For the last six years, Blue Velvet, a martini bar located at 430 W Gilman, has been home to a popular Latin night every Thursday. Bar manager Tim Schmock and resident DJ Bryan Suzan (aka DJ Sucio) sat to discuss the importance of having a Latin night available to students on campus, the weekly event’s history and where it’s heading.
Bryan first lead the discussion with a recap on his first time as a patron going to one of the weekly Thursday Latin Nights.
“I was first invited by one of my fraternity brothers in (Latino fraternity) Lambda Theta Phi, who have always been involved in Latin night at Blue Velvet and were the ones to get the event started,” he said. “I remember going there and just thinking it was a good place for dancing, which you don’t have much of in downtown Madison. Granted there is Sotto, Whiskey Jakes and (State Street) Brats, but they all play the same electronic dance music. With Latin music you get a little more feeling. Especially since I’m Latino, it feels like home.”
Gradually the conversation shifted gears to Suzan’s take on Madison’s reaction to the event.
“When it first started it was called Badger Latin Night, and it was a place intended for all students to come, have fun and enjoy Latin culture,” he said. “Then word got around to the Madison Latino community, which is large, and it led to a lot of regulars who may be a bit older. The vibe I get is that early in the night it’s mainly a lot of students and then as the night goes on it becomes more of the community. Right now, for students it’s a starter bar but we do get a lot of students that stick around the whole time”
I brought up that Latin music is the most popular its been in a while and asked what Bryan’s take was as to why more bars on campus aren’t adopting a Latin night.
“Honestly, that’s a good question,” he said. “I never thought about it because places like Wando’s would succeed if they had a Latin night. But the problem is that it’s hard to find a DJ who both knows how to play Latin music and is willing. The way I like to play music is very traditional. I don’t play remixes or versions with English in them. For example, Despacito — I don’t play the Justin Bieber version, I play the original version.”
The conversation took a thoughtful turn when we discussed the feedback that Bryan has observed during his time at Blue Velvet.
“The most visible feedback I get is that they keep coming back every week, so they make it part of their routine,” he said. “What I notice with new students, is that they make it a place to go. They always say, ‘oh we will start at Blue Velvet or we are going to stay the whole night.’ Because they know that’s what they like, that’s what attracts them, and they will have fun. For me that’s more than enough feedback because I know I am doing a good job and that I am keeping them around.”
I made a point to ask Bryan if there was anything he wished people knew about Latin Night.
“I try to be extremely welcoming and so are my co-workers, because I understand it can be weird to be at a new bar listening to music you don’t typically listen to, but just have fun,” he said. “If you like the song, just dance, no one is going to make fun of you. You see dancers we have up there that aren’t good, but it doesn’t stop them. That is what Latin music is all about, just feeling it and dancing!”
Latin Night was born out of an idea by a brother of the Latino Fraternity Lambda Theta Phi. Both Schmock and Suzan stressed this history to me and wanted to make sure these people received their recognition.
“A young man named Ryan Budhacheticka nicknamed ‘Buddha’ who was a bartender at the time, pointed out to me how the only establishment that hosted a Latin night was the Cardinal bar and because of its distance wasn’t ideal,” said Blue Velvet owner Schmok. “After a few weeks of promoting the event and getting word to students on campus, I’ll never forget the first Latin night. I have never seen so many people in one place and I only staffed three people for the whole bar. At one point people were throwing limes at me to get my attention because we were so backed up. It was thanks to our two early DJ’s, Carlos Bustamante and Kevin Oliva who had those lines out the door and played great music.”
Suzan also shared his take on BV’s history touching on how the support system set up by the brothers in Lambda provided a pipeline for a new generation of DJs to receive the Thursday night responsibility.
“Those three people Ryan, Carlos and Kevin, were the pioneers of Latin night and they made sure to pass the torch before they graduated,” Suzan said. “Eventually another Lambda named Joshua Rodriguez who is a big influencer on the Latin music you still hear would go on to teach me how to play. Plus, keeping in tradition, I have just graduated and made sure to get another young Lambda named Rey David Claudio, aka DJ Mondra, who is absolutely killing it.”
Schmock said Blue Velvet is considering spreading the success from Latin Night to other groups who could use their own space to dance.
“Pride night,” he said. “I have a had lot of people from the pride community tell me that they enjoy establishments meant for them, but they don’t always want to go to a place pegged as being a gay bar. I am considering making into a Friday night event. But we have to go about finding the right person to play the event and promoting like we did with that first Latin night.”