The Saturday night samba crowd at Zabumba checks its inhibitions at the door. They've come to the Brazilian nightclub and restaurant for a taste of Rio in West Los Angeles.
And restraint is not on the menu.
The driving rhythm of the samba drums obliterates generational and ethnic lines. The music draws dancers ranging from twentysomething to baby boomers to a packed dance floor. And the dancers are a rainbow tribe of Asians, Anglo and African Americans, along with Brazilians and Latinos.
"We try to have a Brazilian atmosphere here," says Monica Burgos, a Rio native who runs the club with her partner, Elizabeth Alderete. "But this is a place where everybody comes--all nationalities."
The Brazilian atmosphere ranges from the national flag draped across the ceiling to the swirling black and white pattern on the dance floor and patio, reminiscent of sidewalks in Copacabana.
Carnaval videos play nonstop on a big-screen TV, and the kitchen serves up a wide range of Brazilian dishes, from frango a passarinho (deep-fried chicken with garlic) to camarao a baiana (shrimp sauteed in coconut milk, palm oil, bell peppers and onions).
"The Brazilian music and food attracts me here," says Santina Delligata, 27, a regular from Cucamonga. "The music touches me deeply. It's spiritual--music that moves the soul."
Zabumba, which takes its name from the large bass drum essential to samba bands, first made its presence felt during the 1994 World Cup soccer tournament in Los Angeles.
So many fans converged on the restaurant on Venice Boulevard just west of Overland Avenue that fire marshals closed it during one game.
But the crowds kept coming as the Brazilian team continued its victorious march through the tournament. Burgos wisely asked the city to close a side street to accommodate her overflow crowd, which partied into the night after Brazil won the championship game with Italy.
The World Cup will be contested in France this month, and the time difference means that games will be broadcast at about 8:30 a.m. in Los Angeles. But that doesn't worry Burgos, who expects a full house for each game nonetheless.
"We'll serve breakfast," she says, smiling.
Burgos and her sisters, Carla and Jeane, took over what had been a moribund Zabumba in early 1994 and turned it into what they called "the Brazilian party place in L.A."
Carla has since returned to Rio, and Jeane has gone on to other pursuits. So Monica called her childhood friend, Alderete, who was more than willing to move to Los Angeles from Rio and take a partnership stake in the club.
"For me, it's more fun than Rio," she says.
The club has become a magnet for several thousand expatriate Brazilians who have settled near the Mar Vista and Palms areas of West Los Angeles.
It offers a variety of Brazilian music every night except Mondays, when it is closed, and Sundays, when a salsa band holds forth.
But Saturday is the night when Brazilians come to passionately plug into their roots. And others who have visited the South American country show up to relive exotic vacations.
And for those patrons who know nothing of Brazil?
"We want them to walk in here and feel that feeling," Burgos says.
For Los Angeles elementary school teacher Roxanne Shelby, 27, Zabumba is "a great place to have a good time."
Nancy Ambari, 34, of Los Angeles, loves the music, the food, and "the men who come here," she says, grinning broadly.
Riba Caldas, 36, a transplanted Brazilian,calls Zabumba his favorite place in town. "I normally come with my wife," he says. "It is a safe place to bring her."
When the throbbing drums of the Unidos de Los Angeles Samba School band strike up their rhythms--usually at about 10 p.m. on Saturdays--Caldas makes his way to the crowded dance floor.
As the band's singer, Flavia de Mellow, sees it, Caldas and the others in the club have little choice.
"When the drums start going, the rhythm goes straight to your heart," she says. "It's like breathing."
Samba's effect, she says, is best described in an old Brazilian saying: "Those who don't like samba, good people they are not. They are either sick in the feet or in the head."
Zabumba, 10717 Venice Blvd. (310) 841-6525. Full restaurant. Beer and wine. Cover: Free except $5 Saturdays after 9:30 p.m. Closed Mondays.