Owners of the Country Club nightspot in Reseda, which has struggled financially since it lost its liquor and dancing permits 20 months ago, are planning to reapply for permission to serve alcohol, company officials said.
Weekends have not been idle at the 982-seat music and boxing club, as an outdoor marquee advertising concerts by such music groups as "Dead and Bloated," "Nirvana" and "Flotsam and Jetsam" attests. But the patrons who watch boxing matches or rock to heavy-metal bands at the club sip sodas instead of Scotch and sodas, root beer instead of beer.
The club's owners say profits are down, and so is the number of events, which used to be scheduled four to seven nights a week, said general manager Scott Hurowitz. He attributed the steep decline in business to the ban on alcohol at the club, imposed after the Los Angeles City Council refused to renew its alcohol and dance floor permits in November, 1988, because of neighbors' complaints.
"We're holding our own, but it's not anything like we had before," Hurowitz said. "We're like a grocery store without groceries."
The club's owners intend to apply for a new conditional use permit to serve alcohol, perhaps as early as this fall, Hurowitz said. Although the club has a liquor license from the state, it also needs a city permit. But the application process could take months.
The request would be the subject of public hearings before the Los Angeles city zoning administrator and appeals could be heard by the Board of Zoning Appeals and the City Council, said Greg Merideth, a spokesman for the board.
Hurowitz said that the club at 18415 Sherman Way has proved over the past 20 months that it can operate without disrupting the neighborhood. He said security guards for the club enforce strict rules and patrol the parking lot to discourage outdoor drinking.
"We're willing to do flip-flops to get another chance," Hurowitz said.
City Councilwoman Joy Picus, whose district includes Reseda, said the club's owners have also made overtures to her staff about the application. "I am not encouraging them to reapply. I am not confident they have reformed," Picus said.
Neighbors of the club have complained for years about noise and unruly behavior by patrons. In 1988, when the club's conditional use permit came up for renewal, they spoke out bitterly about disruptions in the area and persuaded city officials to reject the application.
Hurowitz said many of the examples of problems used against the club during those hearings actually occurred years earlier. He said that major efforts had been made to control crowds well before the liquor permit proceedings began.
When he became manager four years ago, Hurowitz said the club's board of directors "emphasized that we need to be a good neighbor. And we tried. I didn't have phone calls, or letters, or anybody knocking on my door, so I thought we were doing a good job."
But neighbors who lived near the club disagreed with that assessment, and told city officials they found condoms in their yards and angry, under-age drunks on their sidewalks after concerts ended between midnight and 2 a.m.
Even now, despite improvements made since the club stopped serving alcohol, many neighbors said they would oppose allowing the Country Club to serve liquor.
"My opinion?" asked Kay Cameron, who has lived around the corner on Darby Avenue for 18 years. "No, no, no, no, no. It used to be pretty bad around here with noise. Pedestrians were going up and down the street, using the walls for bathrooms."
In the 1 1/2 years the club has been dry, life in the Reseda neighborhood has quieted down, she said. "It's fine now. I'd like to see it stay this way," Cameron said.
Police are called to the club occasionally, but almost exclusively for minor complaints such as disturbing the peace or drinking in the parking lot, said Los Angeles Police Officer Brad Roberts.
"They've got quite a lot of bouncers in the place, and they keep a pretty tight lid on things," Roberts said.
Hurowitz maintains that tight security is particularly important now, because the club has been forced to appeal to younger, rowdier crowds with heavy-metal and punk-rock bands.
"They raise Cain when the music is on," and usually calm down when they leave, Hurowitz said. But he noted that since drinks are not served inside, people tend to drink in their cars, before and after the shows.
Boxing matches still bring in good crowds, Hurowitz said, and disc jockey nights fill in weekend nights when no bands are booked. Even so, it's a rare week that the club is booked for even as many as four nights, he said.
In the Country Club's heyday, during the early 1980s, it hosted Jackson Browne, Earth, Wind and Fire, Mick Jagger, Waylon Jennings, Chuck Mangione, Prince, Della Reese, Linda Ronstadt, Tina Turner and U-2. Performers praised the small club's intimacy and big concert sound.
Some people in Reseda, including several nearby business owners, said they hope the Country Club will stay in business.
Judy Rosen, who has worked for six years at Reseda Stationers, said the club causes no problems and doesn't compete for parking because its events are scheduled after normal business hours. "If they wanted to get a liquor permit, I wouldn't stop them," Rosen said. "They're customers of ours, and besides, my son goes there for concerts. They've got some good name bands."
Likewise, Floyd Bargy of Tile Seal Repair Co. on Darby Avenue said he has enjoyed boxing matches and an occasional concert at the club. Although he doesn't drink, Bargy said he would support allowing the Country Club to serve liquor if it would help them bring back the big-name bands that once performed there.
"The stage is incredible," he said. "It's the closest thing the Valley has to a Hollywood-style club."