By Maria Jose Gallardo
When the sun goes down, the streets of Washington Heights fill with revelers from the tri-state area who flock to the neighborhood for a dose of nightlife that reminds them of home.
“I love the Heights. It reminds me of (being) back in the Dominican Republic,” said Katherine Villar, 21, a psychologist student at Brooklyn College.
Along the avenues, cars cruise, with their music playing loudly, and the lights of the nightclubs harmonize with the glow of streetlights.
“The music is high, you feel like you’re just in another world, you forget about everything, you’re just there to have a good time,” said Stephanie Jimenez, 21, a criminal justice student at John Jay College.
This vibrant neighborhood on the northern tip of Manhattan is where many New Yorkers of Hispanic background go to party and re-connect, even for one night, with their home country, not only because of the music but also because of the food and atmosphere.
Many Spanish-speaking immigrants have made of Washington Heights their home. First came Puerto Ricans and Cubans, followed by Dominicans and Mexicans.
“In the Heights you usually see a lot of Spanish people, you can relate to them, you go up to them and start a conversation naturally,” said Villar, a regular visitor of the unique clubs and lounges in Washington Heights.
In fact, the neighborhood is the site for the most diverse representation of Hispanic cuisine, music and dances. You can find a Mexican restaurant with famous tacos and a unique mixture of Japanese sushi with Caribbean’s touches, at Mamasushi.
“It’s called ‘The Spanish Village,’ because you can literally walk from restaurant to restaurant, to lounge to lounge, from club to club, without leaving the area,” said Yaxis Capote, 26.
The dancing – from the Bachata and Meregue to Hip-Hop and Techno – is done at, nightclubs such as Umbrella Nightclub, Morocco and Vin-Tich Lounge.
“They are not as big as your regular nightclubs, but I guess that makes it more intimate and private, it makes you feel more like you hanging out in somebody’s living room rather than being in a big club,” Capote said.
If your preference leans towards a pleasant appetizer with some cocktails followed by a party atmosphere, you can find famous places such as 809 Restaurant and Lounge, Mamajuana Café and Papasito Mexican Grill and Agave Bar located on Dyckman Street.
One characteristic of the nightlife scene in Washington Heights is the competitiveness over what people are wearing. “It’s like a fashion show in other words,” Capote said.
Women usually wear tiny, tight dresses, where their figures are shown. These dresses, which never get even close to their knees, are perfectly accessorized with over the top 5- to 6- inches heels, the more colorful the better. Women are also known for not repeating outfits, because they cannot be seen twice with the same clothes. These women not only worry about their outfits, but also for their hair and nails.
“The hair has to be on point,” said Villar, who every time she parties in the Heights has to go to the hair and nail salon. It’s just part of their routine in order to look their best when they go out.
“We are so competitive with each other, we look at ourselves from head to toe,” Villar added.
On the other hand, most clubs prohibit men from entering if they are wearing sneakers or hats. Men wear dressy pants, button-down shirts and dressy shoes.
“The guys are just too sexy,” Villar said.
People who frequents the “Heights,” according to Capote, “are very eccentric, defiantly like attention, they’re very fashion oriented.”
Jimenez, who comes from a Dominican and Ecuadorian backgrounds, chooses Washington Heights over any other neighborhood to party. “The people they’re classy, you’re not going to party with kids…”
In the Heights, you can also find “hicks,” a term used to describe people from a Dominican background, who dress, speak and act in a particular way. Men usually wear tight jeans or pants, and pointy shoes, which sometimes are made from alligator skin. They use slangs originally from the Dominican Republic. They say hello by saying “KLK,” which simply means how is it going? Or what is going on with you?
Many people argue, that “Hicks” represent those Dominicans who live in the U.S, but want to maintain their Dominican traditions.
“What I mean about hicks I’m not referring to country, I’m referring to the way you talk, there’s a way you express your self, there’s a lot of slang a hick would say like “KLK” “dime aver,” Jimenez said.
After dancing, most people head out to eat, often at the food trucks that gather that time of night. Some serve Venezuelan food, others have Dominican.These trucks are so mandatory to everyone who parties in the Heights that they only open at nighttime.
Nightlife at Washington heights is more than just streets with clubs, as Villar said, “I like to party in Washington heights because the crowd is like a family, people you party within your family is the people you see in the clubs.”
“You know how they say New York is the city that never sleeps, Washington Heights is that little city that never sleep, it never stops partying,” she said.