Why Atlantic City casinos are embracing a Latin beat


Atlantic City casinos offering customers the chance to move to some spicy music

Salsa has a new home in Atlantic City, and fans of the spicy style of Latin dance are taking advantage of the new opportunities.

Visitors and residents can immerse themselves in salsa for four hours starting 9 p.m. every Wednesday in the Eden Lounge at Harrah’s Atlantic City. A teacher gives free salsa dancing lessons from 9 to 10 p.m. The following three hours provides the opportunity to put what was learned to use with a live band, and a DJ when the group takes a break.

The salsa lessons are just one way fans of Latin music can entertain themselves in Atlantic City.

Atlantic City casinos and the city are presenting salsa and other Latin music offerings for southern New Jersey’s growing Hispanic population. DJ Sammy, who has a substantial Latin following, spins on Sunday nights at Tango’s Lounge in the Tropicana Casino and Resort. DJs play salsa, merengue, bachata, tropical dance and Latin house music after dinner on Fridays and Saturdays at Cuba Libre Restaurant & Rum Bar in The Quarter at Tropicana. Dante Hall Theater offered salsa lessons for paying participants in October. Studio 18 Dance Studio in Somers Point offers beginner salsa and bachata classes this month.

These regularly scheduled events are in addition to the concerts that are booked. Marc Anthony is coming Feb. 8 to the arena at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. The music is likely to be mostly in Spanish because Anthony is touring to support his first original salsa album in more than a decade.

“Casinos are doing more for the Hispanic market, which is wonderful,” said Yvette Soto, president of the Atlantic County Puerto Rican Parade for the past 13 years.

The two casinos offering the most for Latino visitors and residents are Caesars Entertainment, which owns Bally’s, Caesars, Harrah’s Resort and Showboat casinos in Atlantic City, and the Tropicana, which includes The Quarter.

Caesars Entertainment built on proposals that came in for individual events at The Pool at Harrah’s and the Foundation Room at the Showboat, said Howard Weiss, regional director of nightlife, strategy & development for the Eastern Division Caesars Entertainment. The casino company started with a Latin night in the Blue Martini Lounge at Bally’s, followed by a Latin night on Mondays at the Bally’s Bikini Beach Bar. The casino has had Latin night at the Blue Martini each fall from 2010 to 2012 and each summer at the Bally’s Bikini Beach Bar from the summer of 2010 to this past summer, Weiss said.

“These nights were successful. Nobody else was doing anything in town,” Weiss said.

Instead of letting independent promoters do the events, the casino started working with Near Dark Entertainment in Atlantic City to produce salsa night. Near Dark Entertainment has contacts with Rob Bernberg of Latin Beat Magazine and Carlos Sanchez and his orchestra, who perform regularly.

When Latin night moved from Bally’s and became salsa night at Harrah’s, the dance lessons were added, along with the weekly booking of live salsa bands.

“It has been going well. There is good energy each week. Attendance has been growing,” said Weiss, who added the Eden Lounge has been remodeled, and salsa night makes for a nice tie-in with Harrah’s Dos Caminos Mexican restaurant.

The Eden Lounge is the only place in Atlantic City where someone is guaranteed to hear a band with live horns and percussion weekly.

Before the live music started on a recent night, Evelyn Figueroa spent an hour teaching a group of men and women how to salsa dance. It didn’t matter whether someone was there solo or with a partner, Figueroa consistently switched people’s dance partners, so everyone in the lounge eventually danced with everyone else.

At first, Figueroa taught the salsa steps with no music with everyone in a straight line before they partnered up. Later, Figueroa added the DJ’s music to give the lounge a club feel.

Once the dance lesson was over, the Eden Lounge started with the live music. A band featuring two trumpeters, two trombonists, a bassist, a keyboardist, players on congos, timbales and bongos and two singers filled the stage while couples danced on the floor in front of them.

“They (the musicians) are happy about the opportunity to be here,” said Sanchez about performing in the Eden Lounge.

