El V has a reputation.
El Bailongo del Valenciano or “El V” as it’s affectionately known, has been described as the milonga in San Francisco most like one you would find in Buenos Aires. Some say it’s snobby, or intimidating, or that it’s hard to get a dance there. Others return week after week, in search of the Tango high that is more likely to happen there than any other milonga in the Bay Area. El V has a dark, cozy atmosphere, a large bar at the entrance and generally, lots of high-level dancers. For the above reasons and more, it is one of the longest-running Milongas in the Bay Area and has managed to maintain its popularity for way over a decade.
I’ll start by listing what I love about El V. First, and most importantly, this is the place to see really good Tango dancing. It is the milonga that all the best dancers (resident and visiting) are sure to attend. On some nights, it will seem like half the crowd is an instructor or performer. Almost everyone dances in close embrace and follows the line of dance. A few of the more flashy dancers will usually navigate toward the middle of the floor where it’s safer to throw in a few tight boleos and ganchos.
Second, El V has the best DJs in town. Julian Ramil, the host, and teacher of many of SF’s best dancers, knows which DJs to hire to make his milonga successful. The likes of Felipe, Rina, Christopher and Shorey are all regular DJs at El V. Occasionally, there will be live music at El V, and the crowd is treated to our favorite local tango groups or visiting musicians that are passing through. Both Trio Garufa and Seth Asarnow Y Su Sexteto Tipico perform there with frequency.
Third, Ricky is an excellent bartender and makes some of the best Caipiroska (prepared with vodka instead of cachaça), that you will find in the city. The bar is usually held down by regulars watching a “futbol” game or chatting with Ricky about the latest political scandal, all in Spanish of course. And last but not least, this is the place that allows you to really practice your cabeceo. Not everyone does of course, but this is a great place to use it.
Over the years I have heard how challenging El V can be for beginners or out-of-town dancers. As a regular there, I’m offering a few tips. For Everyone: Just like in surfing, it’s best to watch first before heading in. You’ll see some excellent dancing and it may even improve your own skills.
For Beginner Leaders: This is the place to practice following the line of the dance. On some nights it can get really crowded on the floor and you won’t be able to move more than a few feet. (A very good thing to know how to do, if you plan to go to Buenos Aires one day.) Before entering the floor, catch the eye of the leader at the space you want to enter, and make sure he/she knows you are entering the line of dance. Once on the floor make sure to be aware of the leader in front of you and those dancing around you.
For Beginner Followers: Sit where you can see the other patrons and they can see you. Look around you and practice cabeceo. It can be helpful to meet up with friends and classmates to make sure you get to dance and be seen as a dancer instead of someone who is there just to watch.
For Visitors: Just like anywhere else, it can be challenging to go dancing somewhere new. If possible, get introduced or introduce yourself to a few people nearby. Getting to know people, smiling and being friendly is a sure way to get danced, for anyone.
The number one thing to remember when going to El V is to enjoy yourself. Argentine Tango can be exciting, complicated, frustrating, passionate, sad, happy, intense and beautiful all at once. At El V, you can enjoy a tasty drink, listen to tango music and watch it all transpire in front you. This is an opportunity to experience all that Tango has to offer.
Bailongo del Valenciano
1153 Valencia Street, SF
9pm – 12:30am
Update: Since this post was first written, El V now has cachaça to make a proper Caipirinha. And they are delicious!