The 900 Club—a private, Manhattan Beach social lounge with a history of controversy in the city—has until August 6 to show it is in compliance with its use and entertainment permits.
The club, in the heart of downtown off Manhattan Avenue and 9th Street, has requested an extension of its downstairs bar area from midnight to 1 a.m. on Thursdays. But city staffers, during the one-year review of its permit at the July 2 city council meeting, claim the venue has not been compliant with existing stipulations.
As part of the permit renewal petition, the 900 Club—whose members pay yearly dues—also requested nixing the requirement for a security officer on Thursday nights and a mandate that the club provide written notice to residents prior to entertainment and special events.
“That’s all I want to do every day for 22 years in the same building to make Manhattan Beach a great spot,” Club General Manager Dave Rohrbacher said. “We would like the whole building to be 1:00 on Thursday.”
The club’s 2018 permit granted the facility an extra hour of service on Thursdays in the upstairs area only.
It also allowed an uptick in the annual number of special events at the venue from 18 to 24 days per year. But that allowance came with several conditions meant to mitigate noise, safety and other concerns.
Those conditions included keeping south-facing windows on the ground floor closed after 10 p.m. and affixing a self-closing mechanism to a door that opens onto 9th Street.
The club has done those things and more, according to Rohrbacher.
“We work on the back door. We pick up cigarette butts. We close our windows from the ocean breeze...I don’t know what else we can do,” he explained.
Yet, city staffers at the July 2 meeting said the club had not met many of the conditions set forth by its permit.
“We’ve done a number of inspections and been in contact with the police department and our code enforcement staff to evaluate where the club is in compliance,” said Laurie Jester, a city planning manager. “The police department has responded to several complaints that are violations of the conditions related to noise, after-hours operation and such.”
Six complaint calls regarding the club had been logged in a 10-month time period, according to city staff. Although, staffers added, it was not known whether the calls came from a single person or multiple sources.
Rohrbacher said, to his knowledge, a police officer had not been to the club in a year and a half, but that he was sent a notice a week prior to the July 2 meeting stating one had come.
“We would like to meet that officer who came to the building,” he pressed, alleging the club had only been cited once in recent memory.
“I never received a ticket (except) for one last June via the mail for a noise complaint,” Rohrbacher continued.
A history of trouble
It’s not the first time the 900 Club has had difficulty with the city.
The multilevel building—a former residence that has housed various restaurants and cocktail lounges/bars since 1973—was officially granted its first official use permit as a bar/restaurant in 1995, according to city sources.
The 900 Club owners took over the top floor of the building in 2003 and later bought out the downstairs area as well from two previous establishments: The Red Room and the Side Door.
Despite ongoing attempts to coexist peacefully in the neighborhood setting, complaints from local residents regarding noise and disorderly conduct have plagued the location over the last 15 years.
Concern from neighbors led to a 2004 meeting between the city attorney at the time and the 900 Club owner, who agreed to restrict access to the rear door onto Bayview Drive, allowing the door to be opened only from the inside, according to a 2014 staff report.
But, nearby residents continued to have issues with the club's presence in the area.
From 2011 to December 2013, there were 19 calls for service and five self-initiated police responses to the club, as reported by the Daily Breeze in 2014.
In 2014, a substantial number of grievances against the club forced the city to begin a permit revocation process that ultimately led to increased monitoring and several restrictions for operation, including the annual review requirement.
City staff said that despite being granted several allowances in its 2018 permit review—including extended hours and more special event days—the 900 Club had failed over the last several years to uphold its end of the deal.
“The applicant has not complied with the majority of the conditions in the 2018 or the 2014 resolutions,” Jester said, noting city staff did not recommend granting the club’s latest requests. “Staff does have concerns about future compliance and modification of current conditions.”
Rohrbacher said the continued scrutiny of the establishment despite efforts by he and his staff was disheartening.
“Every day we try and make the street a little bit better. It seems like I can’t get ahead because of my own city,” the club manager said. “That hurts a little bit sometimes.”
A show of support
Dozens of neighbors and club staff were on hand at the meeting July 2 to vouch for the club and Rohrbacher as a community member.
Denise Epeneter, who said she lives closest to the 900 Club and is the block captain, noted she is constantly calling the police but never for the club.
Her husband, Chad, added that the family has developed a relationship with Rohrbacher during the 14 years they have lived near the venue.
“Dave and his staff have done a great job of not only making the business a better place but making the community a better place,” Chad said. “We’ve never had issues.”
Janne Kouri, another member of the club, who is an internationally known entrepreneur and advocate for innovative disability rehabilitation, said Rohrbacher has always allowed him to host events for his nonprofit NextStep at the 900 Club free of charge.
“It’s (also) one of the few places I go in Manhattan Beach for business meetings and bring my family because it’s quiet and I can have a conversation,” added Kouri, who has been a 900 Club member for 15 years. “All these noise violations...I just don’t see it.”
Resident Bill Victor, who has a property on 9th Street, said he was fond of Rohrbacher and other club members but noted the noise emitted from the venue gets louder as the weather gets warmer, likely due to the open windows.
“We spent a lot of time being concerned about short-term rentals,” Victor explained. ”This is like having 365 days a year, 3 to 800 members in a household...having a great time. Of course their voices raise more with drinks they have and so forth... I don’t think it’s in the interest of the community.”
Mayor Nancy Hersman moved to continue the public hearing to August 6, in an effort to give the 900 Club time to demonstrate compliance.