If you didn’t know that there was a Puerto Rican restaurant in the worn building tucked between a highway and a tired strip mall in a working class neighborhood, you’d drive right by.
Most days, Antojitos does a steady business for lunch and dinner. One Saturday night a month, they close to host a private party – reservations only. Fabulous buffet dinner for $20. Since it’s a private party? Bring your own drinks.
The magic starts when the music begins. Members of a regional salsa band consider it a ‘jam’. They have friends, and other musicians drop in whenever possible. Sometimes a small subset of the band gets going. Other nights? The small storefront is packed solid with a full horn section, percussion, keyboard and guitars.
At some point during the evening, you are no longer in a nearly invisible restaurant in a smallish town in the Midwest – you forget all that. You’re in Old San Juan, or some cheerful dive in Central America, or in Little Havana….
Last weekend, i joined friends to celebrate a birthday at Antojitos. Some had been to “Salsa Night” before, but for a few it was a first time. It was a good night to be baptized. Full horn section in the house, with guest artists from a local high school jazz band. My guitar teacher, and her husband, were there as well. Almost two dozen musicians!
The place was packed! Our group of 20 crammed two tables at the front of the restaurant. Another 50 people were packed in – tables so close together we were nearly sitting on top of each other!
Getting our fill of the amazing food at the buffet, our attention turned to a matter of tremendous importance — making room for a dance floor! We helped tear down two large tables, and rearrange to clear some space in the middle of the room.
The music started. The magic happened. Couples hopped up to dance. Young children joined on percussion instruments. Joy, laughter, music! All ages in the house – including multi-generational families.
And so it went… music, dance, drinks, laughter.
By midnight, the crowd had thinned out a bit, but the dancers had kicked up the energy to fill the space. Returning from the restroom, i was stopped by a young girl. Maybe 10 years old…
“I like the way you dance.”
Confident and direct, this was completely unexpected! i mentioned that she seemed to be pretty good on the percussion instruments, too! i thanked her, and returned to the dance floor.
As the band kicked into the last song of the night, i was standing by a wall, deciding if i had one more in me. My young friend stepped up, took my hand and led me out to the floor. The kid had salsa moves! Executing steps and turns with confidence and grace, she threw it down – and i had to work to keep up!
This was taken earlier in the night, but that’s my girl in the light blue shirt. She’s got it goin’ on…