In a county dominated by the need to drive, a few Newport Beach spots offer late-night revelers something rare: a walkable nightlife.
One of these clusters of restaurants and bars lies on the Balboa Peninsula, near the Newport Pier. Patrons have come here for decades — be they neighborhood dwellers, summer renters or residents — to enjoy a vibrant, seaside area where they can move from place to place without getting behind the wheel.
Steady streams of people continue to enjoy the often party-like atmosphere the Peninsula provides, yet while the surrounding streets bustle, some who live there have raised complaints about patrons' noise and drunken antics. It's a problem that seems as old as the city itself.
But an ongoing dustup over noise and quality-of-life complaints has focused the conflict on one particular spot, Woody's Wharf, whose owners have sought an official extension to their operating hours and an allowance for patron dancing, first from the Planning Commission and then from the City Council. The issue will return to the council for a procedural second vote Tuesday.
People living in a condo down the street seized the opportunity to raise protest, testifying that Woody's negatively impacts the area. But Woody's owners say they simply want paperwork to match age-old habits.
"What we've been doing here is what we've been doing since the place opened," said Greg Pappas, one of four co-owners of Woody's Wharf, which was established in 1965.
As Peninsula residents cited alleged incidents of public urination, vomit and excessive noise related to the restaurant and bar, others argued that these residents should have known better. If one wanted complete peace and quiet, perhaps they picked the wrong the location.
On a weekend night, the Balboa Peninsula is certain to draw a crowd.
The options for late-night entertainment abound, whether one is looking for a relaxing dinner, live music or a stiff cocktail. Be it Cassidy's Bar & Grill, Mutt Lynch's, the Blue Beet or Blackie's By the Sea, each offers its own unique character but the same underlying product. They are beach-town spots where one can meet others over drinks.
While a "Lemongrass Drop" or "Scofflaw Cocktail" at the Cannery Restaurant might fetch $14, other locations cater to different desires, with drink specials like $3 for a bottle of beer and $5 for well drink during happy hour at the District Lounge, or $7 for a pint of beer and shot of liquor late on Saturdays at the Newport Beach Brewing Co.
On Saturday and Sunday mornings, Baja Sharkeez features a "Bloody Hangover Bar," with build-your-own double-shot bloody Mary's for $7.75 and bottomless coffee for $2, according to its website. Woody's Wharf offers a waterfront champagne brunch.
Other offerings abound at the Beach Ball, Rudy's Pub & Grill and Aurora Mediterranean Bar & Restaurant, or at the Porch Restaurant and Avila's El Ranchito, all within a 10-minute walk from one to another.
"It's a social thing for me," said Larry Edwards, who ranked Woody's Wharf as his favorite. "I like to get out and dance."
Among the restaurants and bars, commercial and residential properties are also woven, said Mario Marovic, who owns Malarky's Irish Pub, established in 1977. He said all need to co-exist.
"I don't define it as the party spot," Marovic said, noting that each location offers a specific product.
Councilman Mike Henn, whose district includes the Peninsula, said he has focused on this need for an understanding between mixed uses as part of an overall effort to improve quality of life.
As examples, Henn noted revitalization plans underway in the Balboa Village and Lido Marina Village areas, in addition to specific projects such as a new hotel proposed in place of the old City Hall and a condominium project up for council approval to be built on Via Lido.
Addressing any problems related to neighborhood bars is just one part of a larger effort, Henn said, noting that bar issues are fact-based and should be treated on a case-by-case basis.
"All together, there is various sorts of public and private revitalization planning that will total hundreds of millions of dollars," Henn said. "The issue of the bar scene and how that coexists with the residential character of the community, that's one issue."
A double shot of zoning laws
The city of Newport Beach controls such establishments primarily with zoning codes. Additionally, any entity defined as "bar, lounge and nightclub," or that offers drinks in combination with food served at late hours, must obtain a necessary license and also pursue appropriate permits, according to the municipal code.
A cafe dance permit allows for dancing. An outdoor dining permit allows for eating on patios. A live entertainment permit allows for musical performances but does not permit dancing.
The city enforces codes by responding to complaints and going on patrol.
Woody's Wharf has come under fire for its failure to obtain the necessary permit to stay open until 2 a.m. and to allow dancing inside, among other issues. Police citations in recent years prompted them to pursue the necessary paperwork, which the Newport Beach City Council denied at its Oct. 8 meeting, much to the owners' chagrin.
"The day it opened, in 1965, they were dancing," said Mark Serventi, one of the co-owners of Woody's Wharf, referring to the long-lasting culture of the area being challenged by this denial. "The Peninsula has been the Peninsula for decades."
Residents are tired of pushing back against local alcohol establishments, said Lori Morris, according to City Council minutes.
Neighbors at the 28th Street Marina residences have complained that noise carries from Woody's across the harbor water, a point refuted in two noise studies presented during the meeting. A cursory review of police records between January 2012 and July 2013 revealed more than 150 calls for service to Woody's Wharf, including 32 related to fights or assaults and 12 related to over-intoxicated persons.
Meanwhile, a new mixed-use commercial and residential building is being built immediately next door to the restaurant.
Peninsula resident Joe Balzer said that the attack on Woody's indicates either that people are discriminating unfairly against it or are using it as a first step to clear out all of the bars in the area.
He noted that anyone who did their due diligence before moving to the Peninsula would have realized its sometimes-rowdy character.
"They made a mistake, and they want someone else to fix it for them," he said. "If you really don't want any night life and you want something quiet, then why wouldn't you live in Corona del Mar?"