The best Christmas present Josie Prado ever received is the restaurant she owns on Santa Monica Boulevard.
Ten years ago, Prado was a hostess at the Spanish eatery when she turned it into a classy club with evening entertainment, dancing and Castilian cuisine that native Spaniards say reminds them of home. Then-owner Juan Jose was so impressed with Prado's creation he simply signed over the ownership.
"He said I was the mother of his 'baby' and I deserved it," said Prado.
Jose is a Spaniard. Prado is from Cuba. The upscale Spanish supper club has the soul, food and music of Spain and Latin America and the chic of Beverly Hills. Located on the border of West Hollywood, La Masia (Catalan for inn ), offers a spicy music menu of salsa and merengue five nights a week and draws a crowd that treats the dance floor as if it were a home away from home.
Many patrons arrive in the early evening for a candle-lit dinner in the restaurant, where the stained-glass windows and terra-cotta tile facade provide a Mediterranean ambience. Some head for the Barcelona Room upstairs, where they can sit on cozy couches for tapas and drinks. Regulars make plans for an early arrival on weekends to ensure entrance into the club, which seats about 250 and occasionally has to turn away customers.
As the sounds of La Masia Como, the regular band, escalate, the night truly begins. Patrons leave their dinner plates behind and head to the dance floor as lead singers Coco and Dalena start off with sultry Latin jazz. When the singers are sure the crowd is ready for the more tropical sounds of the salsa and merengue numbers, they pick up the beat, and by then most dancers are doing the cha-cha.
Even the Barcelona Room heats up once the music gets going downstairs. A projector screen is set up so bar rats can watch the band via video camera. Slowly the bar patrons move from the sofas to the dance floor.
On a recent night, Ricardo and Bertha Izquierdo were swirling. They like to dance at La Masia so much that they have trekked here once a month for five years from their home in Santa Clarita.
"We love to come here," said Bertha Izquierdo, who, along with her husband, is from Cuba. "The food is great and so is the dancing and atmosphere. It reminds us of home."
Prado wanted to create a club that was reminiscent of clubs in many Latin American countries and she has so far succeeded. Regulars rave about the food and music, and some come back three or four times a week for paella and sangria or just the music.
The well-dressed crowd ranges in age from 25 to 40 and is as racially and ethnically diverse as the food on the menu. A passion for salsa is the common thread.
The upbeat, upscale atmosphere of La Masia says fashion, fashion, fashion. Men must wear dinner jackets and slacks, and couture for women ranges from simple dresses to chic evening attire. The well-dressed but laid-back atmosphere creates a level of comfort that Prado believes keeps most patrons coming back.
It's the reason regular Nadia Ali of Redondo Beach keeps coming back. Ali came here on a recent night to show her friend Jan Bender, who was visiting from Portland, Ore., a night on the town.
"I always have a wonderful time when I come here," said Ali. "I love being able to come to a place where they have dinner and dancing."
Where: La Masia, 9077 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood; (310) 273-7066.
When: Wednesday-Sunday, 6 p.m.-2 a.m.
Cost: Sol y Sombra (Spanish brandy and Anisette liqueur), $9; Lepanto (Spanish brandy), $12; Chardonnay, $6. Valet parking, $3. Paella, $18.95.