalu. The result: more uninhibited movement than NAFTA.

Those who are of the mindset that a few sips helps shake the hips, a beer or a mixed drink will set you back around $4.00. Or better yet, come during the day, Tuesday through Friday, to savor an array of reasonably priced Caribbean cuisine while you sip your Corona.

Given the attractive venue, the great music, and the friendly atmosphere, it is fair to say that El Babalu is probably the finest Latin club north of the border; the Illinois-Wisconsin border, that is.