White Buddha Lounge and Cafe new on night scene

KENNEWICK -- Bold colors, modern modular furniture and music and food that's a fusion of cultures make the new White Buddha Lounge and Cafe unique on the Tri-City night scene.

It's in a small strip mall facing Carmike Cinemas at 1360 N. Louisiana St., Suite F. The Kennewick lounge is small and intimate, with seating for 46 patrons. Minors are welcome to sit in the cafe, with the bar area strictly for those over 21.

Carla Moreno and her husband Yair Martinez opened the lounge on Valentine's Day for family and friends and since then word about their establishment has spread.

"Three people from Seattle came in last week and then came back three nights in a row," said manager Francisco Madrigal. "I don't know how they heard of us, but they liked it here. It reminded them of places they like to go in Seattle."

The decor is definitely modern, a tad Asian, with lots of modular white and black furniture. The oversize fabric wall hangings are black and white, and so are the walls. The floor is crimson.

Most of the blocky furniture -- square translucent white Plexiglas tables and square upholstered, backless seats -- were made by family and friends.

"We were on a strict budget," Moreno said.

The bar is the focal point. It's made of white Plexiglas, with multicolored, ever-changing LED lights lighting it from beneath.

The music too is a mix. They keep it dialed down so you can talk.

"We have different fusions of music from Mexico, Europe, modern jazz, electronic techno," Madrigal said.

"And we also have DVDs of live concerts from Mexico, Spain, Europe, even the popular Blue Men we can play," Moreno said, pointing at two flat-screen televisions flanking the bar area.

Their menu too is a fusion of tastes and flavors. They specialize in small plates -- tapas -- with a few full meals of salmon filet and main dish salads available. The selection is limited, but they're adding to the menu almost daily.

Moreno described the flavors as Thai-fusion with lots of different sauces all made in-house.

"Because we're Mexican, we add our own spices to other cultures'. We didn't want to identify ourselves as one cuisine or another, it's a mix of our own and others," Madrigal said.

Tapas run from $5 to $6; the salmon meals, $8.

"The economy is not good so we wanted to keep it affordable. People can have a full meal and a drink for under $10," Moreno said.

The bar also offers an eclectic mix of drinks. They specialize in martinis but also offer a selection of beer, wine and cocktails.

As for the name of the lounge, White Buddha, it has no particular significance except, Moreno said, "we wanted to choose a name that, when you heard it, would be relaxing, would remind you of a good experience. And we wanted one that was spiritual too."

So they chose Buddha.

White, she said, "is pure, translucent and ties in with the (slightly) Oriental theme and our mainly white tables and chairs."

Not counting themselves, Moreno and Martinez have four full-time and three part-time employees, but you're just as likely to be served by their in-laws and other extended family.

"A lot of people say they like the staff, how good our relationship is with each other. We have fun and invite our customers to join us," Moreno said. "We're warm people, our customers aren't just customers. We want to establish a relationship, to make them our close friends."

The White Buddha Lounge & Cafe is open from 4 to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and from 4 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday.

Happy hour is from 4 to 7 p.m. Sunday through Thursday only.

For more information or to reserve a conversation area for groups, call 627-8605.

-- Loretto J. Hulse: 509-582-1513;