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Liquor, Dance Permits on Line : Popular ‘Country Club’ Nearing Crossroads

<i> Wyma is a regular contributor to Valley Calendar</i>

With the hard-rock band Jailhouse pounding away last Saturday night, the main room of the Country Club in Reseda was too loud for talking. So people did their cruising and schmoozing in the lobby by the bar.

The decade-old club has thrived in the last couple of years, drawing good crowds with bookings that vary remarkably: music from rock to country, boxing, ethnic entertainment and private parties. But continued success will be in doubt if, as expected, the Los Angeles City Council votes Tuesday to revoke the club’s conditional use permits to serve alcohol and have a dance floor.

Frank Oliveri, 25, leaned against a wall near the bar, a beer in his hand. Oliveri said he is a regular at the Country Club because it’s close to his Reseda home, he likes the rock groups, and he has met lots of women there. But he doubts that he will continue coming if liquor no longer is served.

“It would be kind of boring,” he said. “Look, on weekends, you want to party. How can you party without something to drink?”

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Lori Garland, 28, believes that the club will keep at least some of its clientele.

“The majority of the girls come here to see a specific band,” she said. “They’ll come whether they can drink or not.”

But one of those fans, Jennifer Bruno, 18, questions whether the club would survive.

“I’d still come, but older people won’t,” she said. “It would really change it.”

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These patrons and others said they hope that the 982-seat Country Club does not go out of business because it is the only nightclub of its type--large and open to all ages--in the San Fernando Valley. But some neighbors do not share that view.

Acting on homeowner complaints about patrons spilling into nearby neighborhoods and creating disturbances, zoning officials and area Councilwoman Joy Picus have opposed an extension of the club’s alcohol and dance permits. Of the two, the alcohol permit is more important, club owners said.

Last week, the council’s Planning and Environment Committee voted 3 to 0 to deny extensions of the permits. The matter is scheduled to come before the full council Tuesday. Most people involved, including the Country Club’s lawyer, said they expect the council to vote to deny the permits.

Club attorney Scott Z. Adler said the nightspot’s owners have offered to remain dark Mondays through Wednesdays, close an hour earlier other nights, pay up to $5,000 each to nearby homeowners for soundproofing their residences and stop serving alcohol an hour before closing, among other measures.

But Picus this week ruled out any chance of a last-minute compromise.

“Some of those things might have been successful if they’d offered them a long time ago,” she said, adding that there is no support for a compromise among angry homeowners.

If the vote goes as expected, Adler said, the club will have to prohibit dancing and stop serving alcohol as soon as it receives notification of the decision from city zoning officials.

“My guess is we’re looking at mid- to late December,” he said.

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A lawsuit could be filed in an attempt to delay loss of the permits, but, Adler said, he probably would recommend against such a move because it would be costly and win, at best, a few months reprieve.

Owners and management of the Country Club said they are determined to stay open, even without drinks and dancing.

“We’re going to lose some customers, there’s no doubt about it,” said Scott Hurowitz, club manager for the last two years. “We’ll try to continue with the same kind of music we have now and, if that doesn’t work, we’ll be experimenting with alternative music.”

By alternative music, Hurowitz said, he means the kinds of acts he saw on a recent trip to New York.

“I went to about 15 clubs, and 10 of them were doing real well with speed metal, hard core, thrash and punk,” he said. “The bulk of the customers are in the below-21 age bracket. They’re kids.”

The club’s present weekend lineup stresses “melodic hard rock,” which is loud but not as raw and aggressive as the forms mentioned by Hurowitz.

Hurowitz said that there is a big market for alternative music and that the club might find itself with a new group of patrons: children under 21 who previously were not allowed by their parents to go to a club that serves alcohol. However, the club’s profits still would drop because of lost bar revenue, he said.

“The neighbors might not like that crowd any better,” he predicted. “They won’t drink inside the club, but they’re going to party before they get there; they’re going to party in the neighborhoods and in their cars, and we’re not going to be able to control that. We won’t have the money to pay for much security.”

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On show nights now, the club has several security officers in its parking lot and a car patrolling nearby streets.

Picus said that if aggressive forms of music such as speed metal and thrash draw a rowdy, albeit young, crowd to the club, she will fight disruptions with noise ordinances and other measures. She conceded that denying the club an alcohol permit does not guarantee well-behaved audiences.

“I had to respond with the only tools that I had,” she said.

Hurowitz and Nelly Alloun, an independent producer who books rock acts for the club, said that without a liquor permit, the nightspot no longer will attract major performers and events. Alloun cited Prince, Robin Trower and the Who’s John Entwhistle as examples of recent big-name acts.

Hurowitz noted that last year MTV taped part of its New Year’s Eve special at the Country Club.

“The show was seen worldwide, and on the stage there was a piece of the set that said Reseda right on it,” Hurowitz said. “What other business does Joy Picus have for her district that brings that kind of recognition?”

MTV is scheduled to tape part of its 1988 New Year’s Eve show at the club in early December. An MTV spokesman said the imminent loss of the liquor permit probably “will not affect our decision” to rent the facility.

Picus said the Country Club is not a valuable community asset because it has not been a good neighbor. She cited police figures, noting that in the last two years, there have been 65 arrests near the club during operating hours, a number she called “frightening.” Club officials said the number is small in relation to a customer count of more than 200,000 a year.

One source of club revenue appears secure. Ten Goose Boxing, which stages fights there once a month, plans to continue the events. Michael Nunn, International Boxing Federation middleweight champion, scored many of his early successes in the Country Club ring.

“I don’t anticipate anyone leaving our show because they can’t drink,” said promoter Larry Goossen. “The Country Club has been our home for four years, and we’re not about to change.”

Nonetheless, some people familiar with nightclub operations question whether the Country Club can survive without serving alcohol.

“I doubt it very much, for the simple reason that it will become a concert place,” said Filthy McNasty, owner of the 350-seat FM Station in North Hollywood. “It will be too expensive. You might as well have a concert venue you only rent when you use it.”

However, Hurowitz said, he plans to be more than a concert venue.

“I’ll be spending a lot of time going after video business, music videos and so forth,” he said. “I will do anything and everything it takes to stay in business.”


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