The Laguna Beach City Council's unanimous refusal Tuesday to allow beer sales at Club Postnuclear probably means the end of live concerts at the club, according to owner William (Max) Nee.
Postnuclear, which opened in July at 775 Laguna Canyon Road, has been the only club in Orange County besides the well-established Coach House in San Juan Capistrano to regularly present nationally known touring rock and reggae acts.
Nee had launched Postnuclear as an alcohol-free establishment, but late last year he decided that the lavishly appointed but struggling club needed beer sales to broaden both its audience and the range of musical attractions that it could present.
"We won't be able to book our live music now," Nee said after the council denied his application for a beer permit by a vote of 5 to 0. The decision capped an hourlong hearing in which public comment was about evenly divided on the issue of beer sales.
"I lost $10,000 this month" on live shows, Nee said after his council defeat. "I can't go on like that."
Nee said he would present six more concerts already booked through March 16. After that, the club will open only on Friday and Saturday nights for dancing to recorded music, which has proven to be a strong draw.
The City Council vote overturned a previous decision by a lesser city agency, the Board of Adjustment, that would have allowed Postnuclear, which admits 18-year-olds, to sell beer under strict guidelines aimed at ensuring that minors would not drink and that security in and around the club would be tightly enforced. Council members said they were not willing to allow beer to be sold under any circumstances in a club where some patrons would be under 21. Some minors might drink, they said, and, barring that, under-age patrons still would come under a bad influence.
"What 18-year-olds want more than anything else is to be 21 years old," said Council Member Lida Lenney. Beer sales at Postnuclear would "show them why it's important to be 21 years old . . . because you get to drink beer," she said.
Council members also said they feared that beer drinking at the club would increase the number of drunk drivers on Laguna Canyon Road, a route infamous for bloody car wrecks.
Nee and other club spokesmen had promised to implement a special program, based on studies done at the University of Minnesota, aimed at deterring excessive drinking at Postnuclear. It would have included strict security measures and special training for alcohol servers. Drinking already is a problem among Laguna Beach teen-agers, Nee said--and no council member disputed him. Postnuclear would give them a "safe, controlled" alternative to beer parties, he argued, and set a model for responsible social drinking.
"My feeling is (the council) never even listened," Nee said after the hearing.
Nee held out one vague avenue for continuing live shows at Postnuclear: forming a partnership with the neighboring Canyon Bar & Grill, which has a full liquor license. But it was unclear how such a partnership between two nightclubs could be implemented or whether it could pass muster with city officials.
Greg Chastain, owner of the Canyon Bar & Grill, said after the hearing that he is open to discussions with Nee, but "there's no way Max could buy my liquor license and install it in his place."
Except for one high school student who complained that Postnuclear doesn't admit teen-agers under 18, those speaking against the beer license were older residents. Two were neighboring businessmen who decried traffic problems and fan behavior Monday at a free afternoon show that featured the rock band Dead Milkmen.
"They had every freak in Orange County down here," said Gene Henson. "I felt after walking through that crowd that I should go home and take a bath."
Three speakers 20 and under backed Postnuclear, favorably comparing its cleanliness and stylishness to other rock clubs they had frequented.
Two adults not connected to the club also argued in favor of a beer permit.
Walter Loeliger told the council that "usually I would not support any alcohol-related matter because my son (who was 22) was killed by an irresponsible drunk driver." But Loeliger praised Postnuclear as "a place (for young people) to let go of their frustrations, the growing pains, and be among themselves without getting into trouble, as they would at private parties where they would drink alcohol anyway."
One resident, Kedric Francis, asked the council to consider the cultural benefits of having an adventurous rock music club in the city.
"What always struck me (about Laguna Beach) was the diversity here--cultural, social, artistic," the 28-year-old attorney said. "Now I sense that tolerance slipping away. These arguments (against Postnuclear) are based on fear of the young and the new and the different. Culturally, (the club) is on the cutting edge. . . . When one cultural aspect of the community is strong, it adds strength to all the others."