It’s a little corner of Cali in Bogotá” states Alejandro Ramírez, owner of the Distrito Empire Group, which operates the underground salsa bar, El Titicó, a few blocks from Chapinero’s Parque Lourdes.
Cali is undeniably Colombia’s salsa capital and if you’ve ever hit a crowded dance floor in one of the many salsatecas which operate along the city’s Carrera Sexta, you’ll appreciate the mastery behind the intricate moves and accelerated beats of “salsa brava: a strand of salsa which took root in the Valle del Cauca, yet expanded to dance halls of Puerto Rico and Spanish Harlem thanks to big bands with their big sounds, such as Los Van Van, Richie Ray, Grupo Niche and of course, the sultry voice of Celia Crúz who made “titicó” a legendary refrain among saleros.
Born in Cali, yet raised and in Bogotá, “Alejo” Ramirez always wanted to have an authentic, (and we stress the word “authentic”) salsa bar in the big city. In order to set the mood for some nostalgia, the venue had to be dark with enough light reflected by mirrors to get the ice in your glass of rum to glow. This is the Titicó mood: one step back in time, but two steps ahead of many of the capital’s salsatecas which don’t have a Wall of Fame, nor the miniature mirrors and central dance floor.
Titicó is what caleños know as a “gril”: a music club dedicated to the sounds of the Golden Age of salsa and which peaked in popularity during the 1970s with the brassy sound of the Fania All-Stars, Cheo Feliciano and Willie Colón. Across the Cauca River from Cali, the district of Juanchito is still home to many grils, some operating in thatched huts.
While few would dare take “salsa brava” out of Juanchito, at Titicó the mission succeeds; in part, because of its location. The back streets of Chapinero are a world removed from the boisterous bars of the Parque 93 and where music is more a “cross over” than a celebration of beats and the different rhythms of salsa. The venue also hosts live performances by well-known artists, as well as up and coming ensembles with innovative salsa sounds.
For Ramírez, El Titicó is as much of a cultural undertaking as it is a bar where informality reigns and music is king. It’s also a late night venue, where you can converse into the early hours of the morning, while those who would rather dance, just dance.
And while you can appreciate Bogotá’s salsa devotees strut their moves, for the foreigner, or the visiting outsider, these four walls of salsa are a vibrant part of the city’s musical patchwork, and the ethnic diversity, which makes the most of our cold Andean nights. So give it a go. “Give me a titicó!”
El Titico: Calle 64 No 13-35