Guest Blog: Beat the Early-winter Blues at the Red-hot Copa

by Kate Kopperman of Nitetables

This Sno-tober’s unseasonably early cold snap got you down? With most area bars and lounges at least a month away from unveiling winter cocktail menus, warming up with a hot toddy is not an option. Our recommendation: Take a quick trip to the Caribbean. Thanks to the reopened Copacabana, you needn’t take a plane or even a day off to do so.

Now in its latest (and fifth) location, the 41-year-old Copa—centrally located in the old West 47th Street China Club space —remains a muy caliente spot for people of all ages. A giant among clubs, it’s up there with Studio 54 in legendary status. It’s also where Barry Manilow’s fabled Lola was a showgirl and her doomed Tony sailed across the bar, and through the years the Cuban restaurant/lounge/club has hosted many a memorable movie (Goodfellas, Raging Bull, Carlito’s Way) and Hollywood icon (Groucho Marx, Frank Sinatra, Robin Williams).

Still, I recently headed to the multi-level Copa not to bask in its rich history (though it’s easy to do: The walls are lined with glamorous black-and-white photos from decades past, and standing in for pillars are the infamous, original palm tree fixtures brought over from Cuba). I was on a mission to sip summery cocktails and observe sexy salsa with the goal of pretending I was somewhere near the Equator, if only for a few hours.

Thanks to Tommy Ognibene, a bartender on the Copa’s second-floor level, I achieved my goal in record time. He kindly fixed me the house specialty: a mango mojito, made with all-natural and super-fresh lime, fruit and mint. As I learned, it was the Copa that introduced New York to this refreshing, bubbly drink, and they still take much pride in this today. No exaggeration: Their mojito is easily the best I’ve ever had. The key ingredient is rum. The nectar of the islands, this sweet spirit, usually made from sugar cane or molasses, tastes like vacation even when the weather or what is (or what’s not) in one’s wallet suggest otherwise. So it figures the Copa has quite an arsenal: Zaya, Rugal, Captain Morgan… But what makes their cocktails so extraordinary is the fresh fruit juice. For example, their Huracan (their Latin take on the Hurricane) is made with fresh mango and pineapple juices. Delicious! As the lit-up faux palm tress changed colors from blue to red to orange to green, I had to ask myself, “Am I on a cruise?” If only . . .

After sampling a few of Tommy’s reinvigorating libations, I left his bar in the tropical-wallpapered, upscale-dining area to check out the third floor’s dimly-lit nightclub scene. Where spicy Caribbean food is the order of the day downstairs, upstairs the heat comes from the salsa. A classic live band fuels the fire, as do the eight hired professional dancers known as the Copa Girls and Cabana Boys. But the pros don’t dominate; indeed, almost all of the club-goers appeared confident in their moves. The rest of the crowd—myself included—stood on the outskirts, marveling at the energy and enthusiasm.

When you’re looking for an escape—be it from the sudden drop in temps, the same-old scene at your no-frills local bar or a tough day on the job—stop by the Copa, which is opened to the public on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. (The club hosts private and promoter events the rest of the week.) Fridays find the nightclub level a haven for Latin-tinged Top 40, house and salsa; on Saturdays it’s house and Top-40 with a dash of hip-hop. Meanwhile, on Saturdays after midnight, the tables on the restaurant level are removed to make way for a full-on salsa party. And opening on New Year’s Eve: a fourth, rooftop level that’s covered and heated in winter, open-air in summer.

This blog is a guest contribution from our friends at Nitetables, an awesome new nightlife reservation site featuring clubs, bars, lounges and more.  Check out their services & tell ’em we sent you! – Louise

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Filed under New York Restaurants, Out on the Town

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