Jazz and big band music is silenced by Santa Monica Airport nightclub’s rent dispute with the city

By Gary Walker

Mann Sextet to serenade the club’s final Friday night crowd

Mann Sextet to serenade the club’s final Friday night crowd

The punchy brass of the Mann Sextet and hypnotic tones of redhead chanteuse Nina Storey filled the dimly lit dining room of Typhoon on Friday night as regular Dale Verdoncover sipped a cocktail at his usual spot by the bar.

Beyond the panoramic glass window, a light fog rolled in over the Santa Monica Airport runway, calling to mind another time and place.

“It reminds me of the last scene in ‘Casablanca,’” Verdoncover said.

For 25 years, the sounds of big band and jazz have filled evenings at Typhoon, replacing the daytime reverberations of airplanes taking off outside. It was one of only a few remaining nightspots where well-dressed patrons could take in dinner and a show. In the parlance of old-school jazzmen, on its best nights Typhoon could blow.

Now those nights are over. On Tuesday, Typhoon was expected to close its doors for the final time, leaving patrons like Verdoncover longing for the good old days.

New tastes in music aren’t to blame for this end of an era. This closure is about politics, environmental concerns and the city’s desire to find a new use for the land where the city’s airport has operated for decades.

Santa Monica officials have been embroiled in a decades-long battle with the Federal Aviation Administration over closing the general aviation airport, a change that would also require many other businesses operating there to leave.

Typhoon owner Brian Vidor views the closing of his restaurant with a sense of the bittersweet and a hint of resignation.

“I’ve been involved in a lot of different things in my life. For the last 20 years I wanted to bring people good music and good food. But now I can’t do that anymore because of what the city did to us,” Vidor said on Typhoon’s last Friday night.

Vidor claims the City Council nearly tripled his rent, making it impossible to stay.

“They gave us an ultimatum: Either sign the lease or we’ll evict you,” he said.

City leaders tell another story.

Like all other aviation and non-aviation related businesses, Typhoon’s lease was set up to end on July 2015 and had been continuing on a month-to –month basis, City Councilman Kevin McKeown said during a special meeting of the council on Nov. 1.

The council had heard from Typhoon patrons and employees about the restaurant closing and sought answers from city staff. They heard that city officials had expected Typhoon to remain at its location after Vidor had negotiated a long-term lease with the city, but then Vidor announced that he planned to sell the restaurant and retire. And then that buyer backed out of the deal.

“We were then left with a restaurant that decided not to stay in the space, and they announced that in a way that made it look like the city’s fault. And I really don’t think that’s fair,” McKeown said. “It’s an unfortunate fact that restaurants in Santa Monica open and close all the time, but most of them are not on city land.”

A statement on Typhoon’s website pushes back against the city’s narrative.

“Despite the lawsuits currently in motion between the city and the FAA, there appears to be little hope of a reprieve from the city’s anti-airport master plan, which seems determined to shut down every business at the airport so that the property can be repurposed as a giant investment opportunity for developers,” the website stated.

“We were paying $5,300 a month or 6% of the sales. The rate went from a decent rent to almost triple the rate. The city was making a lot of money before the recession,” Vidor said.

During the Friday night show, Verdoncover said he would miss Monday nights —“Big Band Night”— the most.

Patron Bob Clayton said Typhoon’s “Big Band Night” was a unique experience.

“There are very few places, if any, on the Westside where you can go to listen to these amazing musicians. Since I learned about this place two and a half years ago, I don’t think I’ve missed a Monday night,” he said.

Veteran drummer Bernie Dresel was the last featured performer at Typhoon on Monday night. A session drummer for other bands, Dresel had played the Santa Monica restaurant with two different bands for several years.

“We liked playing at venues where the owners get the concept of live music and we’re going to miss playing here,” said Dresel. “Clubs come and go, but this one was special.”

Vidor said he has worked at several different professions, including as a musician and an animal caretaker. But closing the door on Typhoon was far different than moving on from those gigs.

“I was never sad leaving other careers. But this one is different because I put my heart and soul into it and it was mine,” he said.

The City Council is negotiating with TaskUs LLC, a Santa Monica-based startup that provides call center operations for web-based companies, to lease the space that Typhoon occupied.