Celia Cruz Lights Up New Conga Room


Even by Hollywood standards, it was a memorable evening.

It’s not every day that salsa fans get to see Celia Cruz perform a rousing rendition of her super hit “Que Le Den Candela” in a setting so intimate that it makes the House of Blues feel like the Forum--with actress Jennifer Lopez among those dancing the night away just a few feet from the stage.

And yet, that was the scene Friday at the Conga Room, the new Miracle Mile nightclub that hopes to become the place of choice for Los Angeles salseros.

Many salsa clubs have expressed the same ambition over the years, but the Conga Room has two things that most of them didn’t: money and taste.


Lopez’s presence was no coincidence, either. She is one of many celebrities, including comedian Paul Rodriguez, singer Tito Nieves and record label owner Ralph Mercado, who have invested money in the venue.

And a gorgeous place it is. Designed by Ron Myers, the club offers a cornucopia of little corners of disparate ambience.

The ballroom itself tries to duplicate the feel of a 1940s Havana club, with a tiny, glittering stage, a small dance floor and a handful of expensive tables so close to the stage that you feel like you’re practically having dinner with the performer. Before or after the show, though, you can visit another bar, a restaurant, a hallway graced with black and white photographs from Cuba or an exquisitely decorated parlor.

A lot of brilliant ideas are at work here, none managing to disguise a very interesting paradox that lies at the heart of the venue: A lot of money has been spent to re-create the smoky atmosphere of the kind of Cuban clubs that were originally geared toward the working class. (From its inception, salsa has always been a populist genre.)

Of course, bring somebody like Cruz on stage and the whole evening turns into a family affair. She has the innate ability to make you feel at home with her down-to-earth, chatty attitude and classic tunes such as “Bamboleo” and “Quimbara.” Her husband, Pedro, as always, stood by her side throughout the show.

Before Cruz, a local orchestra led by Yari More opened with a respectable set of mostly popular cover songs. Through the years, More has matured and become a highly charismatic bandleader.