Puerto Rican culture highlighted at café

SAN JUAN, P.R.— Latin music blares as the rich culture of San Juan fills the air. Eager Salsa dancers and tourists mingle in the alleyway before entering the main room of the historical Nuyorican Café, referred to by tourists as “the diamond in the rough.”

This Thursday to Saturday night hotspot in Old San Juan, formerly a Spanish Convent, resembles a large living room, darkly lit and adorned with paintings of Salsa dancers, Jazz artists and Latin artwork, draws tourists to a place where they can learn Salsa for the first time or dance with the pros.

University of Miami students and friends, (from left) Mara Smith, Mia Smith, Gabrielle Officer, and Kaci Fowler brush up on their Salsa moves (Photo courtesy of Kaci Fowler).

“In San Juan, Salsa is a lifestyle. At the Nuyorican, learning Salsa is never an intimidating experience, Robbie Ganez, seasoned Salsa dancer at the Nuyorican, said.

Old San Juan, known for its historical buildings and nightlife, is the “historic colonial city” of San Juan. Characterized by richly designed buildings and cobblestone streets and alleyways, Old San Juan is an attraction that is frequented most by tourists in San Juan.

The Nuyorican Café, founded in 1973 to promote the arts in Old San Juan, gives upcoming artists the opportunity to display various art forms to the community. The Café allows these artists to present themselves through completed or progressive artwork. Guests also have the opportunity to dine for under $15, enjoy a play, or simply light up the room through Salsa dancing.

University of Miami students (from left) Mara Smith, Kaci Fowler, Mia Smith and Gabrielle Officer enjoy Salsa dancing at the Nuyorican Café. (Photo courtesy of Kaci Fowler).

Tourists are invited to experience Salsa whether they are casually dressed or elegantly polished. The friendly atmosphere encircles tourists as soon as they approach the doors.
“Welcome to the Nuyorican Café. We have a live band that will play in the next 10 minutes,” hostess, Gabriela Cruz, said with a smile.

“Live band? Definitely. Count me in,” said Michelle Toller, a tourist from California.
“I decided to come to the Nuyorican because I was sure it would be something I had never experienced before,” Toller said.

The $5 entrance fee and “stamp of approval” allows guests to enjoy Salsa even after a piña colada or paella from Barrachina, a restaurant known to many as “the birthplace of the piña colada” located right around the corner.

As tourists enter the Nuyorican Café, the wood-paneled walls seem to invite them as they meet people of various Caribbean decent wiling to tell them everything they want to know about Salsa.

The Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean in San Juan, P.R. (Photo by Kaci Fowler).

“The Nuyorican is my favorite place to Salsa in San Juan. I’ve been coming here for years because of the friendly atmosphere. There are never any discrepancies between people of various cultures. Everyone simply just wants to dance,” Ganez said.

Sultry dancing and the Café’s “blue drinks” are characteristic of the Nuyorican and most tourists quickly find themselves acting as locals.

“I was a little optimistic about coming to the Nuyorican because I never danced Salsa before and I was certain that I would not be accepted by the locals. But when I entered the Nuyorican, I was welcomed fully by each local. It was amazing,” Betty Walker, a tourist from Arizona, said.

An overview of Old San Juan (Photo by Kaci Fowler).

Mixing and mingling with dreadlocked rastas and Puerto Rican men and women, tourists quickly realize that the Nuyorican is something that even the shyest person can enjoy.

“When tourists come to San Juan, most are told that they must go to the Nuyorican, not because we want to simply fill the place.. They are told because we want them to experience a culture that we as Puerto Ricans, have cherished for many years,” Cruz said.

“When I come to the Nuyorican, I have a different experience each time. Some nights there will be a jazz band and other nights there will be Bohemian and Salsa bands. You never really know what you are going to get on your visit to the Nuyorican, but all I know is that it is a great time,” said Ganez.

Guests smile as they are whisked away by Latin sounds and become tempted to approach the dance floor. Grabbing hands with a “friendly stranger,” tourists find Salsa in San Juan to be an artistic experience.

Breathtaking view of Condado beach in San Juan, P.R. (Photo by Kaci Fowler).

Swaying back and forth to the sounds of the live band, tourists such as Kelly Lee, say the “Nuyorican gives me the chance to unwind with out a care in the world.”

As large fans try to blow the sweat off of the happy faces of dancing guests of the Nuyorican, locals and tourists alike, find the Nuyorican to be a place that is dedicated to entertain and provides a Salsa experience that tourists such as Lee believe is “like no other.”

If You Go:

The Nuyorican, located at 312 San Francisco St., in Old San Juan, welcomes guests 21 and older and has a $5 admission fee.

The Nuyorican is open from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. Thursdays- Saturdays. Parking is located in many alleyways near the Nuyorican. However, guests traveling from Condado, P.R., are suggested to take a taxi costing approximately $18, while guests from Old San Juan are suggested to walk or take a taxi.

For more information on the Nuyorican Café visit or contact 787-977-1276 and 787-366-5074.


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