Traversing into the tunnels leading into the Los Angeles metropolitan jungle of Downtown, the streets can be seen filled with the usual rush hour traffic and noise that normally describes a modern cosmopolitan urban center. Pedestrians of professionals, students, merchants, and local inhabitants make their way home as the workday reaches an end while the shadows of skyscrapers and scaffolding cover the urban landscape. As the night descend, a new breed of animal stepped out, the youthful, millennial trendsetters, night owls, and hipsters, to engage the DTLA nightlife. Not long ago, was DTLA dismissed as a commercial hub of one of the largest cities in the US. In fact, Downtown was declining in commerce and residency until a new influx of redevelopment projects was initiated in order to attract new investors and subsequently a new clientele. Now, it has become a leading destination for dining, retail, and entertainment. Among the many new attractive destinations to bless the city, Blue J Bar and Lounge had opened its doors late last year to offer patrons a comfortable, friendly atmosphere where they can enjoy a good drink while listening to Top 40s Hip Hop and House music. In an effort to expand its reach and offer something fresh and exciting, it had recently debut its Tuesday Latin Salsa Nights earlier this March offering salsa dance classes and an evening of sensual, exhilarating Latin music and social dancing.
Working as a part of a larger network of restaurants that span from San Jose to San Clemente, which include chains like Backhouse-Yakatori, Blue J Bar and Lounge is located in the heart of Little Tokyo by the famous Little Tokyo Marketplace neighboring the Downtown Arts District. Owner Lee Kahn and partner, Michael Kwon, attracted the attention of private investors particularly from the East who wanted to invest in lucrative restaurants around the Los Angeles area. Kahn and Kwon work as a part of a restaurant design group who specialize in designing a variety of concepts that invite investors to help see these concepts materialize. Blue J was one of such prospects capitalizing on the youthful energy of the Arts District. So far, weekends have proven quite successful when Fridays and Saturdays opened up to DJ Top 40s Hip Hop and House music while Sundays were devoted to catering to members of the entertainment industry brandishing quality, health-inspired food and popular drinks. The venue itself has also opened up to other fan-fare like “open mic” nights, talent shows, birthday parties, and even fundraisers. In fact, Blue J was host to the LAPD’s Pre-Party to their annual Bakersfield-Vegas Race which helped raise $6,500.00.
“It was a great and successful event. We’re looking forward to do more things with law enforcement. We appreciate everything they do for us in DTLA. They provide a safe haven and environment for those who live or come to Downtown,” said Kahn.
Engaging the community, targeting its desires and giving back interestingly has been one of the establishment’s tent pole strategies since opening its doors in September 2016.
“I come from a company that I retired from that was very big at giving back to the community. If there’s any focus going forward, it’s ‘What are we going to do to do more and offer in that respect?’ Support local charities whether it’s YMCA or helping raise money for the homeless. Personally, I want to make a difference and maybe contribute to eliminating homelessness here. It’s my backyard. They’re my neighbors. Whatever I can do to achieve that, we’ll do it…We offer great service, friendly hospitality, good pricing, and value to our customers. We want everybody to feel that they can afford to have a nice and good time. We accommodate. We’re not pretentious. We just want to invite everybody to come out and have a good time and not have any limitations or restrictions. That’s why there’s no cover at the door, and the dress code isn’t pretty strict.”
There’s a certain synergy as Kahn described that helps connect Blue J with the neighboring community that works well with his design group’s network of concepts, and there are many. To name a few, they include EMC Seafood Bar, Spear Steak and Seafood House, Bunker Hill Bar and Grill in the Financial District, 3rd Generation Socket Bar on Century and Flower, and the Chicken Factory near USC. According to Blue J’s Marketing and Public Relations director, Kevin Tren, they’re trying to broaden their reach in the hospitality food industry from many different angles expanding on their varied brands while building new ones. Blue J is a prime example targeting the community catering to its specific needs. Since its location is in the Arts District, as an example, Kevin asked rhetorically, “What better form of marketing your product can have than targeting the local artists in the area?” So, in a brilliant move, they invited them to display their artwork at the venue which helped develop its unique art décor showcasing the talents of artists like Ace and Jason Lee (aka The Master Artist). If you pay attention as you walk into the bar, you can actually see Ace’s winged mural hanging on the left wall by the entrance inspiring a dream-catcher sensibility. Kevin elaborated,
“We had Daryl Kerry. He’s a photographer and illustrator who regularly display his work. We’ve had a collection of notable artists from the community involved. The series of pieces on the far side of the bar are Mr. Jason Lee’s. We try to feature at least one artist. Give them a couple of months, and then we change it up.”
All of it adds to an ambiance, a vibe that helps bolster the mood setting the right tone to engage patrons and make them feel at home. Aside from the pieces of art and photographs adorning the lounge, dimly-lit Moroccan lamps are added surrounding the whole place while the center bar is lit just right to give it its own distinct stamp in the venue. Similar to La Descarga’s vibe, Blue J is designed to give visitors a taste of exclusivity where only they are in on the “big secret” giving them a sense of feeling vested in the location.
Tuesday Latin Salsa Nights
Now, Kahn wants to expand by including other attractions during the week to attract new customers while retaining the regulars prompting him to not only add live music but also a Latin night in order to spice things up and appeal to many Latin guests who had initially suggested to setup a night exclusively for Latin music. Considering that there are many “hipsters” in the Arts District and most are pretty well-to-do financially yet were craving something extraordinary, Kahn utilized his connections to setup a Tuesday Latin Night run by local Westside dancers, Nicole Gil and Charlie Antillon. An aggressive marketing campaign soon followed to help get the word out utilizing flyer drops, social media invites, email campaigns, and tapping into their own restaurant network databases and neighborhood connections. Their efforts paid off as opening night was welcomed with a packed house filled with local patrons who arrived to take the salsa classes and stayed to witness seasoned salsa and bachata dancers tear up the dance floor with amazing and flashy moves inspiring novices to join in the fun. Dancers had a fun time as well absorbing the space and energy from the guests. A couple of dancers like “Angelo” and “Marvin” commented on how appealing the whole vibe was and how much they enjoyed the space. In fact, Kahn introduced himself to them as they inquired on who ran the establishment spurring a welcome, friendly exchange of complements and positive feedback. One dance student in particular, Nick Thomas, sees a lot of potential in the venue:
“Blue J, besides being a very elegant jewel in the middle of DTLA, it’s also beautiful. It is unique because it’s very close to all the high rises. A lot of professionals work here. They can come in a mid-week instead of getting stuck in traffic. There’s an all-night happy hour atmosphere. It’s a good way of spending your evening. You do not have to stay until 2 am. You can come in for a couple of classes. Do a little of social dancing and enjoy yourself. May be get a bite to eat and go home. You don’t have to wait for the weekend to have a good time. You can have a good time mid-week and really made it enjoyable for yourself.”
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