CITY HALL — The Planning Commission struggled Wednesday to balance business interests with community concerns in the face of two restaurant applications that would pave the way for late-night alcohol service and events near neighborhoods.
Commissioners ultimately gave the go-ahead to both 1519, the successor to the now-infamous sports bar The Parlor, and Tiato, a restaurant and event space that operates near a business district on the eastern end of Santa Monica.
The commission curtailed the hours on the first while expanding activities for the second beyond that which was suggested by planning officials.
Some buildings are said to be haunted. If that is the case, 1519 Wilshire Blvd. is plagued by specters of bars long past.
Chef Larry Greenwood applied for both a permit to serve alcohol and permission to park in an off-site location and provide valet service to the 1519 restaurant, a Japanese-style steakhouse with 186 seats.
The building has no on-site parking, which was one problem when The Parlor held the space.
Residents are still scarred by memories of The Parlor, and tell tales of drunken sports fans leaving the bar at late hours, littering in the neighborhood and disrupting people’s sleep as they returned to their cars, which they tucked away on residential streets.
The City Council ultimately restricted the hours of operation on The Parlor, and the establishment closed its doors. If 1519 opens in the space, it will be the first to do so since the sports bar left in 2010.
Greenwood tried to allay concerns that his restaurant, a fine-dining establishment, would in any way resemble The Parlor, with the exception of a 2 a.m. closing time he requested for weekends.
His patrons would not be stumbling out of the establishment loudly trying to find the cars that they had parked somewhere in the residential neighborhood, Greenwood said, and committed his staff to monitoring the area to make sure.
The crowd he’s aiming for — professionals between the ages of 25 and 55 — tend to have “really nice cars,” Greenwood said, and want them properly cared for by a valet.
Additionally, alcohol would not be the main focus of the restaurant, which plans a menu that would support steaks, robata and fare from a 20-foot-long sushi bar.
With that in mind, Greenwood pushed for later hours than recommended in the city staff report which would allow his clientele to leave 1519 at 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday, and stay until midnight on weekdays.
He also asked the Planning Commission to remove a requirement that he provide valet parking during lunching hours, when he hopes to attract walk-in traffic from nearby hospitals.
Supportive acquaintances backed him up, and said that people who work late in the tech industry currently don’t have a place to either eat nor entertain when they get out of the office at night.
On the other side of the issue were residents like Heidi Gordon, who moved into her home on 16th Street when the space was still occupied by Verdi Restaurant.
City Hall does not control parking near Lincoln Middle School, which is close to the site, Gordon said, and patrons leaving the eatery late at night who did park in the neighborhood could create a problem for residents.
The five-member commission — with commissioners Richard McKinnon and Amy Anderson absent — did not give Greenwood his wish on either of his requests to loosen conditions on hours nor the valet.
Commissioners roundly agreed with the sentiment that Santa Monica could use additional fine dining, even late at night, but were concerned that permissions given to 1519 could fall into the hands of another, less responsible operator if the restaurant were to change hands. Conditional use permits stay with the property.
While other restaurants like Melisse or Rustic Canyon had longer operating hours than those proposed for 1519, they could fit fewer people, said commission Chair Gerda Newbold. The idea of a restaurant with 186 seats next to a residential neighborhood with patrons vacating at 2 a.m. was a bit of a stumbling block.
“I don’t want to condition this gentleman so that he can’t run his business like other restaurants, but I want the ability to control it if it becomes a problem for residents,” said Commissioner Jim Ries. “Having to sleep next to noisy neighbors is one thing. Having to sleep next to a rowdy business is another.”
They also added a prohibition against bottle service for hard alcohol, and a requirement that Greenwood add additional bike parking at the back of the restaurant.
Let them eat brunch
The Tiato team had a different experience.
Tiato, a restaurant in an office district on the 2700 block of Colorado Avenue, also requested the ability to serve hard alcohol at the site, as well as the freedom to extend the hours and accommodate special events like weddings and Sunday brunch.
The owners hoped to parlay those events into a dinner service, which the restaurant currently lacks because foot traffic grinds to a halt after the nearby offices empty at night.
Planning officials recommended holding the number of events to four per month to prevent the restaurant from morphing into an event space, but commissioners disagreed, pushing the number up to eight despite concerns from residents about noise.
“Their events aren’t always night events, and on the weekends it’s dead,” commissioner Susan Himmelrich said.
To accommodate neighbors, commissioners agreed to require that the restaurant keep doors to the outside closed after 9 p.m. to trap music inside and keep valet service off Colorado Avenue after that hour.
The restaurant was granted permission to serve a full bar.