Craby Joe's bar was known as a dive for cheap, bottom-shelf liquor and peeling faux-wood on downtown's South Main Street. It closed two years ago after it was made famous by author Charles Bukowski and infamous by former Los Angeles City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo, whose office called the place a magnet for "rock cocaine sales."
If Craby Joe's reflected a troubled old downtown, a developer is proposing a bar at the site that would reflect the gentrified downtown of lofts, boutique hotels and night life.
Charles Lew, a lawyer and restaurateur, envisioned a new upscale bar in its place called the Haven Lounge. It would have high, wood-beam ceilings and a 200-year-old piece of stained-glass from a church in Germany.
Cocktails with top-shelf liquor would be served for $12 apiece and skid row would add to the ambience, Lew said.
"Part of the charm is it's not in the greatest area and you get the foot traffic and the people outside and the people going back and forth," Lew said. "Everybody just really liked the idea of getting into downtown."
But now Lew said he might be ready to call it quits after the project was dealt a setback at City Hall and as a community group has railed against it.
Lew's firm was told Tuesday at a zoning hearing that the company would have to resubmit its application, a process that he said could take roughly four to six months. And the United Coalition East Prevention Project has opposed opening the bar at 656 S. Main St.
"As someone who lives in the community, I think there are many other services and needs of the community that ought to be given a higher priority than another alcohol outlet," said Kevin Michael Key, an organizer with the coalition. "The community is already over-saturated with alcohol. . . . There are more pressing needs" such as housing, a laundromat and grocery store, he said.
Lew said he began to lease the property in January and hoped to not only open the Haven Lounge but also a burger and beer cafe a couple of doors down. He said he has already spent about $100,000 on the process and that he is not sure if he will resubmit the application.
Bert Green, owner of an art gallery at 5th and Main streets, said the debate over the bar's opening raises interesting questions about the future of downtown's development.
"I see both sides of the story on this issue, really. . . . It would be nice if there was more than just a bar," Green said. "I don't think in and of itself this is a bad thing, but I think the neighborhood has to be careful about how much of a night life we want here."