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Latin Palace offers alternative nightlife at Fells Point

Latin Palace is not just another salsa club. Rather, it is a cultural showcase of the growing Hispanic community in Baltimore.

Located on Broadway in Fells Point, Latin Palace may claim to be the most international dance club in the city, with the flags near the entrance representing different nations.

The owner of the club, Enrique Ribadeneira, describes it as "a melting pot of people from different cultures and races."

"We are representing all the 22 nations in Latin America," says Ribadeneira. He points out the misunderstood generalizations about Hispanics or Latinos among the majority of American people. The reality is despite the fact that they share the same language, their cultural backgrounds differ in various ways. Music and food are just a few examples of them.

As a club/restaurant, Latin Palace tries to offer the best of those diverse Hispanic cultures. "We mix all elements that we can, and make it acceptable for majority groups," says Ribadeneira.

One of the major misunderstandings about Latin music is that salsa is for everyone. "It is true that the most popular music by now are salsa, merengue, and now very strongly, we have something called bachata from Dominican Republic," says Ribadeneira. As a result, those types of music that gained the most popularity are among the heavy rotation at the Palace while other Latin music such as mariachi music and tango lack in mass appeal. Other genres of popular music heard here are reggae, kumbia, hip-hop and R&B, depending on the night.

The atmosphere is also original, reflecting Hispanic roots. "It pretends to give you a tropical feeling," Ribadeneira explains. A fish tank, tropical trees and bar decorations are good examples.

The most impressing interior features, however, are beautiful walls hand-painted by local artists. Along with tropical paintings of trees and ocean, it also represents the various cultures in Latin America. On the stage, there are paintings of Hispanic people representing different roots: African, European, Indian and mixed. When you enter the cigar room, you will come across the paintings of actual people who have often come to the place since day one. The owner calls them members.

Latin Palace opened its door officially on February 14, 1999. Since then, it has been one of the most successful businesses in Fells Point, both for him and the whole Latin community in Baltimore. It was voted one of the 50 Best Hispanic restaurants in the September 2001 issue of the Hispanic magazine. It also won the best Latin restaurant in Baltimore's City Paper .

Now, Ribadeneira is the president of the Hispanic Business Association of Baltimore, which was established in conjunction with Mayor O'Malley's project to improve Hispanic businesses in Baltimore.

Although Latin Palace is a good place for people of Latin descent to gather around, have fun and feel at home, it is more diverse than it sounds. Whereas 50 percent of the people are Hispanics, native Americans dominate 30 percent of all customers, and the remaining 20 percent are people from other countries, Ribadeneira says.

Latin Palace is gaining more of an African-American population through its Wednesday and Sunday parties tagged up with the local urban radio station 92Q Jams. Thursday nights are college nights, appealing to college students from all over the Baltimore region.

Ribadeneira calls this place an "ambassador of the community." Nobody feels isolated or out of place in this tropical palace, unlike other salsa clubs where Spanish becomes the only official language. Among the 30 employees, most are Spanish/English bilinguals, some are native Americans, and some are Hispanics.

"Our ultimate goal is to make it people aware that this is a wonderful place to interact with members of the community. That's why I'm doing this," the owner says.

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