By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
By Charles Lam
Photo By Jeanne RiceThe city of Huntington Beach says it wants to become one of Orange County's top tourist destinations. But club life? Forget it.
That's what two of Orange County's most respected nightclub promoters say. Altan Aksu and Daniel Park say they pulled their nightclubs out of Huntington Beach this summer after a campaign of police harassment.
"Huntington Beach is a great town," Park said. "But the city does not make it easy to do a club."
Police say they have nothing against clubs, just obnoxious people leaving clubs near residential areas. "Large crowds create problems, [and] frequently clubs have problems with caring for their patrons," said Huntington Beach Police Lieutenant Janet Perez. She said clubbers jaywalk near clubs, talk loudly in residential areas after midnight and sometimes leave clubs driving drunk.
"Frankly, a lot of clubs don't like us," she said. "But we don't have a vendetta against any business, as long as they follow rules."
Aksu said he and his partners poured $50,000 into an old bar, opening in April as Blue Agave. The dance club features such DJs as Dave Aude and go-go dancers. When police complained about noise during the club's first week, Aksu says he and his partners invested $2,000 more in additional sound-proofing. That didn't seem to impress the cops.
"They'd just come, bitch, leave, come, bitch, leave—every time," Aksu claims.
He and his partners were ready to ride out the wave of complaints until July. That's when Blue Agave bouncers saw Huntington Beach police videotaping Blue Agave patrons jaywalking to the club across Adams Street. When the bouncer asked the cops what they were doing, the cop allegedly said, "We're gathering evidence against this establishment."
Aksu's partner Jake Beckwar fought fire with fire the next week—videotaping the cops videotaping jaywalking kids. According to Aksu, the cops promptly got into their cars and never returned with video cameras.
But their troubles weren't over. In August, Aksu's partners were visited by people claiming to represent the state Alcohol Beverage Control agency. They demanded the club install a double door at the entrance to control noise. But complying with that structural change would require another round of reviews at City Hall. And that, Aksu figured, would give police another chance to stomp on their liquor and entertainment licenses. It was too much grief for Aksu and company, so they sold Blue Agave that month.
Huntington Beach police acted more quickly in Park's case. Eight hundred clubbers showed up at the June 17 grand opening of his all-ages Club Recess night at Dosun Beach—800 clubbers and 16 officers. The cops swept through the club and told Park to hire more security. Park added four new guards to work alongside the 14 already on staff.
But a brawl broke out at the club one week later; Park's beefed-up security ejected the six combatants. Fights happen almost everywhere, but when they happen at clubs, it's a different matter. Police stormed into the area; a police helicopter buzzed overhead. When police told Park that Dosun Beach's owner would lose his liquor license if the club continued doing business, Park pulled the plug. He moved the club to Westminster. But the crowds didn't follow, and Park quietly closed the club for good.
An official in the Huntington Beach economic-development department said the city hopes to be a place where everyone can have fun, from retirees and families with toddlers to twentysomethings out for a night of dancing. Huntington Beach has even increased the number of entertainment permits, but most are for restaurants and bars, not the kind of big nightclubs in which Aksu and Park specialize.
"There's always a bad wind blowing against nightclubs," he says. "If you're opening a bowling alley that serves liquor, it's no problem to open it up quickly. If it's a big club with dancing and drinking, think twice.
"Running a big nightclub is just going to bring you hassles."