Group seeks to open upscale bar in LA's Skid Row

  Craby Joe's bar is seen on Main Street in Los Angeles on Monday, Aug. 25, 2009. A local restaurateur has plans for a stained-glass-lit watering hole...

CORRECTION Skid Row Bar Dispute

Craby Joe's bar is seen on Main Street in Los Angeles on Monday, Aug. 25, 2009. A local restaurateur has plans for a stained-glass-lit watering hole...

Craby Joe's was once a joint where denizens of nearby Skid Row slouched on barstools over dirty linoleum getting salsed on $2.50 mugs of Miller High Life.
Now a group of investors has a new vision for the Los Angeles watering hole decorated with back-lit stained glass that would offer organic vodka martinis within the same walls that once housed the storied dive that closed in 2007.
The plan by Fairfax Partners is opposed by an advocacy group that insists residents of the nearby streets and single-room apartments _ many with addiction problems _ don't need a new bar in the neighborhood with the nation's densest concentration of homeless people.
At a hearing Tuesday, zoning official ordered the investors to restart the bar's permitting process because of an application problem, drawing out the latest conflict between the businesses fueling downtown's gentrification and activists who say the prosperity of the long-neglected area is coming at the expense of Skid Row's disenfranchised.
The United Coalition East Prevention Project, which is drumming up opposition to the bar to be called Haven Lounge, had filed an unsuccessful appeal to a previous zoning decision allowing a pub to open in the basement of a newly renovated loft building a half-block away.
Neighborhood groups have also fought efforts to upgrade low-rent hotel rooms in Skid Row where many people live.
A few storefronts away from the proposed site of Haven Lounge is the Cecil Hotel, where activists claim units once used by permanent residents have been converted into pricey hotel rooms.
Richard Lew, a Fairfax partner, said it was absurd to think Haven Lounge would be a temptation to Skid Row residents struggling with alcoholism.
Skid Row's impoverished were unlikely to spend their money on the bar's $12 drinks when they can buy a 40-ounce bottle of malt liquor nearby for under $2, he said.
"We're not going to be cheap," Lew said. "This is not going to be an establishment that's going to cater to individuals that are not willing to spend a fair amount of money to be in a nice place to get nice drinks."
Coalition East Prevention Project director Zelenne Cardenas insisted the presence of any kind of drinking establishment would harm the community where many people struggle with alcoholism.
"The excessive availability of alcohol often makes recovery even more difficult," she said.
Such a dispute could not have happened a decade ago, when few bars and restaurants bordering Skid Row remained open into the evening.
Now many downtown sidewalks are packed with well-scrubbed twenty- and thirty-somethings who spill into cocktail lounges behind the stone beaux-arts facades of some of the region's oldest buildings.
The nightlife doesn't yet extend into Skid Row, but entrepreneurs keep getting closer.
Craby Joe's, the favorite watering hole of a Charles Bukowski-esque boozehound played by Mickey Rourke in the 1987 film "Barfly," closed amid allegations by city prosecutors of drug dealing and other crimes.
Regulars remember it as a cramped space with linoleum worn through to the cement beneath and a coloring-book page of Disney dwarf Dopey covering a hole in the wall.
The bar's only furniture, aside from the long bank of bar stools, were a few mismatched wooden tables and aluminum-framed chairs with tattered upholstery. The smell of crack-cocaine smoke clung to the air of the always filthy bathroom.
"It was one of those places you could go to any night of the week and any time of day and just see the crazy characters that were out on Skid Row," said former patron Jeremey Hansen, who remembered the management's unofficial policy of letting regulars drink on the house after they paid for their first 10 or so pours of cheap booze.
"There would be guys who would come in, and all they would do is drink _ they wouldn't talk to anyone _ and then there were crazy people who would come in off the street," he said.
Hansen remembered one man who walked into the bar wearing nothing but sweat shirt sleeves, briefs and sandals, and who began playing an old guitar with only three strings, using a crushed beer can as a slide.
That gritty ambiance would not carry over into the spot's incarnation as Haven Lounge, where Lew intends to install an eight-foot-high, 150-year-old stained-glass depiction of a Roman soldier that once decorated a church in Germany. He also plans to furnish the space with pew-like benches and a new bar of dark stained wood.
The bar menu would include cocktails made with organic vodka distilled in Hawaii and juice from locally grown fruits.
Lew said it's designed as a neighborhood meeting place for the community of affluent residents who have been moving downtown.
"This would be a nice little haven for those loft residents and people coming off of work," he said.
Cardenas said Lew's plan does not address basic needs of the community such as Laundromats and grocery stores.
"As we redevelop, we're bringing in more and more alcohol and pushing the boundaries of the community further and further back," she said.

Updated : 2021-01-16 23:21 GMT+08:00