When you've gotta dance

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Whatever your dance, be it salsa, the tootsie-roll or a more free-form style, there are plenty of hip-shaking hotspots to choose from in the Baltimore area.

With more nightclubs than ever these days, you'll find plenty of music and dance floors to go around. Many of these dance clubs are clustered near the Inner Harbor, either on Market Place near Port Discovery or on nearby cross streets. Boston Street in Canton and Broadway in Fells Point are other favorite clubbing spots in the city.

The counties also have their fair share of great dance clubs, with enough parking that even if you live in the city it's worth the trip on a Friday or Saturday night.

To uncover exactly where people are showing off their moves in and around Charm City, we strapped on our dancin' shoes and ventured out. We found clubs of all varieties, from small, dark and subtle to over-the-top glamour and glitter. Some cater to teen-agers, others to a more mature crowd. At a few there was no cover, at others it was as much as $15. Dress codes and drink prices also vary, so call first to find out exactly what's what on the night you plan to visit.

Read on for a sampling of the area's dancing headquarters.

Attitudes 3000, 11445 Pulaski Highway, White Marsh, 410-335-7111.

Head for Attitudes 3000 after a movie at the White Marsh Theaters. It's right up the street, and you can go in your jeans; the atmosphere is casual and relaxed, as is the dress code. The two biggest perks here are the ample parking in the huge side lot and the full bar, which has a number of draft beers - a rarity for a dance club. The music is upbeat and easy to dance to (you'll know the words), and the colored lighting and oversize disco ball make the atmosphere a festive one. The crowd is a bit older than the college-age clubbers who frequent many of these dance spots, and many were dancing in couples rather than in groups. Expect plenty of seating: Attitudes 3000 is a restaurant in the daylight hours.

Baja Beach Club, 55 Market Place, 410-727-0468.

With its laid-back style and tiki-thatched bars, this Caribbean-theme club nurtures a friendly atmosphere that rivals that of the Bahamas. In fact, the accumulation of patrons' bras suspended from the ceiling rivals the collection at the island of Bimini's End of the World Saloon. Although there were no calypso or reggae tunes - not even a Jimmy Buffet number thrown in for good measure - the Top-40 dance music seemed to please the crowd, and everyone sang along. You'll find that the bartenders are about as scantily clad as is legally possible. The floor was packed with dancers who ranged in age from 21 to 30. Baja is perhaps most famed for its Wednesday ladies' nights. Not only is there no cover charge, but women also drink free all night.

Bar Baltimore, 34 Market Place, 410-385-2992.

The newest of the bunch, Bar Baltimore promises a wild time. With locations in a number of cities across the United States, Bar has become renowned for the women it entices to dance on its wide bars. This is not a myth; periodic requests by the DJ for ladies (paying customers as well as Bar employees) to get up on the bar and dance meet with an enthusiastic response by the crowd. No stripping, just good ol' lighthearted dancing, makes this a fun-spirited rather than bawdy experience. The enormous central bar and super-high ceiling (the club is in the old Brokerage building) give Bar Baltimore a colossal feel, but the atmosphere is neighborly rather than grandiose.

Cancun Cantina, 7501 Old Telegraph Road, Hanover, 410-761-6188.

Live bull riding every other Friday at 8 p.m. - professionals only. We kid you not. This huge nightclub draws crowds not only for its great dancing (country Tuesdays and Saturdays, Top-40 Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and Latin Sundays) but also for the chance to see this unusual spectacle out on the sand behind the club. Located on the south side of Baltimore-Washington International Airport (the parking's great - there's a large, well-lit lot), the club is a spectacle in its own right. Indoors you'll find three bars and a massive wood dance floor, and four pool tables to keep you entertained between songs. The outside space is divided between a covered area (enclosed in the winter) and more than 1,000 uncovered square feet of sand and palm trees, perfect for summer nights. With shooter and beer-tap girls around every corner, getting a drink is never a problem.

China Room, 44 South St., corner of East Pratt and South streets, 410-625-4600.

