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Fight Brewing Over Bar Proposed for Former Craby Joe's on Main

By Eric Richardson
Published: Thursday, August 20, 2009, at 12:42PM
Craby Joe's Eric Richardson [Flickr]

Haven Lounge is proposed to take the space at 656 S. Main that was previously occupied by Craby Joe's, a 1930s dive that closed at the end of 2007.

Downtown has seen an explosion of restaurants and nightlife venues over the last few years, but it has not come easily. Ask any owner about his or her story and you will likely hear a lengthy tale of permits, delays and extra costs. Special challenges are reserved for Downtown's Historic Core, where residential revitalization pushes up against what has historically been Skid Row.

The latest front in the fight over Main street revitalization is Haven Lounge, a bar proposed to occupy the former home of 1930's dive Craby Joe's, which closed at the end of 2007. A Skid Row community group is organizing opposition to the venue, arguing against any additional alcohol sales in the neighborhood.

In an email sent out this week, Zelenne Cardenas of the United Coalition East Prevention Project (UCEPP) asks community members to attend a Tuesday morning hearing and support denial of Haven's plan approval application.

"Once a community becomes saturated with alcohol," she wrote, "it has proven to be very difficult to reverse the trend. The long-term effect on the economic vitality of a community can be almost as devastating as the health consequences are to an individual."

Kate Bartolo, who is representing Haven, said that she has requested a meeting with UCEPP three times in recent weeks but only found out about the group's opposition when Cardenas' email was forwarded to her by another community member. Cardenas did not return a call for comment as of story time.

UCEPP has been vocal in its fight against bars on Main street. In 2007 the group led arguments against Kor Group's application for Conditional User Permits (CUPs) for the ground floor spaces in the Santa Fe building on 6th.

The group outlined its opposition in a March 2007 newsletter. "This unnecessary concentration will be a disaster for our community already struggling to reduce the negative factors and stereotypical images associated with the old skid row."

UCEPP succeeded in convincing Assistant Zoning Administrator Daniel Green to deny the applications. The Central Area Planning Commission reversed his ruling, but the process added a significant delay to projects hoping to open in the building.

The group also fought The Association bar, across the street in the Pacific Electric Lofts. UCEPP filed a formal appeal of the Zoning Administrator's approval in early 2007. The bar won and opened, but only in December of 2008.

Brady Westwater, Vice President of the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council, believes that these fights have cost UCEPP as well as the venue operators. "When you fight the good operators," said Westwater, "you lose your credibility to fight the bad operators, the people who actually do damage to the neighborhood."

That restaurants and bars are able to open at all is surprising, according to the Downtown Center Business Improvement District's Justin Weiss. "L.A. is one of the most difficult cities in the country to do business in," said Weiss. "When a Zoning Administrator gives you difficulties or a group like UCEPP opposes a project, that just helps the restaurant or bar hemorrhage money."

"That's money that they could be giving to the community," Weiss added. "Look at 6th and Main or 4th and Main and how much good that has done."

In the case of Haven, approval would mean facade improvements and security outside the venue on a corner that has long been a site for drug sales and other illegal behavior.

The owner, Charles Lew, who is a lawyer and managing partner of the high end restaurant/lounge, Crown Bar, West Hollywood and the new burger/beer café, Stouts, Hollywood, is considering opening another Stouts next to the former Craby Joe’s location, but will not do so if there are additional extensive delays.

Haven's case goes before the Zoning Administrator on Tuesday, August 25, at 9am. The hearing will take place in City Hall, Room 1020.

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