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Cool, Cono! a Latin Hangout Above the Average

By: Dinner Gong

Date Posted: 2000-12-01

The Cool, Cono! Latin House (whose name was the subject of a recent controversy in the Japan Update letters column) is a bright, welcoming place, decked out in primary colors and run by a husband and wife team. It has decorations from various South American countries around the walls, pulses to a Latin beat and is open until the small hours.

Owner Charles Colmenares had worked in bars and restaurants in Latin America, New York, and Los Angeles when he first came to Japan as a teacher with the JET program. In Tokyo’s Roppongi district he began doing part time bar work, as he had through college and graduate school. Working weekends at the city’s best Latin club, he met his future wife Naomi and she learned Latin dance from one of its patrons, the Consul General of the Dominican Republic.

Once his JET responsibilities were over Colmenares came to Okinawa and started organizing Latin themed parties. He put together six of these over a period of four months. His motivation for opening his own place was that in Okinawa, in his opinion, there was not a Latin club that was “a bit above the average”. Colmnares thought the island needed a club with “good ambience, good food and a good selection of drinks, a place that felt like home.”

He found a building whose interior was “destroyed” but with the help of its generous owner transformed it into an intimate, stylish space. Cool, Cono! opened in August.

The club opens Wednesdays to Sundays at 8 p.m. and has no fixed closing times, though on Wednesdays this is likely to be about 2 a.m. On Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays it is more often 4 a.m.

On Thursdays from 8 p.m. to 9.30 p.m. there is a Latin dance class. The instructor takes beginners through the basic steps, runs through simpler dances like the Merengue and explains the finer points of more difficult styles such as the Salsa. Colmenares says the only other off-base establishments to go for Latin music are Bomba Latina, A-Beat and Partida.

The Thursday Dinner Gong went to the club, the instructor was temporarily absent but this did not deter several couples from taking the floor by themselves.

There is no extensive food menu but Cool, Cono! takes pride in the fresh ingredients and correct cooking methods of its two Mexican mainstays, Tacos and Quesadillas. The club makes all the ingredients itself, except the tortilla. Colmnares says the type of tapas normally served in Okinawa are nothing like Mexican ones. The local “Mexican” restaurants, fry tortillas, then add lettuce, tomato and ground beef. Real Tacos should be made with steak, guacamole and salsa, he says. The club’s Regular Tacos are made of these and cost ¥600. The Cool, Cono! Taco at ¥800, contains steak, guacamole, cheese, salsa and black beans. The only canned ingredients are the black beans, which are difficult to find fresh. The salsa is not out of a bottle but made of fresh ingredients - onions, tomatoes, coriander, lemon juice, salt and chilis.

Colmnares explains the correct method to make a Quesadilla: put a larger flour tortilla on a flat grill, put cheese on it and wait for it to melt, put on a little salsa, flip it over into a half moon shape, add some guacamole and eat.

The three Quesadillas served at the club are Regular, with cheese and salsa, at ¥500; Veggie, with cheese, salsa and black beans at ¥600 and Cool, Cono!, with steak, cheese, salsa and black beans at ¥800.

The bites of Taco and Quesadilla DG sampled were bursting with flavor and fresh herbs. Normally not keen on the “Mexican” fare he has had until now, he had to admit this was something different and delicious.

Meals are served only on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. Snacks are also on offer, such as chips, mixed nuts and olives.

Cool, Cono! has an extensive drinks menu. These are vodka based cocktails like Salty Dog, Madras and Fuzzy Navel; gin based ones like Gimlet and Beachcomber; rum based such as Cuba Libre and Havana Cocktail; tequila based, including Brave Bull and TNT; bourbon based, like Southern Peach and Red Rider; brandy based, such as Stinger and Side Car. There are also various tropical mixes, specialties and shooters. Prices range from ¥500 to ¥800. Wine by the glass is ¥700 and includes Chardonnay, Merlot and Kir. There are various exotic beers from South America available, including Tecate, Bohemia and Cristal, all at ¥700 a bottle. There are also European and local draft beers, non-alcoholic drinks and a wide range of spirits, cordials and liquors.

The atmosphere of Cool, Cono! is friendly, the décor pleasing and if a Latin soundtrack is to your taste this is a good place to while away some night hours. The drinkers and dancers DG witnessed the night he went there all appeared to be having a good time. Cool, Cono! indeed!

Directions: Go along Highway 58 in the direction of Kadena, 200 yards past Kitamae Gate 5 is an orange building on the left, which also houses Club Amethyst. Cool, Cono! is on the second floor.

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