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Curtis Cartier gets to the root of the Cypress Lounge.

By Curtis Cartier

There's a lot of talk about Cypress Lounge lately. Is it a restaurant with occasional live music? A concert venue with occasional great food? A techno club with occasional velvet rope entries? Or just a friendly bar with consistently hot waitresses?

The answer is: yes. Over the last seven years the carrot-colored building at 120 Union St. has been known as the Jahva House, the Union Cafe and the Coastline Brewery. People still weep for the Jahva House, but the site's most recent incarnation as an upscale but low-key lounge is turning heads and letting the healing begin.

Mu_Z has spent a few nights squinting through the bottom end of a Guinness pint at Cypress. Whether it was the epic Halloween throwdown or the regular Friday night DJ smorgasbord, the spot be poppin' when it comes to great DJs. But this weekend, with the booking of local reggae set the Midtones, it became apparent that the lounge is more than just a bar with a few regular wax burners on the payroll.

"We do all kinds of shows. Reggae, salsa, jam bands, electronica. Really, whatever has a positive vibe," said Cypress owner Ashton Hodge on Saturday night while the sounds of the Midtones drifted out to the patio. "The idea is really a restaurant with entertainment. I got a liquor license, hired a chef and now we're really an affordable but classy place for everyone from students to professionals."

Hodge has been a partner in all three of the building's recent forms, but with Cypress he went in alone. That decision, he said, has allowed him to create a unique and fun place to party that's slightly off the beaten path.

Although the live bands have turned the restaurant/bar into a bona fide venue, it's the DJs who bring something truly unique to downtown. As the only downtown bar that regularly drops good techno and electronica by skilled local DJs, the place fills a huge hole in the nightlife scene every Friday night with the Pyramid of the Rising Sun party. With residents Kamm, 187 Soundsystem and Little John, among others, the night boasts three of Metro Santa Cruz's top five local DJs and is a surefire way to wake up with sore hamstrings.

Inside, the place is a cross between a Manhattan lounge and a beachside tiki bar. Dominated by warm yellows, reds and golds, the interior décor creates a clear identity without being cheesy, but it's the garden patio that seals the deal. Nearly as big as the interior, the multilevel wooden patio is broken up by green plants and warm heaters and provides welcome respite when the inside gets too stuffy. Service is prompt, friendly and--did I mention?--adorable, and drinks are stiffer than Keith Olbermann's upper lip.

For Midtones frontman Mike Marquez, Cypress is the best place to find a stabbing-free night downtown. And while the crowd was rather sparse for his Saturday night gig, the reggae crooner eventually coaxed a good portion of the crowd onto the dance floor.

"Most of the reggae fans end up at Moe's Alley because they don't feel safe going downtown," he said. "It's sometimes like pulling fat wisdom teeth getting a crowd out, but Cypress always has a mellow feel."

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