The cocktail waitresses in skinny black dresses and bouncers in black-on-black with security headsets are the first tip-off that this is not your average Baltimore club. The China Room, Uncle Lee's Szechuan Restaurant in the daytime, draws a chic, young (early 20s) crowd that is willing to pay for the upscale atmosphere. Sky-high ceilings, sleek wood paneling, two-story windows and a second-level dance floor are just a few of the features that make the interior of this club so spectacular. It's a study in extravagance, which makes for an unusual combination with the booming house music. The China Room is a bit surreal, but magnificent nonetheless, and you'll be just as happy as a wallflower taking it all in as you'll be on the dance floor.

Club 723, 723 S. Broadway, 410-327-8800.

If you're looking for an unfussy spot to get your groove on, this is the place for you. Expect few frills - this Fells Point club is not out to dazzle you. The music is mostly energy house, techno and disco. On Fridays and Saturdays you need to be 21 to get in, on Wednesdays and Sundays 18, but the crowd is never much older than early 20s. After a few dances you'll be glad for the second level, a mezzanine above the dance floor, where you can cool down, request a song (the DJ booth is up there, too), and watch the dancers below. The dress code is casual. Club 723 is a great choice if you are in the area and are looking for a dance or two but don't plan to spend the whole night on the dance floor. Pop in and then head back out to meet friends at an area pub or restaurant.

Generation Xtremes, 410 York Road, Towson, 410-828-9699.

If you're not a minor, you won't make the cut at this hot new "exclusively under 21" club. And yes, they do check IDs at the door. On York Road, just across from Towson Commons, Generation Xtremes has been thriving since its opening in mid-May. Open Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m., scores of teens (the average age is 14-16) come out to dance and partake of the non-alcoholic drink specials. The music is mainstream dance with some rap, and a wall of TV monitors behind the dance floor displays the DVD music videos that accompany each song. The game room, fully equipped with pool tables, air hockey and basketball, is another draw.

Harbor Club, Pier Five Hotel, 711 Eastern Ave., 410-539-2000.

The Harbor Club is a sexy dance spot with a wraparound deck and a great view of both the harbor and the city. But don't let the deck - or the fact that it is located just above McCormick & Schmick's seafood restaurant - fool you. This is not a crab-eating kind of place. The crowd we encountered at the Harbor Club was one of the most sophisticated of the bunch, although willing to dance to some incredibly brassy house music. This place is like a fishbowl at night (at least on the rainy night we visited when the deck wasn't an option) -very round, very blue. There's ample seating here, and you'll love the chic love seats in cheetah prints. The dim lighting and view of the water give the Harbor Club a romantic character that is absent from some of the other nightclubs. For a night of dancing with someone special, the Harbor Club is the place.

Have a Nice Day CafM-i, 34 Market Place, 410-385-8669.

This club is a retro-inspired wonderland, although if you're expecting a blast from the past, think again. This "disco" spot is the Austin Powers brand of retro, not the "Saturday Night Fever" variety. A rainbow VW Bug is just one of the embellishments that proves it. As for the tunes, they will make you want to strike a John Travolta pose: "I Will Survive" and "Stayin' Alive" are two Have a Nice Day CafM-i staples. Although the original CafM-i in Atlanta serves food, don't be fooled by the name and expect to dine here. Do plan to find just about everything else you might look for on a night out. We're talking three full bars, plenty of DJ music, a pool room and a packed house of dancing fools. So dust off the gold aviator sunglasses, bellbottoms and go-go boots; it's time to boogie down.

Hippo, 1 W. Eager St., 410-675-2172.

What sets this Mount Vernon gay and lesbian club apart from the other clubs we visited is that the dance floor and its accompanying bars are entirely separate from the rest of the club. The club is made up of three distinct rooms, so if you need to take a breather from the dancing, the pool bar and piano bar offer quieter alternatives. The arena-style dance floor is slightly sunken and separated by a railing from the two tiers of tables surrounding it. On Thursday and Saturday nights (Fridays are less crowded here) the Hippo is packed with 25- to 40-year-olds dancing to the booming house music beneath a huge pink neon "Hippo" sign and disco ball. The Hippo, one of the oldest clubs we visited, has lasted for a reason and is definitely not to be missed.

