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Blaring Salsa Beat Keeps Cache Cooking

January 03, 1987|ELLEN MELINKOFF

Welcome to Miami West. Or Havana North. This is Cache, one of L.A.'s top Latin restaurant/dance clubs. Romantic Spanish ballads are lost on this crowd. They are here for the pulsating salsa: relentless congas, maracas, sax, trumpet. They dance till they drop, dozens of great dancers jockeying for space on a tiny dance floor.

Cache is refreshingly un-Westside. The red-flocked wallpaper signals that another aesthetic is at work here. Casual chic is unknown. Sequins, satin, chains on hips and tons of make-up are the look. It's a place where men wear white ties, even sunglasses on the dance floor. But these are men-who-move-their-hips.

Super Cache Orchestra is a 12-piece band, a diverse crew featuring Salvadoran singer Bobby Rivas, a Steve Lawrence look-alike, who wears all black leather and conducts an all-Spanish (intros, lyrics) show.

Even before the music begins, the dark room is packed. Every table, every seat at the bar is taken. An older man in a tweed jacket, balding and wearing thick glasses, surveys the room from a corner of the bar as the band sets up. He looks out of place. At the first blast of salsa, he crosses the room and asks a nice-looking, middle-aged woman to dance. Suddenly courtly, he offers his hand as they walk to the dance floor. They are the first couple out there. He puts his glasses in his breast pocket and seems transformed. This man is a great salsa dancer: He knows all the moves. He smiles, he charms. He moves his hips. And then he is off to merengue with another woman, cumbia (a Colombian salsa variation) with still another. Maybe he's a mysterious businessman from Uruguay. Where did he learn to dance?

All the while, several much more handsome men--flat-stomached and with wavy black hair--stand nursing drinks by the bar. They do not dance. A paunchy man in a gray wind breaker and Hawaiian shirt (a strong breach of Cache's supposedly strict dress code) does. This ordinary-looking man with extraordinary dance skills is the best dancer on the floor. After spying his salsa skill, young women in slinky black halters are eager to dance with him.

At another table a man, accompanied by his wife and probably his stepdaughter, dances every dance with gusto--diplomatically alternating the women and showing incredible enthusiasm for both. Nearby another man sits with three women (one Anglo, one Latin, one black), and he scrupulously divides his time in thirds.

In the men's room, a counter is lined with bottles of cologne. A dish is filled with Chiclets and an open box of Marlboros. In the women's room, there are lipsticks and rouge as well as perfume.

Last year, when an Ecuadorean businessman bought Cache from the original Cuban and Colombian owners, he experimented with the traditional dance format, choosing instead to feature well-known Latin singing stars several nights a week. But these names called for cover charges ($10-$15 per person) that, in addition to a dinner tab ($60-$70 for two plus drinks), made it a bit too pricey for most locals.

This month, Cache returns to its mostly salsa format: Tuesday through Sunday with headliners limited to two weekends a month. For the time being, the club has dropped the cover charge (except for the twice-monthly name shows), even on weekends. The clientele is 30% Cuban, 30% Colombian, 20% Anglo and 20% other Latinos, a mix of singles and couples.

Cache is a restaurant as well as a dance club, and reservations are a must. The menu offers everything-but-Mexican food: Spanish paella, Cuban and Argentine-style steaks, Colombian steaks. "The chef is Cuban," Martinez says, "and he is great with Cuban dishes, but he wasn't so good with churrasco so we're bringing in an Argentine consultant to make those dishes better."

Cache, 2395 Glendale Blvd., Los Angeles (Silver Lake), (213) 660-6905.

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