Unusual dance club makes Hispanic immigrants feel at home amid pasture and a family atmosphere.
BY ELAINE DE VALLE
Not too many nightclubs are surrounded by hundreds of grazing cows. Fewer still open their doors at 3 p.m. and offer pony rides for the kids.
But despite the DJ and the dance floor, the disco lights and the cocktails and the live music, Rancho Gaspar is not like a nightclub in any traditional sense.
To begin with, getting there is tricky. It is a bit far -- just off Okeechobee Road west of Florida's Turnpike -- to bask in the glitter and glow of South Beach. And there are just a couple of hand-painted signs -- no neon -- to point you along the junk-lined dirt and gravel road. Once inside, the dress code is way relaxed. Jeans, T-shirts and sneakers or boots are de rigueur at this trendy spot.
And aside from the aforementioned cows, the Hialeah Gardens ranch -- home of the Dade Riding Club, occasional rodeos and equestrian shows -- rents stables to about 20 horses.
But that's just fine with the regulars who have made Rancho Gaspar one of the hottest places to go dancing on Saturday nights and one of the coolest places to hear live music like Grupo Niche, Issac Delgado or Oscar de León. Just ask any of the hundreds of area Hispanics, mostly Cubans, who shook and gyrated and screamed when Manolín, ''El Médico de la Salsa,'' took the stage Sunday afternoon.
''This is a better atmosphere than a smoky nightclub,'' said Leticia Solorzna, 41, who took her husband to see the show and her 3-year-old grandson to see the horses.
''In Costa Rica, there is a lot of this,'' she said, waving her arms around at the families taking turns eating and dancing at nearby tables.
Indeed, many people told The Herald that the place brings back memories of home.
''I feel like I'm in a concert in the central park of Havana,'' said Junior Moreno, 30, a rafter who came to Miami 10 years ago and now sells cellular phones. It was his first time to Rancho Gaspar, but most likely not his last.
''Look around,'' he said, wide-eyed, as if he had found the promised land. ``You're in Cuba.''
Even the musicians say the venue provides them a taste of home.
`CLOSER TO THE HEAT'
''Here, we are closer to the heat of the Cuban people,'' said Luis Bu, the arranger for Manolín's group.
''People like this because it reminds them of the carnivals in Cuba, or La Tropical or La Piragua,'' he said, naming famous open-air clubs in Havana.
Manolín himself recorded his last album at the property, as did another Cuban group, La Charanga Habanera. He just returned last week from a whirlwind tour in Europe.
''And I came straight to Rancho Gaspar. I feel good here,'' he said, poolside at the home of the Olazábal family, who owns the property. He plays other clubs, as well, but he said he feels more at ease on the ranch. Those people only paid $10 a piece to get into Sunday's show. Kids got in free.
People said they liked the intimacy and openness the venue and broad daylight provides.
Musicians mingled with the crowd before the show sipping beer out of plastic cups -- no bottles, that's one of the security rules -- under four ficus trees that shade the playground and swing set where dozens of children scampered about.
Some families brought their own food to lay out on the picnic tables. Others order from the limited menu -- pork and plantains are the staple here. But most people came to dance.