Clevelanders never have to look long for a bar during a night out. But if you can't find what you're looking for among the laid-back local hangouts and grand beer lists, just create it like Brazilian-born Adriana Matos did.
Matos moved to the U.S. in 2000 to attend Kent State University then stayed in Cleveland for a job at IMG. Although the opportunities were limited, she took advantage of chances to enjoy the music she left in South America. One night, she met Gilberto Alvarez, a Puerto Rico native who at the time was running Tropical Rhythms, a cable show featuring Latin videos. The pair bonded over their passion for Latin music and began devising a way to share their cultures with more Clevelanders.
So they struck a relationship with Waterstreet Grill and started hosting Latin music nights, featuring all the salsa, merengue, bachata and samba rhythms you won't find at your neighborhood Winking Lizard.
"That was the first time downtown had any Latin sound," Matos says.
The duo continued to build their business, Tropical Cleveland. They stayed at Waterstreet Grill for three years, formed new relationships with other downtown hot spots, and gained a loyal crowd by collecting e-mails and sending reminders for events.
These days, Tropical Cleveland draws 250 to 300 people, more during monthly live-band nights, to View Nightclub on Fridays, Roseangel on Saturdays and various other places for special events.
Matos laughs when she says she can narrow the crowd's age range to 21 to 81. But she's not kidding. In March at Tropical Cleveland's biggest event of the year, the Brazilian Carnaval, revelers could find themselves dancing between college students and men who looked old enough to be their great-grandfathers.
"The most beautiful thing is the 21-year-old gets asked to dance by the 50-year-old and vice versa," Matos says. "Everybody just goes there for dancing and just has a good time: all shapes, all faces, all ages."
It's the dancing that drives these events, but don't pass if you can't tell samba from merengue. The dance floor is a mix of those who know and those who should take advantage of the free salsa lessons.