Mundos Cafe on Jefferson Street at 12th Avenue could be a bar in Puerto Vallarta, except for the fact that the waitress has an Ethiopian accent. It's hot, the walls are mango colored, the décor is bare bones yet Mexi-festive. In one corner of the expansive room, two arched doorways, both marked "Employees Only," are slightly different heights. It looks like a trick of perspective, but apparently is just a mistake.
At 9:00 p.m. on Saturday night, it's dead as a doornail. The waitress reports that salsa music starts at 10:00 p.m. and dancing goes until 2:00 a.m. The sound system is prodigious, and tables have been herded off to the side of the room to make a promising-sized dance floor. At one end, an enormous fan waits to be turned on; it looks powerful enough to blow the hair right off your head. The vaulted ceiling is churchlike, but if this is a temple to anything, it's clearly to the shaking of the ass.
The kitchen is closed, alas; no snacks. A couple of women sit at the bar, their large black handbags bracketing their blended beverages. I'm drinking a warm, flat Coke, and I don't mind. The atmosphere is tranquil to the point of anesthetizing, and descent into a pleasant stupor is inevitable.
At 9:45, several people come in bearing yet more sound equipment (one of the women, oddly, wears a long light-blue formal) and begin setting up some pretty crazy-ass lighting. A rainbow loops on one wall, stopping and blinking every few seconds like it has ADD; a kaleidoscope-type light makes multicolored rose-patterned madness out of the center of the empty dance floor; and a strobe light of seizure-inducing power is tested briefly. Another exciting development: A sound check vibrates my ribcage.
Dancing has yet to commence at 10:00, so an executive decision is made to go to Second Avenue and come back for the height of the mayhem at around 1:00 a.m. This detour involves two greatnesses. First: I eat a Chicago dog at Shorty's. It's a revelation and a mess—the effect of relish, onions, sliced tomatoes, and jalapeños stuffed into the bun is like a hot dog plus a weird-but-good salad all in one. Second: Harvey Danger play their new album in its entirety at the Crocodile Cafe. It's even more mind-meltingly hot at the Crocodile than at Mundos, but nobody cares.
The return to Mundos at 1:04 a.m. is anticlimactic in the extreme. The scene is entirely unchanged: 10 people total are here, and tumbleweeds practically blow across the dance floor—no mad salsa dancing whatsoever. The waitress explains that the sound people and all the patrons left for a wedding (hence the light-blue formal dress from earlier—a bridesmaid). Where is the wedding, I ask (not being above crashing a salsa-dancing wedding).
"I wish I would know," she says sincerely.
Mundos (1212 E Jefferson St, 328-6493) is open late-night on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Shorty's Coney Island is at 2222 Second Ave.