Times Staff Writer

The owners of Safari Sam’s nightclub in Huntington Beach pleaded their case to retain the club’s live entertainment before the City Council on Monday after nearly 200 of their supporters rallied outside the council chambers in a peaceful demonstration.

The council kept the meeting in session past midnight to hear club owners Sam Lanni, Gil Fuhrer and nine others--musicians and club patrons--defend Safari Sam’s eclectic offerings of music, poetry and theater that stopped 10 days ago.

No action was taken, however, because the issue was not part of the council’s regular agenda. Safari Sam’s attorney Gene E. Dorney said Monday that he is scheduled to meet this week with City Administrator Charles W. Thompson, who will decide whether to uphold the Police Department’s recommendation to deny the club’s recent application for a new entertainment permit.


The club’s operators said their intent in holding the rally was to demonstrate continuing public support for the club and to keep the issue in front of the council. Speakers addressed the council in three-minute speeches during the open forum portion of the meeting.

“I’d like to express my concern about the direction the City of Huntington Beach is taking in allowing only particular types of entertainment to exist,” Lanni told the six-member council. (Mayor Robert P. Mandic was absent.) “There is no longer an outlet in our city which dedicates their facility to new music, new creativity or in any way allows people to express themselves. . . ,” Lanni said.

Safari Sam’s has been the only forum in Orange County for local original rock, blues and jazz bands, open poetry readings and non-mainstream theatrical productions. Lanni voluntarily halted live entertainment Sept. 7 after police warned that the owners would be cited or arrested if they staged entertainment without a valid permit. The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano remains the only Orange County club booking original music full time, although its bookings emphasize well-known touring acts over local groups.

“Many bands have gotten their first chance to play in Orange County at Safari Sam’s,” said Shirley Howland of Costa Mesa, a member of the band Native Language. “Since the loss of the Golden Bear, Safari Sam’s has an even bigger impact trying to fill that void. What will happen if Safari Sam’s is not in the marketplace? Great artists also start on small stages.”

Seal Beach resident Regina Munoz suggested that by booking of adventuresome new bands such as the Meat Puppets, the Minutemen, 10,000 Maniacs and others, Safari Sam’s is helping “to upgrade Orange County in terms of cultural events. Orange County is not a wasteland of the mind.”

The only negative comments during the forum came from Huntington Beach resident George Arnold, who complained that “every weekend there is nothing but trash, paper and beer cans out in the street” around the club.


Oscar Taylor, who owns two properties near Safari Sam’s and has voiced complaints to the city about the club’s patrons, attended the meeting but left before it was opened to public comments at 11:30 p.m.

As with last Wednesday’s demonstration outside a closed meeting of the Huntington Beach Redevelopment Agency, supporters marched before the council meeting carrying signs with slogans such as “Art Is Not Mainstream” and “Fun in H.B. Is Silence.” The Swamp Zombies and members of the Stand and Opaque Window set up acoustic instruments and provided music for the demonstrators.

One Huntington Beach vice and intelligence officer watching from inside said: “Personally, I think all this effort is for naught. But they have the right to express their opinion.” He said the Police Department will oppose any effort to allow Safari Sam’s to resume entertainment temporarily while the issue is debated with the city.

The officer, who asked not to be identified, said the Police Department’s recommendation to deny a new entertainment permit was based on “various violations.”

The officer added that a four-page police report detailing “the crimes and violations that have occurred there” has been delivered to the city administrator’s office and that the club’s attorney was sent a copy. Dorney admitted that the club is fighting an uphill battle to resume live performances. In addition to needing a new entertainment permit from the city, Dorney said the Planning Department recently informed him that the club must also apply for a conditional use permit, which covers parking and other land-use requirements. Applications for conditional use permits typically take six to eight weeks to process, he said.

Meanwhile, Dorney is also continuing a longstanding effort to remove restrictions against live entertainment that the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control placed on the location’s liquor license under its previous owner.


On Sunday, the first Safari Sam’s benefit concert to help defray legal expenses will be held at the Coach House, whose owner, Gary Folgner, has donated use of his club to show support for Safari Sam’s.

On the lineup for Sunday’s 2:30 p.m. concert are Blood on the Saddle, Firehose, El Grupo Sexo, the Stand, Swamp Zombies, Opaque Window and In Color. Tickets are $10. Other club patrons are donating services for fund raising including the printing of promotional flyers and bumper stickers as well as manufacturing of T-shirts.