The Conga Room Shutting Down After 25 Years in Los Angeles
The Conga Room — the nightclub that for years defined Latin entertainment in Los Angeles and featured artists like Celia Cruz, Carlos Santana, Fito Páez and Alejandro Sanz — is closing its doors after 25 years. Its final concert will be a private show March 27 featuring Puerto Rican salsa star Gilberto Santa Rosa and an array of friends, hosted by actor and producer Jimmy Smits and MC’d by comedian Paul Rodriguez, both co-investors.
Established in 1999 by entrepreneur Brad Gluckstein, the Conga was — and still is — an anomaly in Los Angeles: an upscale, celebrity-studded nightclub devoted to Latin music and entertainment. Gluckstein’s co-owners at opening were luminaries Smits, Rodriguez, Jennifer Lopez and Sheila E., all representing different sides of entertainment. In contrast with New York, which for decades boasted legendary nightclubs devoted to Latin music, Los Angeles didn’t have a Latin venue backed by star power and that sought to highlight a broad swath of Latin music.
From the onset, the Conga did just that.
When it opened in its original Wilshire Boulevard location, it featured Celia Cruz as its first headliner, and artists who performed there included Buena Vista Social Club and Tito Puente, but also Carlos Santana and Alejandro Fernández. In 2008, the Conga Room moved to its current, ritzier location at L.A. LIVE, where it continued to expand its programming, bringing in reggaetón and Mexican acts; Maluma and Bad Bunny, for example, played there in the early days.
In 2013, Billboard hosted a show by norteño band Calibre 50, as part of its Mexican Music Awards. While the room also featured other genres, with shows by artists like Lenny Kravitz, Ed Sheeran and Avicii, its core remained Latin music. All told, the venue hosted more than 500 performances in both locations, in addition to special events.
“The Conga Room brought Latin music to the forefront, presenting both international and local artists in an intimate and upscale setting,” said Gluckstein in a statement. “It also became part of the cultural fabric of Los Angeles, hosting cultural, political and community events for a quarter of a century.”
However, offered Gluckstein, “Unfortunately, with the pandemic, the lack of events at the convention center, and the difficulty in booking national acts with AEG and Live Nation controlling national routing, our business model was changed. Coupled with an inflationary economy and high interest rates, [it changed] consumer behavior significantly.”
Although the venue is shuttering, the nonprofit organization Conga Kids will continue to operate. Founded in 2016, the program reaches roughly 50,000 elementary school children per year in largely under-resourced communities in LA County, offering a curriculum of dance and music of the Afro-Diaspora.