Controversial Koreatown lounge loses alcohol permit

Girls hop out of vans and cars to shuffle in and out of La Defence Karaoke in Koreatown in August.
(Jabin Botsford / Los Angeles Times)
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A Koreatown karaoke lounge in hot water with the Los Angeles Police Department has lost its bid for a new permit from City Hall.

The five-member Central Area Planning Commission voted Tuesday night to reject the request from La Defence to continue selling alcohol. The panel, made up of appointees of Mayor Eric Garcetti, sided with a zoning official who said the Wilshire Boulevard nightspot repeatedly violated the terms of its city permit and is too much of a drain on police resources.

Commissioners said they were troubled to see La Defence linked, directly or indirectly, to reports of rape, drunk driving, assaults and other law enforcement issues.


“In my not-so-long time on the commission, I have never seen a case like this. Never,” said commission president Samantha Millman. “It is truly a public safety issue.”

Representatives from the LAPD’s Olympic Division had been pushing for the permit request to be denied, saying La Defence had failed to comply with regulations regarding cigarette sales, the posting of security guards and the hiring of hostesses — women paid to drink with customers and provide them company — on its premises.

Those hostesses, delivered to karaoke bars in vans and SUVs, put themselves at risk of sexual assault, said LAPD Sgt. Julia Vincent. Two women told police over the last two years that they were raped by men they met at La Defence, according to city records.

“Based on the history … we do have to take aggressive action,” said Vincent, who heads the Olympic Division’s vice unit.

Rick Blake, La Defence’s attorney, told commissioners that the bar’s owner should not be held responsible for rapes that occurred away from its premises. And he argued that the use of hostesses, also known as “B girls,” is so common in Koreatown that it cannot be used as a reason to reject La Defence’s alcohol permit.

“If you’re going to close a business down because of B girls, close every business in Koreatown,” Blake told the panel. “Because … the vast majority of them have B girls. It is a cultural expectation. It is against the law, but it happens.”


Zoning administrator Lourdes Green said La Defence still will be allowed to operate as a restaurant with karaoke. But La Defence’s representatives have argued that a denial of its alcohol permit will result in closure.

Public safety problems at the nightspot had made it an issue in a March 3 council campaign. Koreatown activist Grace Yoo said her opponent, Council President Herb Wesson, had been too slow to speak out against La Defence, which is in his district. Wesson, in turn, said through a spokesman that he opposed the permit but did not make that clear publicly because a recent hearing on the topic had been postponed.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Wesson aide Elizabeth Carlin said the councilman wanted the commission to act immediately to reject the permit.

Twitter: @DavidZahniser