Latin Palace, 509 S. Broadway, 410-522-6700.

You won't have any trouble spotting this Latin nightclub: Once you're on Broadway heading south, just think Las Vegas when you cross Bank Street, and you can't miss this two-story neon-lit space on your left. Although the prowess of some of the other dancers may leave your jaw dragging the floor, once you get out there no one will care that you've added your own personal flair (or flaw) to the merengue or salsa. Everyone just loves to dance. The ocean murals and scattered palm trees add to the carefree atmosphere, which plays to a crowd that is mostly 25 and over. You'll love the theme nights here, from "South Beach Night" Thursdays to "Noche Latina" Saturdays. If you are hoping to improve your Latin dancing skills, the Latin Palace offers salsa lessons Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Lava Lounge, Pier Four between the Hard Rock CafM-i and the Aquarium, 410-539-7888.

The old Chart House building has been jumping since the Lava Lounge moved in last year. This space at the end of Pier Four fills up fast, and the addition of Surfside Sally's, an outdoor bar with sand underfoot, has added extra room and a summery feel to this harbor-side dance spot. Indoors, you'll love the multilevel space and roaring club music. As many as four dance floors can be jamming at once here, so you can move about and won't get bored after an hour of dancing. The crowd is on the younger side - 20s - and the dress is far from conservative. The Lava Lounge is much less tranquil than the latter part of its name implies, although as hot as the former suggests. It is often so jammed that you'll be glad to sneak outside for a breather and - believe it or not - to cool off in the July air. Wednesdays the Lava Lounge offers unlimited free drinks with the $10 cover.

Paradox, 1310 Russell St., 410-837-9110.

Paradox's sound system is top-notch and performs well in this cavernous space. Perhaps this is why the club has been able to snag some of the nation's premier DJs for special appearances. The music here ranges from Baltimore club, hip-hop, rap and funk to jungle and techno. Two large dance floors are separated by a snack bar (serving hot dogs, pizza, etc.) and a wildly painted half basketball court. An outdoor courtyard with huge speakers offers another alternative for dancers. Paradox attracts a variety of club-goers, from a mixed college crowd on Friday nights to a predominantly gay crowd on Saturdays. No alcohol is served at Paradox, a policy that allows the club to stay open "after hours" - until 6 a.m. most nights. On Thursdays and Saturdays you are welcome to bring your own alcohol - they will even keep it on ice for you - provided it's gone by 2 a.m. Be forewarned, most don't arrive at Paradox until that hour anyway.

Silver Shadows, 5550 Sterrett Place, Columbia, 410-730-0111.

Every night draws a different crowd to Silver Shadows. A wide variety of music helps explain the diversity at this Howard County club: On Wednesdays you'll find swing, Thursdays Caribbean, Fridays jazz followed by hip-hop, Saturdays a variety of live bands and Sundays line dancing. For the most variety, go early on a Friday and stay awhile. You'll find that the early business crowd that shows up for Silver Shadows' 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. happy hour is quickly replaced by a second wave of club-goers by the time the band hits the stage at 8 p.m. At 10:30 p.m., a younger hip-hop crowd begins filtering in when the 92Q live broadcast takes over. Its two floors and four bars allow for plenty of elbow room, although the space does fill up fast, particularly on Saturdays. So get there early and plan to stay awhile. It's well worth it.

The Spot, 2314 Boston St., 410-276-9556.

This Canton hotspot is truly two clubs in one. The original Spot atmosphere (from the days before this neighborhood became trendy) is still alive and well in the inner dance room, where house music and a smoke machine accompany the cool blue-green lighting. Contrast this with the hotter oranges and yellows of the outer, newly renovated room, where a freestyle lyricist accompanied the DJ's refreshing selections, and you have a mix that can't be beat. Depending on the night, you'll find a variety of dancers here, from those mainstreamers who enjoy '70s and '80s dance music on Fridays and Saturdays to those clubbers who prefer the more underground sounds of acid jazz and rare groove on Thursdays and Sundays. The Spot is smaller than most, but you'll have just enough room to dance.

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