Salsa dance night at Big Brad’s on Broadway, a bar in downtown Rochester, had a quiet, under-the-radar beginning.
When two Rochester women first approached bar owner Dave Loomis and pitched the idea, he agreed but with one condition: He didn’t want to see the town plastered with posters and fliers advertising “Salsa Tuesdays at Big Brad’s.”
The first night it was held, three people showed up. One was the event’s creator, Maja Radulovic, a lover of the free-flowing Latin dance with few qualms about spinning across a largely empty dance floor.
But over time, the event began to grow, almost organically, as word spread through Facebook and word of mouth, to a point where Big Brad’s has become a unlikely destination for salsa dancers, packed with 60 to 100 swaying, twirling bodies at the height of the evening.
“I had no idea,” Radulovic said about the event’s unexpected popularity. “I was very hopeful, but confident? I’m not sure. I just wanted a lively Latin night.”
Before Big Brad’s, Radulovic, a Mayo Clinic research technologist and post-doctoral medical student, would go to considerable lengths to find a dancing venue. Once a week, sometimes twice, she would drive up to the Twin Cities, spinning and dancing sometimes up to four hours a night. Sometimes, she would be joined by her friend Jenny Hegland, a former University of Minnesota-Rochester teacher. Other times, she would go by herself.
“Once I started doing that, I kind of knew this is kind of serious,” said Radulovic, who was born and raised in Montenegro in southeastern Europe.
To some people, Big Brad’s might not seem the most obvious venue to host a salsa evening. It’s a quintessential, unpretentious hometown bar with a reputation for having the cheapest drinks in Rochester. But Tuesday nights were often dead, a fact that Radulovic picked up on the night she and her friends stopped by to celebrate a friend’s birthday two years ago.
For the rest of the night, they played pool and danced.
“I told (a friend), ‘I wonder if Dave would let us come back and do the same thing,'” Radulovic recalled. “There didn’t seem to be anyone there, and we could just dance there.”
Loomis said a few bar owners gave him some “grief” when they got wind of Big Brad’s Salsa Tuesdays, fearful that the event would draw the wrong crowd downtown. Other drinking establishments had hosted Latin Night-style events in the past, and their reputation became sullied when they became scenes of stabbings and other violence. It was for that reason that that Loomis had told the women that he didn’t want fliers posted.
Loomis said he tells the other bar owners to come and see for themselves. “It’s just people having fun,” he said. Even so, when people call asking about the bar’s Latin night, Loomis quickly corrects them. “I tell them straight up, ‘I have a Salsa Dance Night,'” he tells them.
“It fueled itself,” Loomis said. “There isn’t a lot going on on Tuesday nights, so when people are out and about, they poke their head in here, and they see a big group of girls dancing. They built that up. There is a large Latin community in Rochester.”
Salsa Tuesdays, of course, has its upside for the bar, turning a once quiet bar night into a lively evening that is good for the bar’s bottom line.
“At the end of the night, when they’re leaving, they’re saying, ‘Thanks for having this.’ A lot of them say that,” Loomis said.