Babaluu has been a fixture of the Latin nightclub scene for over two decades now. On Sunday, March 22 the mega popular restaurant and nightclub closed its doors (don’t fret: only temporarily) with a packed event where regulars and casual guests enjoyed one last night at a place that owner Nubia Solano says has created so many unforgettable memories (and a few dozen marriages) for so many people— Latinos and mainstream Canadians— over the past 20 years.
Final Mega Party: SalsaTO
Babaluu: Maria Tuckler (Maria Tuckler–Flicker)
Not by choice, Babaluu is closing down for the second time in its 20-year history, says Solano, once again due to the building being demolished to make way for a mall entrance in the area. They plan to re-open once again in a few months and continue with their successful concept— a vision Solano dreamed about 20 years ago and with no little effort made a reality, and one that has been incredibly successful for this savvy Colombian entrepreneur ever since. Babaluu stayed for 3 years at their first location in Cumberland Avenue, and then moved to 136 Yorkville Avenue, where they have remained for the past 17 years.
Nubia had a clear vision of what she wanted the place to be from the get-go. It wasn’t easy, she says, to be a female Latin entrepreneur in an industry overwhelmingly led and saturated by men. “I was a young Colombian woman, in Yorkville, when this all started out. Just imagine: trying to promote a Latin club, at that time— 20 years ago— there weren’t a lot of people who knew of our culture. Secondly, in the industry that I’m in right now, there were only one or two women, if that many. I succeeded in an industry in which I had to compete mainly with men.” She and business partner, fellow Colombian Pilar Galvis, (a partnership that has lasted 17 years and plan to continue) can proudly say they have been pioneers within our community and in that industry, as well as an inspiration and example not just to female Latinas who have been extremely successful in business, but as entrepreneurs and visionaries in general.
“When I came up with the idea to start (Babaluu)” says Solano, “it was very important to me to bring something Latin, and to do it well: with great ambiance, great food, lots of energy. That was a priority. Being a woman, and being business partners with another woman, it was of great importance to me to make an impact. What worked out really well for us was that our food was always really good and we had a very healthy environment, with a lot of energy because people came not only for the food, but to make the night a celebration. A lot of celebrations happened here, a lot of marriages came out of this place and many memories were made.”
Last Sunday people came in loads to recreate some of those memories and to reminisce about the great times everyone had at Babaluu— a place that has always been considered top-notch, not just because of its location in one of the most prestigious and exclusive areas of the city— Yorkville— but also because the venue itself has always been considered one of the classiest and finest amongst those who regularly visit Latin nightclubs and restaurants. “Babaluu has always been a very special place because it’s always demonstrated the best of what our culture has to offer,” says Solano. “We have the best food, the best gastronomy, the best ambiance, the best energy. I really think it’s been an honour to have been able to represent the Latin community in this way.”
One of the most impressive things about Babaluu as a business, which made it a flagship in the Toronto Latin scene, has been its ability to last when many other businesses have failed. This place has not only been a fixture within the Latin community in Toronto for over two decades , but it has also been incredibly popular with mainstream Canadians. “That was always the idea, for it to be a place that would not only attract Latinos, but also people who didn’t know about our Latin culture, so we could inform them, educate them and give them a little taste of what it means to be Latino. Being located in Yorkville was also a must, so we could give it that touch of elegance of what our food and culture are like, and to make it more accessible for those who are not Latinos, because this area is pretty much the centre of everything.”
If you visited on any given night, you would witness how well non-Hispanics adapted so well and fell in love with our Latin culture, especially how they developed their Latin dancing skills. There was really no difference: Latinos or not, everyone was a pro at dancing Salsa, Cumbia, Bachata, Merengue and all the different Latin rhythms. Babaluu, in fact, was a pioneer in incorporating dance lessons to their nights. “We started giving dance lessons every night also with the idea to give customers a little encouragement because they were a little intimidated or didn’t understand our dances, so we decided to incorporate dance lessons every night.”
That vision paid off, and today, in this temporary closure, there are new ideas in mind for when the venue reopens in a few months. “We plan to continue with the same concept and we’re coming up with ideas and projects to give it a boost of energy, to try to appeal to all the senses,” says Solano. “A little more gastronomy than what we’ve had so far, but keeping Babaluu’s energy intact: a lot of music, hopefully more live music than what we’ve had so far. The idea is to have a lot more space to be able to bring more live music in the future.”