In Downey, signs of a growing nightlife

DOWNEY - From sports bars and hookah lounges to trendy restaurants and nightclubs, the heart of Downtown Downey is accommodating a new crowd these days.At least that's what many city officials and business leaders are anticipating as the downtown district attempts to emerge as the next hub for late night entertainment and social activities. Abraham Mourad never thought his small business would be among the first to kick off Downey's newfound night life, but nonetheless, the 44-year-old real estate broker and co-owner of Mosaik Hookah Lounge is excited about the transformation taking place along Downey Avenue. "We've always liked Downey. It's a very open-minded city," Mourad said. "That's why we opened in Downey. The city is going in the right direction and there seems to be more pro-business people focused on building up the city." Since its grand opening last month, Mosaik Hookah Lounge, located at 11029 Downey Ave., has become one of the few late night destinations still open after 10 p.m. downtown. "After 9, 10 p.m. it's dead," Mourad said. "We stay open late until around 2 a.m. and nothing's open at that time. It's incredible. How has an area like this been so dead for so long?" According to Mourad, the hookah lounge, which prohibits alcohol and anyone under the age of 18, is starting to draw a diverse crowd of young adults into the area. "We decided to open a hookah lounge here for a new generation…so they can have a social life in a safe environment," he said. "We've been doing this for the last 22 days and it's been very successful. We've been getting a lot of good reviews from people." Mourad said some customers have come as far as Anaheim and Westwood, only demonstrating the benefits of Downey's central location. Interestingly enough, while Mosaik Hookah Lounge may have been the first hookah establishment downtown, it's no longer the only one. Last Friday, Hookah Time Café, located at 8323 Firestone Blvd., opened its doors, offering customers a club-like experience with large flat screen TVs and live music. Anthony Madrid and Omar Monzon, who also own and operate Custom Cutz barbershop in South Gate, searched in the area for nearly two years before acquiring the space on Firestone Boulevard. "We opened a week and a half after we signed the lease," said Madrid, 22. "The first night we were sold out. We had a line out the door, all the tables were taken. There were people waiting an hour in line. "The way we see it, we're pulling in business from other places," said Madrid. According to Monzon, the café sells finger foods, offers free Wi-Fi and plans to feature live DJs and entertainment in the future with various themes each night such as reggae, Latin, hip hop, and Middle Eastern music. "The city is trying to make a statement - 'we're not dead,'" said Monzon, 29. "Why not be the first ones to support it? We should be a part of this." Hookah Time Café, which also prohibits minors and provides on-site security, is open Sunday through Wednesday, 5 p.m. - 12 a.m., and Thursday through Saturday, 5 p.m. - 4 a.m. In addition to the hookah lounges, Downtown Downey may also soon welcome a nightclub. On Wednesday, the Downey Planning Commission granted a beer and wine, eating place license to ICON's Cafe, located on 8239 2nd St. According to the city staff report, owner David Devis has plans to revamp the small eatery as a restaurant and nightclub. While city officials maintain that these new businesses were not sought out, city planner William Davis acknowledged the establishments as a vital part of the downtown specific plan, which calls for more restaurants and entertainment venues. "The city is concerned with creating a destination…that's the scope and vision of what the downtown is supposed to be," said Davis. "We're not seeking to make Downey the place for night life, but the vision does include walkable space, restaurants, more places to sit down." David Llamas, owner of Mambo Grill, located at 11018 Downey Ave., took the city's vision to heart, deciding to literally expand his restaurant by adding a 45-seat sports bar, which opens this Saturday night. "When the people next door moved out, the landlord and I agreed, 'let's create a bigger space for the customers,'" said Llamas. "So we set up a sports bar. Individuals and couples can sit at the bar - large groups can occupy the tables. It's an advantage for us." Llamas believes the new businesses will only enhance the downtown district leading more young adults to stay in Downey for recreation and entertainment. "Everyone in Downtown Downey is creating more places for our kids so they don't have to go to a hookah bar in Long Beach," Llamas said. "They can stay close to home." In the future, Llamas hopes to host DJs, regular karaoke, and live entertainment every weekend at his sports bar, which currently features nine flat screen TVs. "Alcohol is only 10 percent of it, 90 percent is the food and fun," he said. "We want to please everyone." On Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays the bar will stay open until around 2 a.m., according to Llamas. "Everyone will benefit from this...we're not competing, we're just trying to make Downtown Downey better for everyone," said Llamas. "I think if we work together, Downtown Downey will have a renaissance."

********** Published: July 7, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 12