Nightlife: Bringing the soul of Cuba alive in Alhambra

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THE PLACE: At the gateway to the San Gabriel Valley — the city of Alhambra — you’ll also find a gateway to Cuba. Cuban Bistro off Main Street offers a taste of Cuban culinary delights as well as live salsa music that brings the soul of Cuba alive. Helping guests to delve deeper to find their inner Ricky Ricardo, live salsa music is offered on Friday nights starting at 9 p.m. and jazz on Thursdays from 7 to 9 p.m.

THE PRICE: There is no cover charge to take in the live music. Drinks start at $6. I decided to try the tequila mojito while my partner tried the house mojito.

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The simple syrup in my drink was much sweeter than I am used to; I almost couldn’t stand to finish it. But I had a sip of the house mojito and it wasn’t as sugary. I tried the house sangria as well. It came with a nice heap of fresh-cut apples and oranges on top. This is now my favorite sangria; it was not too sweet or overwhelming but still had plenty of flavors of fruit and wine, which is what a sangria is meant to be. Appetizers ranged from $5.50 to $17.50 for a house sampler.

THE SOUNDS: You couldn’t help but swing your hips to the lively music in the room next to the bar. In the bar area, it is possible to hold a light conversation, but next door, you can barely hear anything above the beat of the drums. But most people in there didn’t want to talk, anyway.
I love dancing and I am not usually shy about it, but the skills of many dancing couples on the floor did make me feel a bit intimidated.

THE FOOD: To my dismay, I was not able to try any of the dinner platters or even appetizers the Friday evening I visited the bistro. My partner and I sat in the bar area and were handed menus by our waitress at about 10:15 p.m. and when we were ready to order, she said the kitchen closed at 10:30 p.m. I looked at my cell phone for the time: it was 10:31 p.m. I think she could have mentioned that when she handed us the menus and took our first drink order.

AGE GROUP: The restaurant is open to all groups and ages, but they card you in the bar area after dinner. The age of the crowd on Friday night varied from mid-20s, all the way up to 60s and 70s.

BEWARE: The bar gets a little busy after 10:30 p.m., and it might be tough to find parking. There is free parking in the structure behind the restaurant with the entrance off Second Street. The bar also closes at midnight — even on the weekends.

THE VIBE: There was a fun, carefree feeling in the air. Groups of friends gathered at the bar and in the dance room together. Couples canoodled in the corner while others took to the floor. If you are not the shy type, don’t be surprised if you are asked to the dance floor by another patron — male or female.

GO: Cuban Bistro is located at 28 W. Main St. in Alhambra. It’s open from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tues.-Thurs.; 11:30 a.m. to 12 a.m. Fri.; noon to midnight Sat.; noon to 10 p.m. Sun. and closed Mon. Happy Hour is 3 to 7 p.m. Tues. through Fri. For more information, call (626) 308-3350 or visit www.cubanbistro.com

MY RATING: 4 With the music, this place gets pretty hot.

claudia.palma@sgvn.com

RATINGS: 5: Really, really hot; 4: Hot; 3: Fun, loose, low pressure; 2: Cool; 1: Just OK.

(Photos by William Hallstrom / Correspondent)

Weekend guide: Cal Phil, gourmet eats, music junkies and a barbecue deal, sweetened

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  • FRIDAY, 5-8:30 p.m.

Cal Phil Family Night, Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden

Did we mention it’s free? Bring a guest or pack your 30-member extended family into a bus and, guess what, it’s still free. Music education activities begin at 5 p.m., and the free California Philharmonic performance starts at 7:30 p.m. Get there early, bring a picnic spread and enjoy the Arboretum in its twilight glory. (No alcohol allowed for this family event.)

301 North Baldwin Ave., Arcadia
www.calphil.org

  • SATURDAY, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
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Open warehouse sale, Nicole’s Gourmet Foods

For the first time ever — and for this day only — Nicole’s is offering wholesale prices on its cheeses, charcuterie, foie gras, beverages, grains, pasta, rice, spices, specialty oils, vinegars, chocolate, tart shells, fruit purees, vanilla … you see what we’re getting at? The South Pasadena gourmet heaven is opening the doors on its neighboring Alhambra warehouse to the public, and sophisticated palates everywhere rejoice.

961 S. Meridian Ave., Alhambra
(626) 403-5751
www.nicolesgourmetfoods.com

  • SATURDAY, 11 a.m.-11 p.m., and SUNDAY, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.

Sunset Junction Street Festival, Silver Lake

It’s the definitive hipster street festival on crack. Come with an open mind and deep wallets — you’ll need the cash flow if you want to stock up on the millions of bizarre goods for sale from street vendors. The weather promises some reprieve from the sweltering fests of years past. It’s not supposed to break 80 this weekend, so you can brave the crowds and blacktop without fear of heat stroke. Oh, and there’s a pretty sweet music line-up, including these headliners: Mary Wilson, Conor Oberst & the Mystic Valley Band, Sly and Robbie, Built to Spill, Les Nubians and Nortec Collective. Check the schedule to catch your faves.

