Cultura Live keeps a busy schedule.
“There’s never a dull moment, that’s for sure,” said owner Marvin Gaviria.
Formerly called Cultura Event Center, the South Tacoma venue has remodeled and rebranded itself. Gaviria took over the space on South Washington Street in late 2012. It had been the site of several entertainment venues, including Station 56 and Club Vanity.
“We’re trying to be the best midsize concert venue in the south Puget Sound,” Gaviria said. That means upgraded sound and lighting systems and a newly remodeled stage.
While Cultura is marketing itself as a concert and event venue for private and public functions, it also maintains a busy schedule of weekly programming. The 11,000-square-foot facility has a commercial kitchen, a 60-foot-long bar, an upstairs bar and other amenities.
Tuesday nights has fitness classes and tango lessons, Wednesday night is mixed entertainment with a throwback theme, Thursday is hip-hop, Friday is Latin-themed and Sunday has band tryouts for Hempfest. Other nights are booked for special events such as Cambodian New Year or a private school prom. Previously, Gaviria tried burlesque and comedy nights with varying results.
On Tuesday, Cultura Live will have its first Cinco de Mayo block party. The event features hip-hop artist Kokane. Some 20 lowriders will be on display on Washington Street.
For his Friday night Latin Experience, Gaviria is working with DJ Precision to bring in top national and international Latin bands and artists once a month. On Friday (May 1), the Latin theme will step aside for a night as Hawaiian reggae group Kolohe Kai performs. On May 22, up-and-coming bachata singer Desiree Estrada will perform.
On a recent Wednesday night, the venue’s weekly “Blast from the Past” happy hour was in full swing. The free 21-and-older event has a DJ spinning music and videos from the 1970s through the 2000s. Visitors are as likely to hear Bob Marley as they are Kurt Cobain or Janet Jackson.
“We’re trying to get away from being glued to your TV and Netflix,” said one DJ who goes by Sean the Shaman. “We want to give people a platform to express themselves. Whether they’re older or younger.”
Gustavo Diaz, Cultura’s director of operations, said he hopes the evening is a community builder and gets people out of their homes and away from social media.
“I want people to open their minds and get away from the new technology,” Diaz said.
Near the entrance, artist Squid Samson was working on an abstract painting. He is one of several artists who show up to create live art.
“This is fun to me. I love being in this environment listening to good music,” Samson said.
Furthering the throwback feeling were five video game stations set up with Nintendo, Nintendo 64, Atari and Sega games. The nearly 20 games were free to play.
On this evening, three people were gathered around a bulky TV playing Mario Kart. Samson took a break from painting to join in. An enthusiast, he created the Mario Brothers-themed art hanging from the ceiling.
Jordan Watts of Auburn was another player. It was his second visit to Cultura and his first time playing a video game.
“I’m a country boy in the city trying to fit in,” the Mount Vernon native explained with a shrug.
Watts liked the atmosphere of Cultura. “You have access to everything. It feels like the old-school vibe. They pulled off the theme very well.”
In one corner of the club rested a Cutlass Supreme. Though vintage, the car had a video screen on its sun visor. A local lowrider car club provides a different vehicle every week.
Also this night, Gaviria had invited several members of the Long Beach, California-based hip hop collective Mo’ Thugs to stop by for a performance. They were touring in the area.
“It’s a nice intimate venue. It’s easy for us to interact with the crowd,” said Mo’ Thugs member Big Sloan.
“I like the old-school vibe,” added fellow member D-Rado.
The multicultural mix appealed to the group.
“Everybody can relate to how (others) grew up,” Big Sloan said. “I don’t care if you’re white, black, Asian, Hispanic.”
Cultura has expanded its food services. In-house chef Rob Wells is a veteran of Stanley and Seafort’s, The Hub and other local restaurants. The theme of his menu is international street food.
Several countries are represented, including burgers (United States), prawn satay (Thailand), pitas (Greece), chicken shawarma (Israel), hummus plate (India) and jerk (Caribbean). Prices range from $4-$11.
Here is the regularly scheduled programming:
Mixxed Fit Class (6-7 p.m.): Hip-hop and Top 40 dance fitness class. mixxedfit.com.
Beginner and advanced Argentine tango classes (7-9 p.m.).
Blast from the Past Happy Hour (5-9 p.m.): Top hits from the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and ’00s; International food menu and drink specials; free old school video game arcade; DJ playing until midnight; open mic.
Thirsty Thursdays (10 p.m.-2 a.m.): Hip-hop, top 40 music with DJ Taber.
Cultura Happy Hour (6-9 p.m.): International food menu and drink specials; free salsa dance lessons with Marvin Gaviria at 8:30 p.m.
Cultura Live: The Latin Experience (9 p.m.-11 p.m.): Live Latin music; bands and orchestras, international street food menu. DJs follow until 2 a.m.
Hempfest band tryouts (7 p.m.-1 a.m.): Audience members can vote for bands and DJs to play Seattle Hempfest, Las Vegas Hempfest and Skatopia. Through May.