Three the Hard Way

Marc Yamaoka, Phil Nisco and Chris Alfaro wanted to open a hot new nightspot—But first, they had to fight Santa Ana City Hall

"What the city needs to realize is that when you put up all of these obstacles for new, independent, image-changing businesses to come into the area, you're never going to change your image."

In Snell's view, Santa Ana has lagged behind other OC cities with regard to development. "Look at the Orange Circle—totally changed in the past 10 years," she observes. "It's great. And they're getting all the traffic that we should be getting. We're a downtown area, and we don't have half of that."

Santa Ana puts prospective proprietors through this arduous process, Snell observes, "to see how badly you want a business there. Which is so not the way to go about it."

The Crosby's owners (from left: Marc Yamaoka, Phil Nisco and Chris Alfaro) envision th space as a "haven of creativity" for their friends, themselves and other free spirits.  Photo by John Gilhooley.
The Crosby's owners (from left: Marc Yamaoka, Phil Nisco and Chris Alfaro) envision th space as a "haven of creativity" for their friends, themselves and other free spirits. Photo by John Gilhooley.

Deemed by Snell as "very pro-business," Ward 2 City Councilmember Michele Martinez confesses she was unaware of the Crosby's difficulties with Santa Ana regulations. However, she admits, "we do have policies that are not very business-friendly, and it makes it real difficult for businesses to open in the city. This issue is being addressed with our staff and how we can better work with the business community.

"I am a big believer in restaurants like the Crosby and how they can help revitalize our city," Martinez continues. "I believe we need to change the way we do business in our city. We must progress as a city if we want to be 'Downtown Orange County.' I want to see more nightlife in Santa Ana, so we can market to a large pool of residents who are spending their money in Fullerton, Long Beach and Brea because Santa Ana does not provide [similar] amenities."

Nisco points to a city brochure that highlights improvements from new businesses (decreased crime, livelier streets), yet numerous, onerous restrictions remain in place. He shakes his head and declares, "We're trying to add to the area, clean up the city and build up the culture. It's weird."

On top of the institutional obstacles, bureaucratic incompetence also hinders progress. "There are so many different levels of bureaucracy where you can hit problems," Nisco notes. "There are people up high who might not even know what's going on, and there are people down low who don't care. Sometimes it may not be that department, but rather just one person who has a lot of power and what they can put on you."

"Had it been up to the people actually running it," Alfaro says, "it would save us a lot more time. People on staff sometimes are just sort of there, and it's not that they don't care about the project, but . . . they don't care about the project," he says, laughing ruefully. "It's really frustrating."

The idea for the Crosby partially arose out of the trio being fed up with having to travel to big cities to experience interesting music, art and fashion. "We've lived in Orange County all our lives," Nisco says. "We don't want to have to keep driving 50 miles to find cool places. We want to put it in our back yard. We know there are people here who feel the same way. Hopefully, they'll be into [the Crosby]."

Musically, the Crosby will likely resemble LA's Low End Theory club night, where Alfaro (a skilled DJ who spins under the name Urthworm and creates left-field instrumental hip-hop as Free the Robots) has performed and made connections with many of its regulars. Underground hip-hop and experimental electronic music will figure prominently in the Crosby's mix, but Alfaro insists that all DJs will be given free rein. That's one advantage to having friends who are elite disc jockeys.

"They don't have to keep the crowd dancing," Nisco says, "just play the music they love, what they'd play in their bedrooms, the stuff they show their friends. It's more about the music and less about rocking a party."

"We're gonna keep it open and have different nights," Alfaro says. "We don't want human jukeboxes at the Crosby."

As a member of the six-person From Elsewhere crew, Alfaro will tap some of his cohorts to play his club. Expect to see many of Los Angeles' A-list DJs, too, including Gaslamp Killer, Daedelus and the Beat Junkies. Plans are afoot to work with Santa Ana clothing/design firm Obey Giant; you may even see famed artist/CEO Shepard Fairey DJing at the Crosby.

With capacity tentatively set under 60, the Crosby will be more of a spot for chilling than shaking moneymakers. Its owners envision the space as a cross between a '20s jazz joint and a modern hip-hop head's haunt, with a special fondness for '80s aesthetics. For instance, the Crosby's uniquely jerry-rigged sound system will be wired through 18 massive boomboxes of Reagan-era vintage. And the Yamaoka-designed clothing to be showcased will lean more toward hoodies than zoot suits.

While DJs and bartenders will reign during the night, chef Aron Habiger, a longtime friend of Alfaro's who re-entered his orbit at a serendipitous time, will rule the daylight hours. He'll be preparing food that promises to be as unconventional as the Crosby's sonic menu. Currently the sous chef at San Clemente's Café 207, Habiger could've taken higher-paying posts at other spots (he recently graduated from Cordon Bleu), but he sees the Crosby as a rare opportunity to exert total creative control. Gourmet pizzas will form the core of the Crosby's offerings, with soups, salads and sandwiches also likely to appear. The emphasis will be on uncommon flavors and healthy ingredients.

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