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Overcrowded Eatery Is Shut

March 07, 2003|Hanah Cho | Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles fire inspectors shut down a trendy La Cienega Boulevard restaurant early Thursday, and plan to take their campaign for nightclub safety to hundreds of establishments over the next week.

The city has stepped up its safety efforts since last month's fire at a Rhode Island nightclub that left 98 people dead. Starting today, firefighters will visit nightclubs near their stations to familiarize themselves with the layouts and distribute safety literature to operators.

"In light of what happened across the nation and recent closures here, we want our fire crews to be familiar with what's out there," said Fire Capt. Bill Wick.

The latest venue to be temporarily shut down was a Hollywood restaurant that inspectors said Thursday morning had too many people inside and inadequate exits.

Fire officials visited the Belmont in the 700 block of North La Cienega Boulevard just before midnight after receiving complaints from a neighbor, authorities said. Inside, officials found 211 people in a restaurant that is permitted to have 140 patrons, said Fire Inspector Kendall McCarthy. At least 50 people were standing outside the restaurant, he added.

"I could tell by the people standing outside," McCarthy said of the overcrowding. "I could barely walk through without stopping and walking shoulder to shoulder."

Greg Morris, owner of the Belmont, said the problem was caused by fans and paparazzi who caught wind of a private birthday party for a celebrity he declined to name.

"You get a lot of people who mill around the front," Morris said Thursday afternoon as he and his crew prepared to open the restaurant for the night.

Other than that, Morris disputed fire officials' findings that a front entrance separating the patio from the restaurant, and a back gate, were not up to fire code.

"We've been in compliance since Day One," Morris said.

About the time of the Belmont incident, inspectors cited two other hotspots on Hollywood Boulevard -- CineSpace and Ivar -- for having locked doors and inadequate mechanisms on the doors.

On Saturday, fire officials closed Club Soho on Boylston Street for numerous violations, including having locked doors. Angry patrons threw bottles at police after being ordered to leave, McCarthy said.

Last year, the Los Angeles Fire Department closed about 50 of the city's 700 nightclubs. So far this year, about 15 have been closed, said Capt. Richard Gregory, commander of the public assemblies unit.

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