Commission rejects Ramsay’s redesign of Patrick Molloy’s
by Ryan McDonald
When famed British chef Gordon Ramsay doesn’t like what he sees in a restaurant, he’s apt to unload a profanity-laced string of insults at whoever is in earshot. The Hermosa Beach Planning Commission has subtler ways of expressing their displeasure.
The commission voted 4-1 earlier this month to reject a retroactive application for a floor plan redesign from Patrick Molloy’s. The application was retroactive because the Pier Plaza tavern had already completed the reworking in association with their participation in “Restaurant Renovation,” a Ramsay-starring reality show in which the prickly restaurateur critiques an existing business and makes suggestions on how to improve.
Patrick Molloy’s submitted the request for an approved floor plan change in December 2017 to cure a violation of their Conditional Use Permit created when the restaurant made the floor plan changes last September. The changes include removing a half wall between the bar and dining areas, installing movable tables and chairs, and relocating the DJ booth to the rear of the restaurant.
The commission’s decision will not be finalized until their February meeting when staff returns with a resolution and findings rejecting the floor plan. But commissioners made clear that they objected both to the fact that the work was unpermitted, and to what they characterized as the new layout’s tendency to make Patrick Molloy’s function less like a restaurant and more like a bar.
“To be blunt, I don’t think this should go ‘in limbo’ for a few months, and they shouldn’t be rewarded. I think that message needs to be sent,” said Commissioner Dave Pedersen.
Commissioner Pete Hoffman was the lone No vote. While he did not like the fact that the work had been done without prior approval, he questioned the benefits that rejecting the redesign would have, and said the decision ignored the traditional method of evaluating “intensification” of late-night alcohol service.
“Are we giving them entertainment? No. Are we giving them greater floor space? No. Are we increasing their occupancy? No. Are they going from beer and wine to full liquor? No. None of the things that come under criteria for ‘intensification’ are before us,” Hoffman said.
Fred Hahn, one of the owners of Patrick Molloy’s, told the commissioners that he and his business partners were approached by a production company last summer about participating in a television show. Once the partners agreed to the concept, Hahn said he inquired with the production company about permitting before any rearranging began.
“I asked the producer, ‘Do you have the proper information, and the proper permits?’ And I said, ‘Okay, fine with us. I’ve been here since 1996, I know how Hermosa Beach runs the place. And as long as you have the proper permits that’s all we care about,’” Hahn said.
Michael Rosen, an employee of All Three Media America, the production company behind the Ramsay show, took the blame. He told the commissioners that he had obtained film permits from the Community Resources Department, but had not sought the required CUP modification from the Community Development Department.
Rosen said that his team had not thought that the floor plan arrangement merited a new permit application.
“Our project leaders looked at this as very cosmetic, not structural, not dealing with electrical or plumbing. Again, we deal with different municipalities, and we’ve learned every municipality does things differently. It’s our mistake,” he said.
The explanation did little to satisfy commissioners, who were incredulous at Hahn’s claim that he thought the permits were taken care of.
“Certainly this applicant understands the process: he’s done all applications since 1996,” said vice chair Marie Rice.
The decision comes amid greater scrutiny by elected officials of the city’s downtown. In late 2016, city council members formed a subcommittee to focus on downtown safety after police officers were injured attempting to apprehend a suspect on Pier Plaza. The subcommittee has since worked with tavern owners in the area and the Police Department to improve security.
But it also comes as some establishments in the area are trying to shed the image of raucous roadhouses in favor of more upscale eateries, a trend that may continue with the proposed Strand & Pier luxury hotel and retail development.
Hahn said Patrick Molloy’s initially agreed to hear out the offer from the production company because business at the restaurant had been declining for about the last three years, which he attributed to an overall decline in foot traffic on Pier Plaza. But Rosen said that the key to Patrick Molloy’s survival would be to adapt to the trend set by more recent arrivals like Laurel Tavern and Tower 12, both of which have a greater emphasis on food — and higher prices — than their predecessors.
“We saw the neighborhood moving toward more upscale menus, more upscale clientele. We thought the interior space was somewhat dark, and dingy and dated, and needed to be upgraded,” he said.
Again, commissioners were skeptical. They said that the proposed layout, particularly a large “lounge area,” could actually make the establishment more focused on alcohol than it currently is. And several of the commissioners said they had visited the restaurant in recent weeks, and found that the floor plan matched neither the originally approved version nor the one submitted.
In announcing their intent to reject Patrick Molloy’s proposal, commissioners said they were disappointed in staff for their recommendation to approve the change. But Community Development Director Ken Robertson said that approving the plan was actually the best chance the commission had to address the alcohol-intensification concerns raised by some commissioners, and that rejecting it accomplished little besides penalizing the restaurant.
“It’s kind of the hand we’re dealt. They have a 1998 CUP with all these rights. As much as we’d like to do something about it, they have those rights,” Robertson said.