Individual casinos have booked nationally and internationally known Latin artists for concerts in their showrooms. Resorts Casino Hotel offered El Gran Combo in November. La Explosion Salsera concerts were held in 2012 and last year at the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort featuring such artists as Group Niche and Tito Nieves.

Tropicana has been one of the leaders in presenting Latin music by booking two major shows annually for at least the last couple of years with El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico and Victor Manuelle in 2012 and Manuelle again and Gilberto Santa Rosa last year. Eric Fiocco, the Tropicana’s corporate vice president of marketing, said New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., have dense populations that are very diverse. Atlantic City has an advantage by being a quick drive from any of these three locations.

“Latin shows, specifically work really well with our Havana theme as well as our dining and nightlife offerings on property: Cuba Libre, Sunday Nights with DJ Sammy at Tango’s, Casa Taco & Tequila Bar (and more). As a result, we are able to take the guest experience to a whole new level,” Fiocco said.

A Puerto Rican singer and bandleader, Santa Rosa came to the Showroom of the Tropicana last fall with his 12-member band, which included a four-piece horn section and three percussionists.

Santa Rosa, known as “The Gentleman of Salsa,” danced a little bit on stage himself while singing and shaking audience members hands as if the music he was making at times was too irresistible for him to stand still. Santa Rosa fans responded enthusiastically by dancing in the aisles and at their seats to his group’s infectious Latin rhythms and horn blasts.

The only reason Sonia Bermudez, 50, of Hammonton, and her husband of 31 years, Jesus, 51, came to Atlantic City during that weekend last fall was to see Santa Rosa. They had been to Atlantic City previously to see El Gran Combo, Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez in concert. Even though they live in Hammonton, they decided to make a night of it and stay at Bally’s Atlantic City, which allowed them to visit Tango’s Lounge and Boogie Nights dance club after the show was over.

“I loved the show… All the original members were there. They played all the old songs,” said Bermudez, a native of Puerto Rico, who is hoping to see Marc Anthony next month at Boardwalk Hall.

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Where to hear, dance to Latin music

Southern New Jersey places to visit to hear salsa and other Latin musics or to learn how to dance:

•Marc Anthony

•8 p.m. Feb. 8 in the arena at Boardwalk Hall, 2301 Boardwalk, Atlantic City. Tickets, priced at $56, $76, $96, $126, and $176, are available at the Boardwalk Hall box office, Ticketmaster and pressofatlanticcity.com/

•tickets. For more information, call 609-348-7000.

•Late Night Latin Floorshow featuring professional salsa dancers and a master percussionist after dinner Fridays and Saturdays at Cuba Libre Restaurant & Rum Bar in The Quarter at Tropicana Casino and Resort, 2801 Pacific Ave., Atlantic City. Throughout the night, patrons dance to the resident and special guest DJs spinning salsa, merengue, tropical dance and Latin house. Fridays $5. Saturday between $10 and $20. Women free before midnight Saturday. For information, call 609-348-6700 or visit cubalibrerestaurant.com

•Salsa Night from 9 p.m. Wednesdays to 1 a.m. Thursdays in the Eden Lounge at Harrah’s Atlantic City. The first hour is salsa dancing instruction. The rest of the night alternates between a band and a DJ. No cover. For more information, visit harrahsresort.com

•DJ Sammy from 10 p.m. Sundays to 2:30 a.m. Mondays at Tango’s Lounge in The Quarter at Tropicana. No cover. For more information, visit tropicana.net

•Friday Night Dance Parties start with hourlong group lesson at 6:30 p.m. at Studio 18 Dance Studio, located within Greate Bay Racquet & Fitness, 90 Mays Landing Road, Somers Point. Half of the events monthly include such Latin dances as salsa, rumba, cha-cha, bachata and tango. Parties $10 per person BYOB, complimentary water, soda and snacks. Beginner salsa/bachata group lessons with Kim Allen from 10 to 10:50 a.m. Saturdays. Group lessons are $12 each. For more information, call 609-788-4021 or visit studionj.com

–Courtesy of Press of Atlantic City

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