Mark McDermott

900 Club wins an extra hour open

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The 900 Club and the Downstairs Bar. Photo by Brad Jacobson

by Mark McDermott

The City Council Tuesday unanimously granted the 900 Club an extra hour of operation one night a week and an hour later last call every night. The decision upheld a Planning Commission approval that had been appealed by community activist Don McPherson.

The club’s operator, Dave Rohrbacher, scaled back his original request for an hour longer every day to a single night —  from an 11 p.m. to midnight closing on Thursday. He was also granted six additional nights of live music per year — from 18 to 24 —  and the ability to serve alcohol until closing time. The club previously was required to stop serving an hour before close.

The club, located downtown on the corner of Manhattan Avenue and 9th Street, is a private membership establishment that is particularly popular among local real estate professionals.

“I represent 672 people tonight,” Rohrbacher told the council, referring to the club’s members, as he presented a petition 482 members had signed. “I’m just the gatekeeper…. The 900 Club is a community. We are not a bar. We are not a restaurant. We are something different.”

Rohrbacher had also appealed the commission’s decision, which had not extended hours but instead loosened the last call requirement while granting additional entertainment. But he scaled back his request to a single hour, which he said would better serve his members, many who go to other establishments after the 900 Club closes. Most places that serve alcohol downtown —  including nearby Ercoles — are open until 2 a.m.

“The one thing we know is it’s really really hard to run a business in this town,” said Dave Caskey, a Realtor who is a club member. “It’s very expensive and they go out of business all the time. Dave’s been in business 20 years. He’s part of our community.”  

Realtor Bryn Stroyke said those opposing the club, which came under fire in 2014 and faced a revocation hearing at the council at that time over neighborhood impacts, represent “a very vocal minority.”

“On the other side you have legions of people who are community leaders who love this place,” Stroyke said. “It’s a community asset.”

McPherson, who also led the charge seeking to tamp down the club four years ago, charged that the club was in violation of city fire and noise codes and represented a public nuisance. He brought an acoustical expert and architect to support his appeal and also argued that the plans for the building were out-of-date and not accurate.

“So you have no discretion in these matters,” McPherson told council. “Deny the appeal because its incomplete without accurate plans. They are hand-drawn from 1993. The city is in violation here.”

Nate Hubbard, a neighborhood activist who fought Shade Hotel over noise issues, said extending the 900 Club could have a broader impact.

“We feel any extension of hours sets a dangerous precedent for the whole city, and all the bars around —  that could affect us, so we want to make sure the hours do not get extended,” Hubbard said.

Staff indicated that the city had received nine complaints regarding the 900 Club, mostly about loud music, open doors, and loitering. Several neighbors who testified indicated the sound issues for the club itself had lessened considerably since 2014, but the downstairs bar — a separate, public establishment called the Downstairs Bar that Rohrbacher only began operating in recent years — has now become the source of noise problems. MBPD Chief Derrick Abell said none of the complaints resulted in fines or rose to the level of public nuisance.

“To me, honestly, I don’t see this as an alarming number or an alarming set of complaints,” said Mayor Amy Howorth. “They are all valid. But residents and businesses have to understand, just because a complaint is filed doesn’t mean it rises to the level of public nuisance.”

“This is just a classic example of what happens when you live in the downtown area, where it requires a certain level of acceptance of the area you are moving into,” said Councilperson Steve Napolitano.

The council’s approval included some conditions, including that the door to the bar on the first floor be closed and patrons enter via Manhattan Avenue after 10 p.m. The matter will be revisited in one year’s time to ensure noise issues have subsided.

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