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WANNA DANCE? : At New Nightclub, It Takes Two to Mango

January 13, 1994|ROSE APODACA | Rose Apodaca is a free-lance writer who regularly contributes to The Times Orange County Edition.

With music, cuisine and entertainment inspired by a melange of Latin American, Creole and Afro-Cuban cultures, Newport Beach's newest nightclub, Mango, seems plucked right out of Miami's trendy South Beach. Its owners, Massimo Navarretta and Lucy Luhan, are betting they can turn up the heat in these parts, too.

Mango offers a place where fans of cumbia, mambo, salsa, calypso and even New Orleans jazz can savor these rhythms Tuesday through Sunday and find a designated space to dance. Unfortunately, that space is rather small, and the week-old club could outgrow it quickly. But bumping into and rubbing against other dancers is typical at a good salsa club (and we're not necessarily referring to lambada), so let the crowding begin.

Various live ensembles take to the stage in the main room Thursday through Sunday, performing steel drum-laced island favorites, mellow reggae and vintage jazz. Jamallad, a five-piece band, will set the groove Sunday afternoons, from 1 to 5 p.m., with reggae and Brazilian sounds.

As for the Latin experience, expect big bands with a hearty sound every Tuesday in the dance room. The 11-piece Macondo Orchestra debuts at the club Jan. 18 and will be featured every week thereafter as the house orchestra, except when there are special touring acts.

A dance instructor will eventually join the entertainment Tuesday nights, teaching the feverish dances that accompany this brand of music. When the bands aren't on, a deejay will keep the beat going with tunes from the likes of Tito Puente and Celia Cruz.

Salsa in the dance room gets put on ice Thursday through Saturday, in favor of disco, funk and house. Although the music is fun, there's something tired about the scene. Perhaps it's the mostly middle-aged crowd grooving to the odd combination of oldies and tunes their kids listen to.

The go-go dancers in their gauche, French-cut, ripped jeans and sequin-trimmed mesh tops don't help the scene any. To them this simple message: Rhythm is a dancer, and thy name is certainly not Rhythm.

Perhaps they're a carry-over of BBGs, the nightclub that formerly occupied this space along Coast Highway. That club was also owned by Luhan. Her decision to team up with Navarretta and transform the space into Mango was borne out of a desire to work together again; the pair co-owned several businesses in the mid-'80s.

Navarretta, a Naples-born restaurateur who also owns Scampi's in Newport Beach and Amici Trattoria Italiana in Costa Mesa, put together the Caribbean-flavored menu in a way that caters to the current low-fat craze; fruit juices are substituted for oil whenever possible. A sampling of the menu is available in an all-you-can-eat buffet, Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday, for $15.

The tropical theme continues at the bar with such sweet cocktail names as Mango Tango and Sugar Reef and the always-popular Cuba Libre with a twist ($3.75 to $5). Wells here are $2.75 to $3.75; glasses of wine run about $4; domestic beer, $2 to $3, and imports $2.50 to $3.75.

* MANGO

* 353 E. Coast Highway, Newport Beach.

* (714) 673-7800.

* Open Tuesday through Saturday from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. for dinner, club is open from 9:30 p.m. to 2 a.m.; Sunday 1 p.m. to 2 a.m. Closed Monday.

* Cover: $5.

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