June 19, 2024 The Best Source of News, Culture, Lifestyle for Culver City, Mar Vista, Del Rey, Palms and West Los Angeles

Brentwood should raise a glass to more bars

Do you support the idea of a bar on San Vicente in Brentwood?
Do you support the idea of a bar on San Vicente in Brentwood?

By Josh Stephens

I enjoy a beer as much as the next guy. I do not mourn the demise of the Jumping Frog Saloon. Current residents of Brentwood might be shocked to learn that the Jumping Frog was but one of the many bars that lined San Vicente in the 1960s and 1970s.

Many of them served as watering holes for residents of the Veterans Administration, including a good number of hard-luck cases. I imagine them opening in the morning, and fully pickled men stumbling out by nightfall.

Places like the Jumping Frog – in the location that later became Mom’s Saloon and now Katsuya (how times have changed, indeed) – prompted Brentwood residents to lobby for a San Vicente Specific Plan that essentially outlaws standalone bars.

That plan passed, and it’s the reason why Brentwood’s main street has some half-dozen coffee places, dozens of restaurants, enough hair salons to sink a battleship, and a few bar-restaurants. And zero bars.

San Vicente is, by any measure, one of Los Angeles’ great commercial streets and a hub of which any neighborhood would be proud. But attractiveness alone does not a complete community make.

I mentioned San Vicente in an editorial that I recently wrote for the Los Angeles Times.

I was responding to Councilman Mike Bonin’s proposal to set up a monitoring system, at bars’ and restaurants’ expense, to ensure that conditions of conditional use permits (called CUP’s, in the case of places that serve alcohol) are enforced.

These conditions can include everything from operating hours to parking requirements to restrictions on outdoor service.

Brentwood neighbors know these negotiations well and have, for better or worse, entered into many covenants with local businesses in exchange for their political support.

As I wrote in my editorial – which ruffled some feathers but generated plenty of fan mail too – I don’t have a problem with the enforcement of conditions as such.

Many conditions are reasonable and do a fine job of balancing residents’ concerns with the interests of businesses and their patrons.

Nobody should have to deal with rackety, wobbly drunkards at 2 am. What troubles me, though, is an assumption among many Los Angeles residents, not just in Brentwood but throughout the city, that every proposed bar is a den of iniquity waiting to happen.

To them, bars pose dangers rather than opportunities. I respectfully submit that bars, and the people who patronize them, have changed a lot since the days of the Jumping Frog.

We have wine bars, gastropubs, mixology lounges, whisky bars with hundreds of labels, and craft beer bars with dozens of breweries on tap. Animal House, they’re not.

Of course, some bars are problematic. A few years ago, the Parlor in Santa Monica was shut down for repeated disturbances of the peace. I submit that those bars become problematic not because the city (whether Los Angeles or Santa Monica) permits too many bars and has too lax oversight, but because it permits too few bars and marginalizes those that it does permit.

When residents of a given neighborhood cannot visit local watering holes, they naturally go elsewhere.

The absence of bars in a place like Brentwood leads to a crush of patrons in places like Venice and along Wilshire Boulevard. Meanwhile, the scarcity of bar permits and the expense of setting up a bar (whether it’s a bar-restaurant or a standalone bar) requires places like the erstwhile Parlor to attract as many patrons as possible.

Kids who might otherwise be perfectly happy to walk to a latter-day Jumping Frog for an IPA or two end up might driving as far as Hollywood or Hermosa Beach.

Once they’ve made that effort, you can bet that they’re not going to settle for just two beers. It’s a vicious cycle. As for Brentwood: we don’t always realize it, but Brentwood is a fantastically diverse community. Sure, celebrities live here. So does the wealthiest man in Los Angeles, and a former mayor. But so do college students, aspiring actors, young professionals, and regular, blue-collar folks.

Surely Brentwood has room to provide watering holes for all of them. Indeed, Los Angeles is so short of friendly walkable areas – which is, to be sure, a problem that far transcends the relatively minor issue of bars – it’s all the more unfortunate that San Vicente is so restrained.

For all the ills that can accompany drinking, there are tremendous benefits that bars’ naysayers should bear in mind.

Those benefits include friendship, romance, creativity, business relationships, and general neighborliness.

Homeowners are wont to prevent disruption, preserve quality of life, and maintain property values. But what about the relationships that are prevented by the absence of bars? What about the lives that stand to be improved – not just maintained – over friendly drinks? What about the increase in property values that come with neighborhood amenities?

Brentwood is a pretty great place. It would be greater yet if we had more chances to get to know each other.

If you’re willing to live next door to someone, you should be willing to share some wine, a beer or a cocktail (or a mineral water, if that’s your preference) with them. Surely Brentwood is big enough – and its establishments and residents responsible enough – to be willing to raise a glass to itself. I’m happy to discuss further with anyone who wants to. We can grab a coffee.

Josh Stephens is a member of the Brentwood Community council and contributing editor to the California Planning & Development Report. The views expressed herein are his alone

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