Santa Monica’s Zanzibar finds continued success by embracing diversity of both music and clientele
By Michael Aushenker
The intersection of Arizona Avenue and Fifth Street in Santa Monica has been home to a former post office and the city’s seasonal ice rink. But step through a doorway on the southeast corner and you’ll enter a basement-like space that feels like a different world.
On most nights, Zanzibar offers an emphatic array of Latin- and African-based music you won’t find in any other dedicated Westside music venue.
Mondays are salsa nights, led by four-time world dance champion Cristian Oviedo. Luminous Movement Wednesdays feature a predictably unpredictable mix of everything from hip-hop to dubstep to EDM to guest deejays from places such Costa Rica, Brazil, Buenos Aires and the Dominican Republic. Thursdays are for live reggae and reggaeton. Fridays deliver “The Goods” courtesy of KCRW’s DJ Anthony Valadez. Seductive Saturdays feature a rotating deejay crew and burlesque by the Zanzibar Dolls.
“I have to take pride that we’re doing something right,” Zanzibar co-owner Destiney Rose Rezaei says of the open-minded venue’s 11 successful years. “We play everything from live music to DJs spinning hip hop, reggae and Top 40.”
Part of the winning formula, she says, is that each night is interactive and all about having fun.
“There’s no creepers. There’s no weirdness. They just want to dance. People go there just to dance and let loose,” Rezaei says of her Monday salsa nights.
Zanzibar launched when husband-and-wife owners Louie and Nettie Ryan used to run the club concurrently with the now-defunct Temple Bar in Santa Monica and the Little Temple in East Hollywood.
Rezaei already had a solid track record of working in in nightclubs in the Valley and in Vegas when they asked her to work for them. She began running Zanzibar in 2010 and later became a co-owner.
Opposite of what one may expect of a nightclub, Rezaei believes inclusivity has been the cornerstone of the venue’s success.
“The great thing about Zanzibar is we never want to be the type of venue that picks and chooses. I want everybody to come in. I don’t want a line you and you and you come in. I want everyone to come in,” she says.
Running Zanzibar is something of a homecoming for Rezaei. She was born at Providence St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica and lived near Arizona and 11th avenues before her family moved to the San Fernando Valley.
Rezaei herself is a bit of a draw to the club, thanks to reality TV. She and her sister Cathy Rezaei are part of the ensemble cast of the Bravo reality show “The People’s Couch,” which features couples, families and friends watching and commenting on various television shows.
“I get a lot of people who see me at Zanzibar who say, ‘Oh, my God, you’re the girl from TV,’” Rezaei says.
Being on the show has given her a small taste of what some of the bigger-name clientele of Zanzibar might experience. In the past, the club has welcomed Selena Gomez, St. Evans, KRS-One, Sly Stone, George Clinton and Bruno Mars for either a one-off performance or just to hang out.
Zanzibar is meant to be a comfortable, welcoming place for everyone — including the famous.
“Celebrities who come in, they know they can dance without being harassed,” she says
Rezaei added that when she hears about people meeting at Zanzibar, falling in love and getting married, the experiencing of running the venue is all the more rewarding.
“I love that we’re able to cater to this [diverse audience],” Rose said. “They know they can get something completely different every night.”
Open nightly from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m., Zanzibar is at 1301 5th St., Santa Monica. Enter on Arizona Avenue. Call (310) 451-2221 or visit zanzibarlive.com for the schedule of upcoming events.