The Menlo Park City Council on May 23 approved a compromise allowing a new restaurant downtown to offer live music, alcohol and outdoor seating, despite concerns about noise and parking from nearby neighbors.
The restaurant is proposed for the site of the Menlo Clock Works shop at 961 El Camino Real and originally was approved by the Menlo Park Planning Commission on April 10, permitting live entertainment until 2 a.m., with outdoor seating and alcohol served on the property. The Planning Commission approved the project with the condition that the project comes back to the Planning Commission 12 months after occupancy to review any disturbance complaints related to the live entertainment use between 12 p.m. to 2 a.m.
The restaurant location is next door to The Guild Theatre, which recently reopened as a live music venue in Menlo Park.
“I think The Guild’s addition to Menlo Park has almost been too good to be true and has made us the envy of a number of communities along the Peninsula,” Council member Drew Combs said. “I think that this project represents a really great complement to The Guild, but that doesn’t negate the concerns of residents.”
Menlo Park city staff reported receiving 70 letters of support for the project from residents and four with concerns, but business owner Jamie D’Alessandro said the number had grown to nearly 150 letters supporting the restaurant.
“We have a very young entertainment district that’s here in downtown Menlo Park,” said San Mateo County Supervisor Ray Mueller, a former Menlo Park City Council member, during the public comment. “It’ll actually be great to go there on weeknights and listen to acoustic music during the agreed-upon hours when The Guild is not open and really continue to establish what is being built there, which is, I think, just vital to the future, the downtown.”
Council Member Betsy Nash said that she called the Planning Commission’s decision up to the City Council for review because it raised policy issues regarding the impacts of late-night operations on residential neighborhoods, but she had reached a compromise with D’Alessandro before the meeting. Under the compromise, the restaurant can still stay open until 2 a.m. and serve alcohol, but the outdoor area can only be seated until 10 p.m., and live music must end by 11:30 p.m. on weekdays. All indoor music has to be acoustic and unamplified, and outdoor seating will be restricted to 32 tables.
Despite the compromise reached by Nash and D’Alessandro, some residents who live near the property said they were concerned about the effects on their quality of life. Three residents spoke in support of the project, and six, mostly immediate neighbors, expressed concerns about late-night noise and parking availability.
“My neighbors and I need safe, peaceful homes to rest and sleep so that we can live happy, productive lives like you do,” neighbor Kristen Lead said. “Our need for a safe, peaceful home is just as important as others’ desire for a local good time.”
The restaurant was compared to two former Menlo Park establishments, with those in favor often calling it reminiscent of The Oasis, the beloved restaurant and bar that closed in 2018. Those opposed, however, said that the plan seemed indicative of the British Bankers Club, which lost its liquor license in 2012 before renovating and reopening under a new owner in 2016.
“We never contemplated having a nightclub, it’s preposterous,” D’Alessandro said. “All we want to do is bring a classy restaurant establishment to town.”
Mayor Jen Wolosin said that while she believes the proposed restaurant’s owners want to be good neighbors to the residential homes nearby, backup plans can be utilized, such as the city’s noise ordinance and residential parking permits.
Combs said that this highlighted a longer debate throughout the city as more housing is built, as the British Banker’s Club, in what was considered a better location surrounded by businesses and not residences, now has apartment buildings nearby, including above the Philz Coffee across the street.
“Where the Philz Coffee is, there are apartments, there are residences in that building,” Combs said. “So I’m sorry, you’re not on a first-term basis with the truth, but that’s what it is.”
Santa Cruz Avenue was also offered as a better location, but Combs said that they’re attempting to build housing there as well. He called it indicative of a conflict seen in urban areas as Menlo Park builds more housing and businesses in the city.
The modified application was passed unanimously by the City Council.