If it's Saturday, it's salsa night at Picosa and time for the Minneapolis restaurant to live up to its Spanish name -- "spicy one."
But before the horns begin blasting and the hips start shaking, it's also class time. Picosa offers free lessons before the actual dancing begins, and by the looks of it, the crowd digs it.
More than 30 eager dancers lined up in front of instructor Niko Salgado at 9:30 p.m last Saturday, ready for a half-hour crash course on salsa steps:
"A one-two-three, step, and five-six-seven, and clap!" Salgado told his surprisingly large impromptu class.
Picosa is finally bringing some much-needed heat to the St. Anthony Main area, that beautiful stretch along the Mississippi River that always seems a bit sleepy during the winter months. While the strip is home to some venerable establishments -- Tuggs, Vic's and old-timer Pracna on Main -- new blood was a long time coming.
Picosa opened last summer and has been building a steady nightlife scene ever since. Owner Lindell Mendoza said it took a while for people to find the restaurant (tucked in next to Kikugawa), but more people are discovering it every week.
"When I look at the area, I see a future here," said Mendoza, who ran Hotel Sofitel's restaurants.
Picosa's biggest night is, of course, salsa Saturday, which has stayed busy since its October debut with about 250 people every week. The high-energy band Salsabrosa keeps things fast-paced with its mix of horns, percussion and keys. Working off the success of this night, Mendoza is adding weekday DJ dance nights, including a salsa happy hour on Wednesdays from 6 to 9 p.m., starting Jan. 30.
On Saturday, dancers range in age from college students to couples in their 70s. The skill level is just as diverse, from beginners to experts to people who just want to watch.
There's lots to look at here. The high ceilings, soft red lighting and big hardwood floor give dancers a lot of room to twist and twirl. Those elements, plus the upscale feel, great happy hour specials, a late-night menu and spicy attitude almost make it a Latino version of Azia.
If dancing isn't your thing, Picosa is still a fun place to drink. Like Azia, its bar offers a long list of drinks, which includes two dozen specialty cocktails, martinis and mojitos. These babies are served big -- usually in a funky multi-colored margarita glass -- and pretty edgy. Pear mojito? Delicious.
But even if you aren't into dancing, give Saturday night a shot. The crowd is welcoming and last weekend's salsa instructor, Salgado, said he can teach all comers:
"I've even taught people in wheelchairs."