El Tucán and its flock of sultry performers lead Miami’s cabaret revival

Written by
Ryan Pfeffer

Update: El Tucán has ended its variety show and has since rebranded as El Tucán Nightclub. 

If you didn’t know any better, you might assume that El Tucán—with its classic Havana style and glitzy aesthetic plucked straight from a bygone era—has been standing for decades. But the Brickell venue celebrates only its second anniversary this October. In those two short years, it has sparked a revival of Miami’s cabaret scene and renewed interest in live dance.

“[My mother] had asked me to take her out to a local, live Latin-music venue so that she could experience the culture—but nothing like that existed,” recalls Tucán owner and creator, Mathieu Massa. And so the idea for a true variety show—the type that helped make Cuba an international destination in the 1940s and ’50s—was born. Three research trips to the island later, the concept of El Tucán began to take shape: vintage glamour, classic Miami Art Deco and authentic Caribbean flare.

The live performance during dinner service remains Tucán’s biggest draw. Though it sticks to a standard format—short musical numbers followed by a live salsa show—it changes constantly, morphing through a collaborative effort between production coordinator Josue Garcia, the staff performers and Massa, who is not an owner who likes to watch from the sidelines. “We do a rehearsal every other week where the existing cast always has to come up with new numbers, new songs and new costumes,” says Massa. “Since the first part of the show is a lot of small numbers, we can easily integrate a new number any time we want.” Those rapid-fire performances often bounce from dance to burlesque to live music, mingling Cuban culture with pop acts and sexy choreography.

But you can always expect to see a few constants throughout the night. The venue’s three in-house dancers, the Tucánettes, will always sway their way across the stage. Miami’s own Yoli Mayor pops up twice throughout the show to belt out covers of soul classics. And at the midway point, there is usually a racy cabaret number, complete with twirling nipple tassels, to get the crowd’s blood pumping.

Yet none of this really marks the climax of the show, which comes after the performers have gathered onstage to take a final bow. The curtains come up to reveal a live band—like Grammy-winning composer Marlow Rosado with the Tucán Band—and patrons go from observers to participants. Chairs fly to the side as the audience—which includes Miamians on a date and tourists whose only experience with salsa is the kind that comes from a jar—rushes to the dance floor near the stage. The result is a beautiful mishmash of culture that is as perfect a metaphor for this city as anything that happens onstage.

It’s always a favorite moment in the show for Teresa Cesario, the lead emcee at El Tucán, who is charged with making sure the audience is fully warmed up for its shining moment. “It’s a Latin cabaret, owned by French men, hosted by an Italian from Chicago,” she muses. “The experience is so, so Miami.”

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