Minutes after the Planning Commission approved his application Thursday night, David Cooley, founder and president of , celebrated his victory by showing off his moves on the bar's now legal sunken dance floor.
“I’m so glad the commissioners took the time and saw that The Abbey is not just a coffeehouse, a bakery, a restaurant, a bar or a lounge. We’re all that and more,” Cooley told Weho Patch. “With the overwhelming support that I got from the community and over 430,000 social media friends throughout the world, I’m so glad. Just like Footloose won, we also won tonight.”
Cooley served free food and drinks as the song “Footloose” played on the sound system and patrons joined in his celebration on the dance floor.
The commission voted 6-1 to approve Cooley’s application to change his conditional use permit (CUP) from a restaurant to a nightclub. That change allows him to legally operate the that he installed earlier this year.
More than 40 people spoke during the public comment period—almost all voicing support for The Abbey, some coming from as far away as Laguna Beach to do so.
In voting to approve the nightclub CUP, Commissioner John Altschul noted that the 20-year-old Abbey was at the center of what is now a very vibrant entertainment district, which it helped create.
Commissioner Donald DeLuccio said he was glad The Abbey was applying for the nightclub CUP since “that’s the way they have evolved; that’s the way they have been operating.”
Even though she voted in favor of the nightclub CUP, Commissioner Sue Buckner commented that just because The Abbey had been operating with a dance floor and as a nightclub, she didn’t believe that should be an incentive to approve the CUP. She noted that it was a difference of asking for forgiveness versus asking for permission.
Commissioner Lauren Meister expressed similar concerns, noting that the dance floor was built before the commission heard the application. She told Weho Patch afterward, “Getting what they want after they’re already doing it illegally—what kind of message does that send to the other businesses?”
It was Meister who cast the lone dissenting vote, saying that in addition to her discomfort with the dance floor having already been built, she had concerns about security, public safety and parking. She pointed out the 12,500-square-foot Abbey is required to provide only 75-150 parking spaces, yet has an occupancy rate of more than 1,000 people.
Bar Varsity Gets the Go-Ahead
The commission unanimously approved the application for Bar Varsity, a new restaurant on the southeast corner of Santa Monica and Robertson boulevards, just two doors up from The Abbey.
The existing building, which most recently housed Java Detour, will be demolished and replaced with a 5,212-square-foot ultra-modern Frank Gehry-esque building made of curving walls and roof.
Buckner praised the design, saying it would be great for that corner. “Too much construction has been very boxy,” she said.
Altschul called the design “magnificent,” but wondered what would happen with the building if Bar Varsity fails. “I suppose it might make an interesting religious institution,” he said.
Backers for Bar Varsity, which will operate as a sports-bar type restaurant with several hundred television sets, said it would take eight to 12 months to demolish the existing building and construct the new one.
Bar Varsity intends to serve food around the clock, yet applied for a nightclub application, something the commissioners questioned. Supporters said the nightclub CUP allowed them more flexibility since they want to have regular comedy nights and drag nights. If they had only the restaurant CUP, they would have to apply for special use permits to do the comedy or drag nights and the city limits the number of special use permits that establishments can get to 12 each year.
After the vote, Bar Varsity partner Andrew Gruber told Weho Patch, “Thank God this is going to happen and my dream is going to live. I’m ready to go to Disneyland!”
The issue of minors came up several times during the five-hour meeting. Standard nightclub CUPs prohibit minors from entering, so the commission added special wording to the approval of both The Abbey and Bar Varsity that would allow minors in at certain hours.
Commissioner Alan Bernstein, a father of three, noted that many families bring children in strollers to The Abbey during the day. He also wanted gay youth and college-age students to be able to enter The Abbey since it is known worldwide. “I want them to be able to see it,” Bernstein said.
The Abbey initially proposed allowing youth in until 6 p.m. on weekdays, 2 p.m. on weekends and holidays. Bernstein said that was too early to shut out minors. Considerable time was spent discussing the hours and proper wording. They finally settled on allowing youth in until 9 p.m. on weeknights, 6 p.m. on weekends and holidays.
The commission recommended denial of the application to demolish a two-story, 16-unit apartment building and replace it with a four-story, 17-unit luxury condominium building at 1350 Hayworth Avenue.
Almost 20 people spoke against this development during public comment, most residing next door at the , an architecturally unique building designed by renowned architect Edward Fickett. Most spoke about the four-story building blocking sunlight to units on the south side of the building.
The commission was not that concerned about the view being blocked. Altschul noted that any time a large development comes before the panel, neighbors get upset about losing their view.
The commission seemed most concerned about how the tall, contemporary design would impact the rest of the block where the buildings date from the 1910s to the 1950s.
Meister said the proposed building was not compatible with the surrounding buildings or the rest of the block. Commissioners Roy Huebner, DeLuccio and Bernstein all echoed her sentiments.
However Commissioner Marc Yeber said he was not convinced that it would have any substantial impact on the Hollywood Riviera or the neighborhood.
Their 4-3 vote—Altschul, Buckner and Yeber being in the minority—recommending denial now goes to the City Council. The council has final say on this application since it involves a development agreement that came out of a lawsuit that the city lost.