Best of 2001: Best Arab Music Nightspot

Hajji Baba's
1065 Fourth Avenue, Downtown

During the daytime, Hajji Baba's is a normal Mediterranean restaurant. Shish kebobs, Greek salads, gyros. But Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, the place transforms. Musicians arrive. Tablas (bongo-like drums) come out. The dance floor is cleared, and a three-piece band (guitar, tabla, and synthesizer), which can sound like traditional Arab flutes (mizmar), violins, and the oud (an18-string guitar) starts playing to that hypnotic Middle Eastern rhythm. One-two and one, two. If you're lucky, Sohaila -- real name, Jo Ellen Handelsman, of Escondido -- will be there. "Without knowing Arabic, I have a feeling for the music," she says. She's so good she travels three or four times a year to dance in the Middle East. Often, customers get up and dance spontaneously. Music Thursday, Friday, Saturday, around 7:00 p.m. to close.

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