Gloria’s is a chain of Tex-Mex restaurants from Dallas/Forth Worth down to San Antonio. Every Saturday night in Austin they have a live salsa band. I’ve never eaten there, but the bar service is pretty good – and decently priced before 10 p.m. when the prices go up. Before 10, there’s also no cover and it’s 21+ after 9 or so. (But if you get in before those cut off times, they won’t ID and you don’t have to pay the cover to get back in.) The band starts at 11 p.m., and it’s a pretty good band. They play a decent mix of salsa, cha-cha, and merengue; I’m not sure I’ve heard a bachata song there. I’ve only been there twice, though.) I went last Saturday with a small group. There was a large crowd the first time I went, but this time it was a smaller crowd – maybe because so many people were out of time for Labor Day? It’s definitely a locals’ spot! There’s also a DJ who plays club music in between sets for the band, which is why Gloria’s is way more fun with a big group to stake out a spot with on the dance floor! The venue itself is the nicest of all the places I go to, with a small outdoor patio with seating and a big waterfall feature behind the bar – I love water features. They move all the tables out of the center of the floor and there’s a small stage for the band and seating along the back wall, which is actually a curtained window. The first time I went, it was quite packed on the dance floor, but this time there was plenty of room to dance around. I guess it’s hit and miss there! It’s probably the loudest place I go to as well – my ears were ringing a little bit after I left, though it cleared up by the time I got home. They don’t have free water – you have to buy a bottle. They don’t check bags, though, so you could take your own water in, no problem. It’s pretty fun, parking’s not bad, and it’s a nice variety of music. Though if club music and atmosphere isn’t your thing, I wouldn’t bother with this place!
The Oasis is a big restaurant out on Lake Travis (technically in Austin but in reality about 20 minutes west of Austin) which hosts an excellent live band every Sunday night for salsa dancing. They have a fairly large dance floor and some gorgeous views of the sun setting over the lake from the balcony – the dancing is on the third floor. It’s lots of fun – I always go with a large group and we pretty much dance exclusively with each other. (Although yesterday several members in my group branched out! Super exciting!) The band is called The Brew, and they play mostly merengue, bachata, cha cha, and salsa. There’s 7 guys in the band and an impressive range of instruments being played. They almost always throw in a Santana cover with a Latin dance beat and the words in Spanish.
There are tables around the edge of the dance floor, two bars, and the kitchen is open until 10:00 pm. The food, sadly, is average quality and a bit overpriced – if it were better, it wouldn’t be overpriced, if it were less it would be good for the price, but there you have it. I have heard good things about the tortilla soup, and the house salad is fresh, crunchy, and reasonably priced. However, the view, band, and atmosphere more than make this place worthwhile. Also, you and your group don’t have to eat (and won’t have servers pushing you to), though I usually try to get at least a drink. (Also, the servers are really busy because it’s a large crowd and people keep moving around, so it’s unreasonable to expect service like you would get on a non-salsa night or floor.)
They keep a large sports container full of ice water and provide free sturdy 16 oz plastic cups, which is absolutely fantastic. It’s an open air plan, so the A/C’s off, which means it is hot and humid. If you sweat a lot, bring a rag and an extra shirt. It runs from 7-10 or 10:30, depending on how long the band keeps playing.
Oddly enough, they do a lesson at 9:00 – it’s different, but it tends to give people who don’t want to take an intro lesson time to sit, rest, and chat with the group. Yesterday I learned about bear safety! (Completely irrelevant to my life, as I don’t camp anywhere that doesn’t have indoor plumbing.) I think it’s done this way to give the band a break in between sets. The band, by the way, is absolutely fantastic, if I haven’t mentioned this already.
Also, my salsa was a bit rusty — I wasn’t the only one, though. One of my favorite leads was gone all summer and was pretty rusty so us dancing together was a bit more bumbly than usual. At one point I stopped completely and just stared confusedly; luckily, right at that point the song ended so he grabbed me and struck a pose. One of the more serendipitously timed moments!