Café Nightclub to Reapply for Conditional Use
Permit from Planning Commission
Club hopes to build extension, have music and dancing seven nights a week
Hartford Street resident Alan Beach stands in the area behind the
Café nightclub on 17th Street where the club hopes to build an addition.
By Jaime San Felippo
On March 20, the owner of the Café nightclub at Market and 17th streets will resubmit an application to the San Francisco Planning Commission for a conditional use permit to build an extension to the rear of the building, a request that was denied last year.
Owner Tom Hutachinda will also be asking to extend the club’s conditions of use,
extending the nights of music and dancing from four nights a week to seven.
Hutachinda is seeking a permit to build a four-story extension on the back of the building to provide space inside the club for more bathrooms and an area for an extra pool table.
Additionally, Hutachinda wants to install a wheelchair-accessible elevator entrance facing 17th Street to be built in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ground and mezzanine level of the extension will house a take-out restaurant, and the top level will house new office space.
At a Planning Commission meeting in July 2007, about thirty members of the neighborhood showed up to oppose Hutachinda’s request. They raised concerns about an excessive level of noise coming from the club and unauthorized music and dancing taking place on Monday through Wednesday nights.
The commission determined that the Café was not meeting ten of their original conditional uses and denied their request, requiring the business to abide by their original conditional uses for at least six months before they could resubmit their application.
Neither Hutachinda nor the club’s manager, Luis Caputo, seemed to know about these conditions. Caputo claimed that when Hutachinda bought the club in 1997, the former manager knew about the conditions but did not disclose this information to his new boss. Thus, when Caputo took over as manager in 2001, he was unaware of the rules the establishment was breaking.
“Right before the meeting we found out about the conditions and I was like ‘This is not a good idea,’” said Caputo, “But the biggest surprise was the issues with the neighbors. Nobody had ever come and complained to us before about that.”
With such an outcry from the community, Caputo became determined to make amends with the neighborhood. He has since set up a hotline for neighbors to call with any complaints and concerns about the club and has organized monthly community meetings.
Alan Beach lives on Hartford Street behind the Café and organized his neighbors in a petition against the Café. At the original planning meeting he raised the issue of non-compliance of the club’s conditional uses.
“When I found out that they wanted to expand I had to get involved,” said Beach, who sits on the board of the Eureka Valley Promotional Association. “It was a bit disturbing that I was the one that told them what their conditions of use were. I’m just a guy that lives down the street.”
Beach said that the biggest problem was when the Café would host Hip Hop night on Monday evenings, which brought in more patrons than any other night of the week.
He complained that the bass from the club’s sound system would keep him up at night. The noise would continue when the club closed and the rowdy crowd would find their cars on his street and continue the ruckus.
Caputo recognized that Hip Hop night was getting out of hand even before neighbors complained.
“At first it used to be a fun night,” said Caputo. “But after a while the element changed. We began to get a lot of people from out of town that didn’t respect the neighborhood and started causing problems.”
As a result Caputo brought in extra security and claims the Café was the first club in the Castro to have uniformed police officers at the door. The event was eventually cancelled.
Willy Adams, Director of Security at the Café, began a special patrol Thursday though Sunday nights, covering the streets around the Café, including Harford Street, to make sure that there were no fights or patrons hanging out at their cars and being excessively loud.
“We want to address the issues affecting residents of the neighborhood,” said Adams. “We also aim to make it a collective effort with participation from all the bars in the Castro to make sure patrons respect the area.”
Rob Cox, a Hartford Street resident and head of the Hartford Street Neighborhood Association, has been following the issues with the Café since the beginning and has worked along side Beach and Caputo.
Cox said it was hard in the beginning to get the management and owner of the club to communicate with community members. He stated that it took until December of last year to get some serious cooperation. But since then, he said, conditions have improved and he commended Caputo and Adams for working with the neighbors.
Still he has trepidation about the future.
“My concern is that it has been such a battle to get them to just meet their already existing conditions of use,” said Cox. “And once they get what they want, who’s to say they won’t do whatever they want and things won’t go back to the way they were?”
But Caputo insisted he is dedicated to making the presence of the Café a positive one. He said that there are plans to bring in new soundproof windows, a new roof as well as better-positioned speakers. He added that Hip Hop night will not be making a return.
“If this goes through, we’re not just going to turn our back and say ‘See ya,’ said Caputo. “We’re going to continue to communicate and work with the community.”
The Café hotline is (415) 377-9991.