Cheetah was a discotheque in Manhattan, New York City which opened May 28, 1966, and closed in the 1970s. The club was located at 53rd Street and Broadway (reports of the location differ as seen below).
“The building now houses the nondescript offices of an instrument rental business called S.I.R., but in the late 1960’s and early 70’s, 310 West 52d Street was the home of the Cheetah, a legendary club that helped set off one of New York’s loudest explosions of Afro-Cuban music.
Willie Colon performed there with Hector Lavoe. Johnny Pacheco and Larry Harlow worked there, as did Ray Baretto and Eddie Palmieri. The movie “Our Latin Thing,” which revolutionized the way Latin music was heard and seen around the world, was filmed there. Mickey Rourke was a bouncer. Ralph Mercado, now the Sol Hurok of Latin music in New York, did the booking. Both socially and musically, it was an experimental scene, a place for liberties.” (NY Times)
The Cheetah Club is widely credited as the birthplace of Salsa music no one can dispute that it was the epicenter for its rise to popularity and the use of the term “Salsa”. The term salsa took the city by storm and came to denote Pan-Latin music percolating in the barrios around Manhattan and bursting out of the New York City disco scene.
The Fania All-Stars Defined the Essence of Salsa in New York
On Thursday August 26, 1971, The Fania All-Stars headlined the club and drew an overflowing and excited crowd that was later captured on film as “Our Latin Thing.” The Fania All-Stars brought together the leading lights in Latin music styles (Descarga, Mambo, Boogaloo, Merengue, Folkloric) and presented a single concert drawing from these diverse influences. Although the term “Salsa” had been used in Latin music dating back to at least Pupi Legatteta’s 1962 LP “Salsa Nova,” this modern combination of styles being presented at the Cheetah Club began to become popularly known under the umbrella term “Salsa.”
According to Steven Watson’s “Factory Made: Warhol and the Sixties” it “was the granddaddy of the big commercial disco”. The book went on to describe it like this; “The most elaborate discotheque was Cheetah, on Broadway and 53rd Street, where everybody, according to Life, looked like “a kook in a Kubla Khanteen.” The three thousand colored lightbulbs dimmed and flicked and popped into an infinity of light patterns, reflecting off shiny aluminum sheets. Cheetah held two thousand people and offered not only dancing but a library, a movie room, and color television. “The Cheetah provides the most curious use of the intermedia,” wrote Jonas Mekas. “Whereas the Dom shows are restricted (or became restricted) to the In-circle, Cheetah was designed for the masses. An attempt was made to go over the persona, over the ego to reach the impersonal, abstract, universal.”
Watch the entire film “Our Latin Thing” here.