Grevel Lindop

Poet, biographer, critic, essayist and writer on just about everything

Cuba Cafe: Best Thursday Night in Town

Cuba Cafe: A hidden gem of the Northern Quarter

I’ve just revisited Cuba Cafe in Manchester’s Northern Quarter for the first time since Christmas. If you don’t know Cuba Cafe, you are missing one of Manchester’s great experiences: an intimate, wonderfully-decorated little bar and dance club full of Caribbean memorabilia and vibrant with atmosphere.

Walking in there is an amazing experience. With its coloured lights, TV screens showing old Cuban music videos, the suitcases and flowers and bicycles and a profusion of other strange things hanging from the roof, the pictures of Che and Marilyn and Charlie Parker, the palm trees and ceiling fans, it’s like a stage set where you and your friends are the actors, and absolutely anything could happen. I love the place and just wish more people knew about it.

An amazing place, full of Cuban memorabilia

If you’re into Latin music, salsa in particular, it’s a mecca: there’s a good dance floor and a great sound system. Plus Latin American beers on sale. There are salsa classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I was lucky enough to turn up on a Thursday night, and found Michael running an excellent rueda class, teaching some really interesting and spectacular moves. Afterwards there was free dancing.

It seems this is now the pattern each Thursday: a styling class (men and women) at 7pm; rueda at 8pm and social dancing from 9pm onwards. For the Thursday classes you need to be comfortable with basic salsa, but on Tuesdays there are also classes for beginners.

Some of the best salsa classes in Manchester, for beginners and experienced dancers

As a bonus, you’ll often meet Mo, the cafe’s owner and a fine creative spirit who has made the place into a work of art; and Tracey, who’s equally happy behind the bar serving a cerveza or slipping out to join the dancers on the floor.

If you love salsa or if you just want to savour a unique Manchester experience, do go along to Cuba Cafe. It’s remained something of a secret because it isn’t easy to find. Here’s how you get there. Starting from Piccadilly Gardens, you need to go up Newton Street (opposite side of the gardens from the trams, at the right hand corner). After a block or so, you’ll see a little street running off right at a diagonal. It’s called Port Street. Walk up Port Street, past the Crown and Anchor pub. Just keep going: don’t be put off, because you won’t see Cuba Cafe at first. Just when you think you’ll never find it, the street takes a little slant to the left and there it is. Here’s a link to the website for more information:
http://www.cubacafe.co.uk/

Relax, meet your friends and enjoy the atmosphere

Go there. Have fun. Have a drink. Dance your socks off. See you there!

Talking about Salsa

1950s cars are still common in Cuba but they're disappearing fast

1950s cars are still common in Cuba but they're disappearing fast

Salsa isn’t something you talk about, surely? it’s something you do. But tonight I’m going to break that rule, because I’m off to speak to the Marple Arts Group about what it’s like to dance salsa in Latin America.

In 2007 I travelled through seven countries (Cuba, Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, the Domnican Republic and the USA – well, Miami Fla. to be precise) learning the local styles and dancing in the local clubs. And there are people out there – in Marple and many other places – who may never dance, but who want to get a little of the flavour of what it was like.

It’s made a bit easier by the fact that I can play some of the music, and show some pictures – Latin America and the Caribbean are a gift to anyone with a camera because the light’s so good and the colours so rich.

And when I wrote my book about the journey – Travels on the Dance Floor – I put a lot of care into making the words as vivid as possible. A lot of people who’ve heard me read from the book say that it creates mental pictures which are like a movie in their heads.

Sharing the colours and textures of an experience like that with others is a great delight. And maybe it’s possible to share some of the romance as well. In salsa every dance can be a little three- or four-minute love affair with your partner. It opens your heart up.

Every person you meet, in any country, is a whole new world. And when they’re the opposite sex as well, then they might as well come from another (friendly) planet. Mars, Venus, wherever. To hold that lovely alien in your arms for a few minutes and dance is an amazing experience.

Telling people about an experience like this is a privilege, and the magic communicates itself. I enjoy these talks, and the audiences seem to find them great fun and respond warmly. Maybe some of them have already been inspired to pack their bags and jet off to Cuba or Colombia: places that need tourists and truly appreciate the kind of visitor who makes an effort to get into the local culture.

So Marple here I come, just pausing to choose a good salsa track to play in the car on the way!