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UP ALL NIGHT

SOCIAL CLIMES : A Style All Its Own : At the Hana Lounge, East Meets West and Individuality Rules

October 23, 1994|HILLARY JOHNSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

All too often the ambience of a hotel lobby lounge is more like an airport than a close, intimate nightclub.

Not so the Hana Lounge at the Hotel Nikko, where the mood is casual elegance. The bar's vast environs have a sense of Japanese spareness and serenity, sensibly balanced with Western comforts and blessedly free of the nerdy corporate vibe that lurks around the edges of most hotels.

The cocktail waitresses wear their own clothes, which run to platform boots and palazzo pants in a kind of elegant take on Melrose Avenue.

The centerpiece is a fountain pool designed like a Japanese rock garden. Japanese fishing kites decorate the walls like big, papery dragonflies. Guests relax in sumptuous leather club chairs.

The overall effect is open and expansive, but far from barren. It's a place you can pass through or spend an evening. Coming here for a drink is somehow not so great a commitment as a trip to a jazz club, although an encounter with the Hana's resident Paul Turner Trio may prove equally rewarding.

Many people seem to wander in for a drink, or to meet a friend staying at the hotel, and find themselves reluctant to leave.

"It's great music. It's a great bar," says New York hairstylist Janet Windesheim, a hotel guest. Windesheim and her boyfriend, Lou Giacolone, are lolling in comfortable leather chairs, sharing cocktails and food with half a dozen friends.

"We were here last night," Giacolone says. "They were playing some Brubeck. He had that Gene Krupa thing going."

"No, no. I'd say it was more like Buddy Rich," says Ian Janes.

At the next table, a group of twentyish people in overalls and thermal undershirts lounge comfortably, some of them seated on the plush carpet.

Manfred Moennich, Nikko's general manager, presides from a corner sofa. He's wearing a flowered shirt in hues of pink, a green and violet cardigan, green twill pants, and a pair of truly stunning green and brown wingtips. It is nobody's style but his own, so rare and refreshing in this trendy town.

"One thing I've found about L.A. is the aspect of ultimate individuality," he says. "That's what makes it tick and click. This is a place you can either sit up straight or slouch down. I'm having a 1953 port wine, but if you want a rum and Coke, so be it."

Bandleader Paul Turner is also wearing wingtips. Turner's band features Turner on drums, David Arana and Ben Tidosti on piano, Susan Lyster on a hot pink bass guitar and singer Theresa Turner, who does standards with sultry aplomb.

The band plays every Thursday, Friday and Saturday until midnight. (Turner's full 18-piece big band plays the Sunday brunch across the lobby at Pangaea.)

"Swing is making a comeback," Turner says. "Jazz has always been there, but swing started the whole concept of popular music."

But where's the dancing?

Turner glances across the room to where Moennich is sitting, then winks and snaps his fingers. "If The L.A. Times says there's dancing, the day this article comes out there'll be a dance floor here by 2 a.m."

*

Where: Hana Lounge, Hotel Nikko, 465 S. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills; (310) 247-0400.

When: Paul Turner Trio plays Thursday through Saturday from 8 p.m. to midnight. The lounge is open from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. nightly.

Cost: Beer $4.50 and up; well drinks start at $5.50; wines $5.50 to $28 a glass.; sushi and desserts $3.25 and up.

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