From the outside, the New Palladium nightclub looks much like a storefront that has yet to open for the business day. At 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 26th, the shutters covered the doors and windows, and very little light escaped to the sidewalk surrounding it. However, looks can be deceiving, particularly in the case of the New Palladium, located at 229 W. Allegheny Ave. One look at the smiles on patrons’ faces inside tells a different story. Behind the club’s cold exterior is warm company, non-stop music and the smells of freshly cooked Spanish and Puerto Rican food.
The New Palladium, a new performance venue and banquet hall, not only celebrates friends enjoying each other’s company, but seeks to better the neighborhood that surrounds it. Willie Torres, the owner, operator and face of the nightclub, renovated the building and opened the club in 2010. Torres has been passionate about salsa music, dance, Latino culture and community his entire life.
“I like to see friends of mine and people I don’t even know become new friends of mine and the community,” Torres said. “Community enjoyment is me giving back to the community. You see people laughing here, smiling…they don’t have worries about bills and problems and enjoy their time here. That’s what makes me happy.”
Although the club has been open for less than a year and a half, it has already become a popular haunt for many Fairhill residents. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2010 report, Fairhill has a population of just below 28,000 residents. Unlike any other neighborhood in Philadelphia, Latinos and Hispanics represent about 75 percent of the population and have become a driving political, social and economic force in the area. Hence, a club that focuses on bringing salsa and other Latino traditions to the community has been met with a very warm welcome.
“It’s a safe place,” Torres’ friend Carmen Horet said. “A lot of artists come here and it’s always fun.”
Within the past year, Torres and the New Palladium staff has given back to the community by holding fundraisers for families and individuals struggling with cancer and other illnesses, as well as fundraisers for war veterans. Last spring, an Easter Ball was held for Fairhill youth that featured a fashion show, a free meal and Easter treats. Additionally, a Mother’s Day dinner was held last May for community matriarchs to the sounds of the Los Conde band. This December, Torres’ long-time partner and event coordinator, Kate Barbera, hopes to put together a “Toys for Tots” style Christmas fundraiser.
Jennifer Pieretti, a part-time bartender at the club and cousin of Torres, praised Torres’ community outreach efforts. “Willie really tries to bring in a lot of community based things,” Pieretti said. “I know we have a group from Edison [High School] here once a month doing something for their students. We had, last week, a salsa event that was fundraising for kids.”
The Palladium also engages in political activism by holding talks, fundraisers and parties for Philadelphia politicians. The club has hosted fundraisers for Cheri Honkala, a past candidate for sheriff, along with representative candidate Jonathan Ramos, current Rep. Angel Cruz and City Commissioner Stephanie Singer. The club was also proud to host fundraisers and victory parties for the first elected Puerto Rican and Latina council member, Maria Quiñones-Sánchez. The Palladium was even a polling place for residents for the most recent election day.
Torres’ worldwide recognition as a retired professional boxer also draws internationally known politicians, as evidenced by the famous names and faces that pass through the club. “We actually had the president of the Dominican Republic [Leonel Fernandez] come,” Barbera said. “We had a party in the back for him.”
Torres, a native of Ponce, Puerto Rico, arrived on American soil in 1976 to fight a championship tournament and decided to call the U.S. home. “I came to visit my brother in Philadelphia after the tournament,” Torres said. “And since that day I’m still here.”
When not putting all his energy into the New Palladium, Torres regularly works with MEGA AM1310 radio station in Philadelphia, and owns and operates a construction company called Minotaur’s Inc. “The thing about Willie is that everyone that works with him or knows him becomes part of his family,” Barbera said. “He’s really courteous to the neighbors. He wants the neighbors to be happy we are here. Everyone knows him.”
Torres’ club also hosts many live concert events throughout the week featuring local, national and international Latino musicians such as the local group the New Palladium Orchestra, and well-known salsa artists like Danny Rivera, Tito Rojas, Hector Tricoche and Bachata Heights. Latino food is also prepared every evening by head chef Miguel Marti. Marti, who has only resided in the U.S. for five months, has brought authentic Spanish flavors and recipes right to the Palladium’s kitchen. Marti also cooks for the club’s banquet events, which include weddings, birthday parties and other familial celebrations.
Although many Latinos attend the New Palladium, the club also caters to the non-Latino community with evenings dedicated to pop or country music as well as comedy specials, poetry readings and open-mic nights. “We had the Temptations here last May,” Barbera said. “Salsa is our favorite, but it’s not exclusive.”
Salsa dance classes are also held at the club every Thursday between 9 and 10 p.m., which are attended by salsa experts and novices alike. “I’ve been coming to this club for three or four months because they have salsa classes I would like to learn,” patron Jose Rosario said. “My aspirations of coming here are to hear salsa and say hi to my friends, the owners and coworkers because they’re good people.”
The staff continues to mold the club into an eclectic neighborhood spot for both carefree enjoyment and local philanthropy. “This has always been Willie’s dream, to open a salsa club,” Barbera said. “But it’s not just a salsa club. We do R&B nights, we have a lot of fundraisers, we do a lot for the community…every day there is something different here.”