Uptown Coffee Bar. Photo © Miguel Andrés Cornejo Guzmán
Uptown Coffee Bar. Photo © Miguel Andrés Cornejo Guzmán

Uptown: espresso cup of Latino culture


As a Colombian living in Miami for more than 20 years, I had different expectations of my nighttime outings during our German vacation. In Munich, my husband and I ventured to a club that was apparently close and ended up in Sausalito, the German version of Chili’s. In Berlin, we wanted to see the Munich vs Liverpool Champions League game, so we went to an Irish pub, but it was too crowded to stay.

During the last leg of our trip, in Leipzig, our host and friend took us to Uptown Coffee Bar near the city center. Here the notion that I was definitely not escaping reggaeton during my vacation was really cemented.

You see, we were adolescents in the 80’s, when Latino music was dominated by salsa and merengue. Reaggaeton wasn’t even born yet. We listen to American and British pop, freestyle music, 80’s heavy metal and rock en español. The mental playlist of our trip had started with “99 Luftbaloons,” followed by “Rock Me Amadeus.”

But here I was in the middle of Leipzig, listening to a band covering one of my favorite songs, “Todo Se Transforma,” by Uruguayan genius Jorge Drexler – and I loved it.

The energy of Uptown is something I have not experienced since my student days in Bogotá.

A small cafe during the day, no bigger than a living room, it transforms into a bar on Friday nights. The local Latin American students and young professionals flirt in Spanish, English, German, or just body language. It’s not mid-March in here, but more like hot and humid mid-July: off-shoulder blouses and crop tops for the girls. T-shirts for the guys, even one guy in a tank top playing the drums.

The place is packed. As we walk in and take off our coats, the Peruvian owner, Gregory, greets us with free Malibu shots. The coconut rum helps you blend into this tropical ambiance, where the band is playing a cover of “Latinoamérica” by Calle 13. The crowd sings along to “Lamento Boliviano” by Enanitos Verdes.

When they are done, the DJ starts playing the most popular reggeatons and the occasional bachata, one after the other.

So here I am, admiring the moves of a girl dancing reggeaton next to me with every inch of her body.

From the long, dark hair which she tosses in the faces of unsuspecting guys, to her belly button that trembles beneath her crop top, to her sneaker-wearing feet. I’m guessing which guy is going to hit on her. Here I am, giggling with my friend’s wife about the attractive long-haired guys, while all sorts of Spanish accents drop into my ears.

I can tell who is Ecuadorian, which guy is Argentinian and which girl Mexican. My discerning eye also spots several German dancers who come to experience Latin American culture with their Latino friends.

Uptown Coffee Bar. Photo © Miguel Andrés Cornejo Guzmán
Uptown Coffee Bar. Photo © Miguel Andrés Cornejo Guzmán

It’s Friday night, and I guess we have been here since 10 or 11 pm. It’s now 3 in the morning and we realize we have a toddler at home who is going to wake up early, so we ask for the check. We have been drinking beer all night, as we did throughout our trip, and the check is not steep. Another nice surprise Uptown Coffee Bar had in store for us.

As for their coffee? I have no idea! They have good reviews, but it will have to wait until our next trip to Leipzig.

By Beatriz Mendoza

Beatriz is a writer and journalist living in Miami.

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