Advance, $15; $20 at the door. 12 and under and 65 and older get in free.
3700-4300 Sunset Blvd. and 4000-4200 Santa Monica Blvd., Silver Lake
(323) 661-7771
www.sunsetjunction.org

  • ANY TIME

Gus’s Barbecue, South Pasadena

UrbanDaddy‘s got the lush scoop on this one:

“In case you need some added incentive to make a pilgrimage for some no-frills ‘cue,  Gus’s has unleashed a little contraption called the Bourbon Box — it’s a sampling of three bourbons. In a box. For $12. Incentive approved.”

808 Fair Oaks Ave., South Pasadena
(626) 799-3251
www.gussbbq.com

(File photo: A variety of sheep’s milk cheese is on sale at Nicole’s Gourmet Foods in South Pasadena)

In the garden: Lessons and leisure, as nature intended

ARBORETUM
301 N. Baldwin Ave., Arcadia. (626) 821-3222

  • Saturday: A Square-Foot Gardening Workshop explores the technique of more intensive and multi-level gardening, using 1/5 the space of a conventional garden and less water and energy; 9 a.m.- 1 p.m. Aug. 22, in the Oak Room. $25. There is no tilling of the soil; included are lessons on setup, planting, watering, growing vertically, pest control and harvesting. Register at (626) 821-4623.

  • Saturday: Broadway’s Best with the Cal Phil Orchestra, 7:30-10 p.m. Aug. 22. Tickets start at $20. (626) 300-8200 or www.calphil.org

DESCANSO GARDENS
1418 Descanso Drive, La Caada Flintridge. (818) 949-4200

  • Thursday: Wine tasting, For Heaven’s Sake!, Minka Terrace, 6-8:30 p.m., Thursday. $49-$54, large appetizers chosen to compliment the wines. (818) 790-3663.

  • Friday: Summer Night Walk with senior docent Jim Jackson, who leads this leisurely evening walk, giving botanical and historic highlights; 7:15 p.m. Friday. $15. Register at (818) 949-7980.

HUNTINGTON LIBRARY, ART COLLECTIONS, AND BOTANICAL GARDENS
1151 Oxford Road, San Marino. (626) 405-2100

  • Saturday: Art of Flower Arranging, 10 a.m.-noon, Aug. 22. Designers from Flower Duet will teach a workshop, using flowers from Australia to create modern floral arrangements; participants will take home their own arrangement. $85. Register at (626) 405-2128.

  • Saturday & Sunday: Southwest Chamber Music Summer Festival, final summer concerts includes selections by Aaron Copland, Alexandra de Bois, and Franz Schubert; 7:30 p.m., Aug. 22 and 23. Loggia seating, $45; lawn admission $28. Pre-concert dinners available, $55. (800) 726- 7147 or www.swmusic.org

HOME TOURS

  • Sunday, Oct. 4: Pasadena American Society of Interior Designers 23rd Annual Home and Kitchen Tour showcases five unique homes in Pasadena and Arcadia, with kitchens from five diverse designers; 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Oct. 4. Tickets are $30 in advance and $35 day of the tour and include a map to each home. (800) 237-2634

– Compiled by Linda Fields Gold

In the garden: Lessons and leisure, as nature intended

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LOS ANGELES COUNTY ARBORETUM AND BOTANIC GARDEN
301 N. Baldwin Ave., Arcadia. (626) 821-3222

  • Saturday: Aloes, Agaves and Pears, Oh My! This family fun class reveals how certain plants survive hot weather. Afterwards, participants will make container gardens; 10 a.m. to noon, Aug. 15. Individuals are $6; families are $20. Class fees include garden admission; pre-registration required, (626) 821-4623, and class closes at 5 p.m. Aug 14.

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  • Saturday and Sunday: Inter-City Cactus Show and Sale 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Aug. 15 and 16. Hundreds of plants will be on display; lots of plants and related materials will be available for purchase. Included with admission of $8; $6 seniors.

DESCANSO GARDENS
1418 Descanso Drive, La Caada Flintridge. (818) 949-4200

  • Friday and Saturday: Star-Crossed Love with the Pasadena Pops, featuring music from star-crossed lovers, from Romeo and Juliet to Superman and Lois; 7:30 p.m. Aug. 14 and 15. Dinner from Patina, (818) 790-3663 or www.patinagroup.com/descanso. Tickets for music are $20-$90 and available (626) 793-7172 or www.theorchestras.org. Gates open at 5:30 p.m.; picnics are permitted.

  • Thursday, Aug. 20: Wine tasting For Heaven’s Sake!, Minka Terrace, 6-8:30 p.m. Aug. 20. $49-$54, large appetizers chosen to compliment the wines. (818) 790-3663.

HUNTINGTON LIBRARY, ART COLLECTIONS, AND BOTANICAL GARDENS
1151 Oxford Road, San Marino. (626) 405-2100

  • Wednesday: The Legend of Pancho Barnes This documentary film follows the career of aviation pioneer Florence Lowe from San Marino deb to stunt pilot; 7 p.m. Wednesday. Friends’ Hall. Free.

– Compiled by Linda Fields Gold