Cool. Classy. Next to Vons Martini Blues enlivens HB

Photo by Jeanne RiceHuntington Beach's newest supper club originated as a gift from an automobile wholesaler to his show-biz-enraptured wife, whom he met while both of them were singing karaoke. Martini Blues is tucked in the nexus of a big corner shopping center that is dominated by a Vons and surrounded by an acupuncturist, a dance studio, a candy shop and a Cigarettes Cheaper store—and currently overshadowed by the grand opening of a Linda Evans Fitness Spa.

"We were going for a kind of 'Latin Quarter' feel, something with a New York style," confides Bobby Cee—shortened from Colosia—as he proudly surveys the place he bought about a year ago for his new bride, Donna de Villiar. "Well, she was going for that look, actually. All of this was Donna's idea. She's the one who had the dream. I'm the one who said it would never work."

It works.

We're serious.

It's hard to say whether Donna and Bobby have truly captured the essence of the Latin Quarter of New York, which we wouldn't know from senior square at Marina High School, which sits right across Edinger. It's hard to predict the success of a couple of middle-aged lovebirds/amateur songbirds—he born in Connecticut, she on the El Toro Marine Base—who spent a few hundred grand converting a twice-failed Italian restaurant into a dream come true.

"I race cars when I'm not buying and selling them," says Bobby. "I used to be in a rock band when I was a kid; we called ourselves the Vestures because we wore gold vests. Racing cars, that's my passion. But this is the biggest risk of my life."

Donna traces her love of diverse musical styles to her high school days at multiracial Santa Ana's Valley High School—"Rainbow High," she calls it still. She has loved the greasepaint and spotlight all her life. "I was a dance major in college. I sang in the church choir. I've been a choreographer, a makeup artist—you name it," she says, grinning. "And I've sung a lotof karaoke."

It's a rather suspicious résumé, but there's no denying the comfortable and classy ambiance of Martini Blues. The décor is soaked in deep colors—burgundy booths with black tablecloths against terra-cotta walls trimmed with burnished wood and consumed with huge renderings of iconic stars like Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra and John Lee Hooker. There is a full bar and a filling menu, which ranges from supper-club classics like filet mignon, entrée salads and pasta dishes to an assortment of sandwiches and a diverse tray of desserts. Prices mostly sway between $9 and $16, peaking with the $24 filet and dropping to $4.50 for a cup of soup with crackers and bread.

Everything looks great coming out of the kitchen, and we can personally vouch for the Martini Blues Favorite—a rotelli pasta with chicken or shrimp (we took shrimp) sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms and bell peppers in a spicy chipotle Alfredo sauce—which, like all dinners, came with soup or salad; steamed vegetables; and a choice of garlic mashed potatoes, angel hair pasta (yep!) or rice pilaf. We guzzled coffee for dessert.

But all of this is prelude, according to Bobby and Donna, who intend for Martini Blues to be a first-class showcase for top-quality entertainment.

"We were getting tired of hauling our karaoke equipment from club to club," Bobby sighs. "And we were getting tired of the fact that, in so many clubs, the performers really aren't given the opportunity to be at their best. How many times have you seen the singers stuck in a corner, forced to compete with people playing pool or watching TV? In our club, it's the entertainer first."

And although there is karaoke on Tuesdays and an all-comers blues jam on Mondays, entertainers with recognizable names and solid reputations are starting to show up on the bill—attracted by the beauty of the room, the quality of the sound system and a chance to perform on the intimate stage framed by flowing gold curtains.

"It's so nice to have a nightclub in Huntington Beach again," veteran bluesman James Harman told a sold-out house of about 90 diners during a recent performance at Martini Blues. "I don't know about you, but I'm grateful to have a classy neighborhood place to eat, to drink, to listen to music—and, hell, to work!"

Martini Blues, located at 5874 Edinger Ave., Huntington Beach, is open Mon.-Fri., 4 p.m.-2 a.m.; Sat.-Sun., 1 p.m.-2 a.m. (714) 840-2129; www.martiniblues.com. Full bar. Dinner for two, $35-$40, food only. All major credit cards accepted.
 
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