Yuri Montelongo (right) dances in her high-heeled boots at Noche Caliente. (Photo by Mark Greenberg)

Noche Caliente is fighting for the South Side's right to party

D avid Dameshghi has a way of making the club business sound like a spiritual calling.

Dameshghi, owner of South Side dance haven Noche Caliente, relocated from New York to San Antonio five years ago, at least partly because he knew the cost of living in this city would be lower. But to hear him tell it, he also felt a missionary zeal to bring dance grooves and drink specials within spitting distance of Military Drive.

"I always loved the South Side because people are very friendly and they're all united together," Dameshghi says. "But the people on the North Side don't see the people on the South Side. They don't think these people even exist. When I opened the club on the South Side, they asked me, 'How much are you going sell your drinks for? Fifty cents?' It was a joke like that."

When Dameshghi opened Noche Caliente three years ago, he had no thought of drawing anyone north of downtown to his club. With a playlist heavy on Mexican regional music, he attracted a heavy immigrant crowd. But early this year, Arnold Santos, then an advertising salesman at KTFM radio, persuaded Dameshghi to expand the club's reach by introducing a Thursday contemporary hits night. Santos argued that the local club scene is basically a party circuit, and if Noche Caliente could get on that circuit, they could pull a larger, more diverse crowd.

"I grew up on the South Side," says Santos, who now handles promotions for the club. "So I knew there was never a venue like this here. The last one I think was the Alaskan Palace or Chaps, and that's been like 10 to 15 years. So I told David, 'Let's just put it out there and see what happens.'"

Initially, the results were underwhelming, but by the end of summer, long lines began to form outside the door every Thursday night. Along with his usual South Side clientele, Dameshghi spotted an increasing number of unfamiliar faces from the North Side.

"When we opened Thursday nights and people started coming from the North Side, before they came in the door, they said, 'Are we safe to come inside?," Dameshghi recalls. "First, there's the fear. A lot of people would think if they drive to Military Drive and come to this club, they're going to get stabbed or something's going to happen to them. But that fear is gone. We opened that door for them, and now they see it."

Noche Caliente's escalating profile has brought some unwanted attention as well. Dameshghi says that in recent months Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission officers have periodically visited his club, in response to anonymous calls that he attributes to his club competitors.

"I don't have any problem with TABC, because sometimes people make a phone call for no reason," he says. "They get an anonymous call and they have to come. It's not like they're harassing me, because they've been good to us for the last three years. They started coming every week, and they stopped because they couldn't catch anything."

Nestled in a nondescript strip mall, next to a Dollar General store, from the outside Noche Caliente looks like a tiny neighborhood bar. Once inside, you're astounded by its size and bombarded by visual and aural stimulation. Two mammoth TV screens and more than a dozen small monitors pump out MTV videos. In the center, there is a parquet dance floor, beneath two spinning mirror balls and multi-hued flood lights. The club's Thursday night DJs faithfully pump out a mix of mainstream hip-hop ("no gangsta," Dameshghi earnestly proclaims) by the likes of Ludacris and Missy Elliott and uptempo R&B by Beyonce and Mary J. Blige.

When the collecting energy shows signs of flagging, they beg to see "big asses" on the dance floor, call for a show of thongs, and urge "the craziest Mexicans" in the place to make some noise. In each case, they're met with appreciative whoops from the young, heavily Latino crowd. The DJs also hype the presence of promotions people from the new Z106.7-FM, and a $500 prize that will be awarded to a winning ticket holder before the night is done.

Even on a relatively slow Thursday night, the club attracts close to 1,000 people, with little hint of unrest or tension. It's obvious that Dameshghi takes safety issues seriously, with bouncers searching everyone who enters, and with a phalanx of security men patrolling the club and its parking lot. But even these efforts can't prevent incidents like the one on Thursday, December 4, when police responded to a carjacking outside the club and saw someone firing shots from a nearby Ford Mustang. That led to a chase in which the Mustang's driver crashed into another car, killing himself and injuring three others.

In response to the incident, Santos says, "It's regrettable that it happened, but it had nothing to do with the club." In response to neighbors' concerns, however, the club will put Thursdays on hiatus and look into hiring off-duty police officers to patrol the neighborhood.

Another potential source of trouble for the club arises from the fact that, unlike most local dance clubs, Noche Caliente caters to an 18-and-above crowd. While Dameshghi's business obviously benefits from the influx of a young crowd with few nightlife options, he characteristically frames the issue in grander philosophical terms.

"If we stopped them from going to every single club, where do you think they're going to go? To the private house, where they party more, they drink and do drugs more, and nobody's supervising them," he says.

"If they are old enough to go to the war to get killed, they are not old enough to go to the club? You're old enough to fight for your country, but you're not old enough to go have a party?" •

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