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Robert Abrams
C&W Chacha
United States
Chicago, IL

Excalibur - Latin Thursdays in Chicago

by Robert Abrams
April 3, 2003
632 North Dearborn
Chicago, IL 60610
(312) 266-1944

Excalibur - Latin Thursdays in Chicago

By Robert Abrams
April 3, 2003

632 North Dearborn
Chicago, IL 60610

I was in Chicago for the PikeNet conference, devoted to the intersection of real estate and technology. What happens when you go to conferences, no matter what they are about? You usually come to the conference hotel, which looks more or less like every other conference hotel, attend the conference in identical session rooms, and then you go straight back to the airport to go home. I was determined not to let this happen this time, so I stuck around for an extra day. I went to Gino's East for the genuine Chicago deep dish pizza. My sister, who is married into a family with significant Chicago connections, recommended it. I managed to stumble across the place, in the rain, by striking out in a more or less random direction. The pizza was unlike any I had had before - the crust had the consistency of well baked corn bread. I thought it was very good. On the way to Gino's East, I came across a Pizzeria Uno, which I also like, but I can get that in New York.

On the way back I passed a club called Excalibur. From the outside it wasn't clear what kind of a club it was, but I filed it away in the back of my mind just in case.

Determined to go out in the evening, I asked the concierge for recommendations. These turned out not to have dancing on Thursday nights. A google search for "Chicago Excalibur" revealed that they were having a Latin night tonight. Since it was only six blocks from my hotel, that sounded like a good bet.

Excalibur has at least two floors. There may be a third floor, but there was enough going on on the first two that I didn't look for the third. There is no cover charge to get in the door. There was a cover charge to get into the second floor. This was $7 per person. On a Chicagoland web site I had found, they were complaining about this cover charge, but as a New Yorker, my response is that they don't know how good they have it. The $7 included a generous buffet from 9 to 11 pm. The food was basic rice and beans and a few other dishes, but they were all quite tasty, and the food didn't seem to run out. The $7 also included a Salsa lesson led by Maricza of Latin Rhythms Dance, a Chicago dance studio located at 2501 South Western, 2nd Floor, Chicago IL 60608. Maricza taught what was essentially a basic lesson, but it was chock full of interesting steps. She led the lesson in the style of an aerobics class - constant motion but no partnering. Maricza overflowed with enthusiasm. She kept a large crowd constantly moving. Even the people sitting on the sides not taking the class seemed to be thoroughly entertained by the force of her personality. Maricza was ably assisted by Sol and a crew of dancers from Latin Rhythms Dance.

Excalibur is a relatively large club. Maybe not quite as large as the Copacabana, but almost. The Salsa dance floor is a quality wood floor, but it is relatively small, compared to the overall size of the club. The space was full, but there was generally enough space to dance. Later on, in the bar area, where the floor is not made of wood, they were playing Merengue. That space got packed too, but again, people seemed to be dancing with respect of each other's space, so there didn't seem to be many problems due to crowding. The first floor has Hip-hop and related styles of music with a small dance floor. There is a sizable lounge area on both the first and second floors with very comfortable couches and interesting décor. Wine and beer cost between $4 and $5 a glass - not an unreasonable price, especially considering that the wine was drinkable (sometimes at clubs you are better off sticking to beer because the wine is overpriced and undrinkable - fortunately not the case at Excalibur). The coat check is $4. They don't check bags, but they do have lockers that cost a dollar.

Even if the Salsa dance floor is small, it makes up for this in the magnificent vertical layering of the space, including what looked like two levels of balconies and a vaulted ceiling. The club also went all out with use of flashing colored lights, roving spot lights and even a smoke machine. And even with all of these special effects, you could still see the person you were dancing with. The music was vibrant but not so loud that you walk away feeling deafened, as can happen at some clubs who believe in "11".

Many of the people in attendance seemed to know each other, but if you were persistent, you could find people to dance with if you came to Excalibur alone. I was fortunate enough to dance with Maricza once, who proved a capable and responsive follower. I could let go and just dance, not worrying so much about patterns as such, but just letting the dance flow across the floor. It was the kind of dance that let's me walk away with a good feeling about the City of Chicago. And she was even more impressive when dancing with her regular partners, who are, I don't mind admitting, far better at Salsa than I. It was the sort of experience in total that would recommend her as an instructor, if only it weren't that I already have an instructor who is quite capable of whipping me into shape if I ever find someone to help process these articles and thus have more time for lessons, and if the commute from New York to Chicago weren't quite so long. But if you live in Chicago and want Salsa lessons, you have no excuse, except maybe that I didn't give you the studio phone number, which is 773-890-1900, but now that you have it, you have no excuse whatsoever.

A couple things to keep in mind. Everyone seemed to be breaking on the one, although one person was wearing a Mambo on 2 shirt. Even if they were breaking on the one, they were passing their feet. They played one Cha-cha in the three hours I was there. There were plenty of attractive women standing around who had previously proved themselves to be competent dancers or better during the Salsas, but who had no interest in dancing Cha-cha. I could have predicted this. Why people who love Salsa often don't like Cha-cha remains a mystery to me, especially since my own preferences run in the opposite direction.

The other thing to keep in mind is that smoking, for better or worse, is still legal in Chicago. There were quite a few people standing around the dance floor puffing away.

The party went on until 4 am. I left around midnight, when things had picked up steam and were going strong. I was tempted to stay all night, skip sleeping and go straight to the airport, but reason got the better of me. Overall, the scene seemed to have a similar feel to Jack Rose on Wednesdays in New York in the sense that there were a wide range of abilities, from beginners to pros, happily coexisting.

All in all, if you are a Salsero in Chicago on a Thursday night, it will be worth your while to check out Excalibur. And even if the Salsa bug hasn't bitten you yet, you might want to check it out anyway since it is a very lively scene. Excalibur is one of those rare clubs that can accommodate both dancing and talking to one another.

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