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Leveling the Playing Field


In the spirit of Mardi Gras, J.J. "Bad Boy" Jones and his five-piece blues band played a "Louisiana cha-cha" at a new Westside hangout where south of the border cuisine and entertainment intermingle with sounds of the South. The cha-cha is incongruous with the blues, but the upbeat tempo gets more than a few toes tapping.

As to the serious blues, they come around once a week at Guava in Santa Monica and draw regulars who have a loyalty to the band that was once reserved only for legends such as Billie Holiday. Band groupie Ed Keller hasn't missed Thursday blues night since the nightclub opened in November, and regular Vanessa Wiencek has made the shabby-chic establishment her second home since she became legal, i.e. 21, last year.

Wiencek and Keller, who was a lot older than 21 when Wiencek was born, are pals now. The 76-year-old blues fan spies the young hipster across the crowded room each week, and they hit the dance floor. When J.J. plays the cha-cha, the odd couple is center stage. Later, when "Sweet Home Chicago" comes over the sound system, they're out there again.

It's not surprising that this hip hacienda, whose look and feel is reminiscent of Bourbon Street, is so popular. The Santa Monica restaurant and club is giving night life a new twist by creating a spot where young and old congregate. Unlike at many clubs in Los Angeles, the age chasm at Guava dissipates as the music gets louder.

Formerly known as Tampico Tilly's, the vine-covered Spanish-style establishment combines Mexican cuisine with a European and American ambience and features Caribbean, Latin and American entertainment.

Guava's international flavor is no accident. Owner Alain Cohen is from France, and he's hung pictures of his favorite places on the globe around his nightclub and on the stage.

While blues fans groove in the bar, another scene unfolds in the dining room. Patrons here dine in an ambience that includes the warmth of a brick fireplace, Mexican ponchos and wood clogs showcased along the walls and a library of old books.

A staircase decorated with an ornate wrought-iron banister leads to a veranda with louvered doors above the dining room. Frida Kahlo prints adorn the walls, along with tropics-inspired murals, all illuminated by soft rose-colored lighting.

The blues night draws its group of regulars. Other theme nights, including West Coast swing, tango, zydeco, Brazilian and country line dancing, are also bringing a chic, but casually dressed, crowd.

"This place is different every time you come here," said Loretta Contreras, 21, of Santa Monica. "That's why I keep coming back."


What: Guava, 1025 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica; (310) 451-1769.

When: Sunday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-1 a.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-2 a.m.

Cost: Cover varies. Yucca cakes with spicy guava sauce, $3.95; pollo guava, $11.95; guava, mango & passion fruit margaritas, $6; Mexican beer, $3.50.

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