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An Exotic Newcomer

Monsoon Cafe in Santa Monica evokes a faraway ancient land with lush gardens.


Monsoon Cafe has blown into Santa Monica.

This chic Asian eatery and lounge is the newest night life addition to the oh-so-trendy Third Street Promenade. But its all-Asian influence, which spans from the quaint Japanese koi pond to the life-size Balinese fertility statue in the ladies room, gives this Santa Monica scene something, well, exotic.

Monsoon is reminiscent of a faraway land where ancient palaces still stand and luxuriant gardens grow. The koi pond is the centerpiece of the restaurant where chefs from Asia slice and dice veggies as dapper denizens admire the colorful display from their teak-ridged tables and rattan chairs.

Although the food preparation is a show in itself, the lounge is the encore. As one winds his or her way around the room, across the pebbled floor that was designed to look like a stream complete with brass turtles, past the rattan bar and up the mahogany staircase with red bamboo railings, the grand finale begins.

The lounge is separated from the restaurant by rattan blinds and Chinese screens and is filled with lots of Asian artwork, including Chinese masks that stand prominently behind the bar. One of the walls looks like a tribal tattoo that young hipsters sport today but is really a geometric pattern from Bali.

Jazz and blues tunes give Monsoon (owned by Kozo Hasegawa, a Japanese restaurateur who also has Cafe La Boheme in West Hollywood and 20 restaurants in Japan) a sultry backdrop on Thursdays, while Brazilian and Latin jazz juice up the joint on Wednesdays. Fridays and Saturdays are reserved for jazzy swing sounds.

For the most part, the bands are small and give a soft background to the lounge, a very casual place to gossip with friends or simply sit and listen to good music. It's the kind of bar that feels very romantic, but not so much so that you're out of place when you want to hang with one of the girls, or guys, for that matter.

On a recent night, a two-piece band consisting of Sonji Kimmons and Mario Basner set up shop at the grand piano in a dark corner and gave the place a mellow ambience with big-band, blues and jazz tunes. Kimmons' soft-and-sexy voice glided through such songs of yesteryear as "Teach Me Tonight" and "Misty" as her husband, Basner, played drums.

"This is great place," said first-time Monsoon-goer Penny Klauth. "You have the South Seas downstairs and jazz up here."

Denim-clad scenesters in their 20s and 30s kick back on the chaise longues or the old leather couches that stretch the perimeter of the big bar, where they sip tropical drinks like the Mount Fuji or Monsoon Mai Tai. Tables fill the center of the lounge, illuminated by Asian-style lanterns and lights, so that diners can easily eat the eclectic mix of Asian tapas that are served until 11 p.m.--pretty late for this town.

"This place reminds me of Casablanca," said Victoria Grove of Santa Monica, who brought roommate Lara Van Slyke to Monsoon for her birthday. "It's like an old black-and-white movie that's come to life. It's a hidden treasure."


Monsoon Cafe, 1212 Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica. 21 and up. $10 minimum on Friday and Saturday. Full menu.

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