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La Clave Is Hot, Hot, Hot

Whittier club is the place for a potent mix of merengue, salsa, Latin rock, pop and oldies.

April 29, 1999|ALISA VALDES-RODRIGUEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

La Clave, the Saturday night club at Stixx in Whittier, is just the sort of spot you might imagine a middle-class, majority-Latino college town would house. And it is without a doubt the place to be if any of the following are on your agenda: dancing all night, meeting a papi chulo with a smooth fade haircut and hoop earrings, or romancing a mami wearing her tightest mini-dress and sporting painted-on eyebrows.

Located on Philadelphia Street, with its cobbled stones, white Christmas lights and quaint college bars, Stixx is the biggest, brightest spot in town. La Clave's potent mixture of merengue, salsa, Latin rock, house, pop and oldies draws a young, dressy crowd.

Expect beefed-up security thanks to a bottle-throwing incident a few weeks ago. The burly, stone-faced sentries shouldn't be too much of a bother, and aren't much of a presence once you pay the $10 cover and pass the front door.

Some may know Stixx by its former name, Q's, which referred to its dozen or so pool tables. But more and more this large, multi-room club is becoming known in the San Gabriel Valley for its Latin flavor and decidedly East Coast, decidedly tropical vibe, thanks to owner Andres Martinez's decision to let a popular Latin music promoter, Fidel Martinez, take the reins on Saturdays.

In fact, you won't find much Mexican music here, beyond rock, with the Spanish-language dance music coming from current hot spots Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. The DJs spin pretty well, but maybe ought to use more current merengues than Los Hermanos Rosario's "Swing," which was popular in New York, oh, five years ago. And it might be nice to hear Ricky Martin's "Livin' la Vida Loca" only once a night, instead of three times.

But because this is California, where Dominicans are scarce, the tired old merengue songs seem novel. And perhaps also because we're a long way from the Caribbean and its frenetic rhythms, some of the locals are struggling with all that merengue booty shaking; somehow, it comes out looking too much like a bouncy quebradita. But hey, there's time. And now that merengueros like Elvis Crespo are popping up on Southland radio, there's definitely the desire. And practice makes perfect.

Plus, after a few beers the imperfect merengues won't much matter, and everybody will start to look as proficient as Olga Tanon through all the smoke. Smoke? This is California, right? Where smoking is not allowed in nightclubs? Stixx compensates with a theatrical smoke machine that cranks all night. The result feels a little like an old Janet Jackson video.

The lighting gets progressively dimmer and more romantic the deeper you venture into the club. The brighter front room features a circular bar, hanging TVs with sports programming and a cheerful black-and-white checkered tile floor. The music is softer here, making it the only spot, except the outdoor patio in the back, where conversation is possible.

The second room is home to nothing but red-surfaced pool tables. The third room has a few pool tables, a small dance floor, and high-decibel merengue, rock and salsa. Rows of shy guys lean along the back wall in their khakis, while outgoing young women dance in groups, hoping some dude will loosen up and join in.

The dimly lit back room, with its giant dance floor and throbbing house mixes, is packed with sweating bodies. The guys are much less self-conscious with this more familiar music than they are in the Latin room.

The aforementioned outdoor patio is one of the club's nicest surprises, and offers a full bar, table with gourmet snacks, and cast-iron tables and chairs.

BE THERE

La Clave night at Stixx, 13002 Philadelphia St., Whittier. 21 and over. $10 cover. Women admitted free before 10 p.m. Dress code strictly enforced. Free parking. (562) 698-0874.

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