Neighborhood feathers are ruffling over Cuckoo's Nest club

Exclusive techies' club in Menlo Park wants to serve alcohol, host recreational events

Palo Alto and Menlo Park residents living near San Francisquito Creek say a proposed bar at an exclusive club for Silicon Valley entrepreneurs should not be allowed because it is too close to their homes.

BootUp Ventures, the master tenant at the office building at 68 Willow Road in Menlo Park, and its sub-tenant, the Cuckoo's Nest club, are asking the City of Menlo Park to grant a use permit to sell wine, beer and spirits and to allow recreational and social events.

But residents say the buildings, zoned as office space, are not meant for a bar and clubhouse. They are concerned about traffic, noise and parking -- and the precedent that would be set by granting the permit.

The Cuckoo's Nest name pays homage to the Ken Kesey novel "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," (Kesey was part of a CIA-funded study on LSD at the Menlo Park Veterans' Hospital), according to its website. The company bills itself as a private membership club that brings together startups and a select group of international and local CEOs and investors who want to enjoy each other's company and collaborate.

Marco ten Vaanholt, co-founder and managing partner of BootUp and Cuckoo, said the club has been in the building for two years and has already hosted more than 100 events, using temporary alcohol-service permits, with no complaints.

When BootUp took over the former Willow Garage space in 2014, the company inherited the original use-occupancy permit, which contained both an office and food-service facility. They turned the food-service operation into a private club to expand socializing between investors, CEOs and startups and with the hope of adding alcohol on a permanent basis.

The private, selective membership helps offset operating costs, ten Vaanholt said.

The club has an inside dining and bar area with seating for 60 and an outside deck and garden with a capacity for 68 persons, according to the use application. Membership is limited to 900 persons, of which 30 percent are international and visit during various times of the year; another 30 percent are from the greater Bay Area, and the remaining 40 percent are from Peninsula counties. Members are restricted to qualified CEOs, investors, entrepreneurs, sponsors and BootUp tenants and their guests.

The club currently serves breakfast, lunch, small-plate snacks and dinner. Its programs include startup-product presentations, private investor presentations and educational seminars. Cocktail receptions are usually from 6-9 p.m.; evening events and dinners last until 10 p.m., according to the application.

There's parking for 66 vehicles, and additional parking for 70 is located at the adjacent SRI building. Tenants are generally not on site during the evenings, and many who attend events use Uber and Lyft, the application states.

Ten Vaanholt said that the club streams modern lounge music inside the venue but not outside. On occasion, solo or chamber music performances may take place in the early evening, but most occur inside the building.

But residents living near the club said that their experience has been quite different since the club opened in late 2014. A Palo Alto resident whose home is situated across the creek said his family frequently hears noise from the club's patio.

"The sound carries very well and clearly to our area, and we can hear the murmur of the conversations and even the clicking of glasses or plates. The Cuckoo's Nest club also uses amplification during the events, something that is forbidden in many cities across the Bay Area," he said. "This makes their events unbearable and truly disruptive, especially in such a quiet residential area. One of their last events featured a comedian that resorted to vulgar and crude humor that we certainly did not appreciate."

He said he is completely opposed to granting the club an alcohol permit. What's more, he and his family wish the club would move to a more suitable area.

"A quiet residential neighborhood is no place for a party club," he said.

Anne Meyer, another Palo Alto resident, agreed. But she wants the City of Menlo Park and Cuckoo's Nest to establish a plan for how noise will be controlled and a clear procedure for residents to contact officials and the club if there are disturbances.

She has heard loud music coming from the 68 Willow building before, although she doesn't know if the Nest was there at the time. What irked her was that she was ignored when she asked people at the building to turn their amplified music down. Calls to the Menlo Park police did nothing, she said.

She questioned the Cuckoo's Nest statement in a letter to city officials that it plans to have a "quiet, convenient environment," she said.

But Meyer admitted she has not been subjected to repeated disturbances thus far.

"I may be beating my feathers for nothing," she said during a recent stroll along the creek.

Menlo Park residents said they are also concerned about the noise, traffic and parking. Allowing Cuckoo's Nest to sell alcohol and have evening events would set a bad precedent, JoAnne Goldberg said.

One reason the office and residential mix of buildings works in her neighborhood is because they are complementary uses. Employees leave at 5 or 6 p.m.

"Evening should be quiet time. (Businesses) shouldn't be having drinking and amplified music," she said.

Another Menlo Park resident who lives nearby said that about two weeks ago, the streets were lined with vehicles during a Cuckoo event. She expressed concerned about traffic, since many families have young children.

Ten Vaanholt said that excessive alcohol consumption is uncommon in private clubs, where decorum is valued, particularly among the CEOs and entrepreneurs who have reputations to protect. Staff are also trained to stem members' over-consumption, he said.

A year ago, there were problems with trespassers who noisily partied on the property on a Saturday afternoon, he added. The tenant's managing partners called the police to remove those people, he said.

Cuckoo's Nest reached out to residents and businesses within 500 feet of the facility, but city staff told the company it was not necessary to contact Palo Alto residents, ten Vaanholt said. But after Palo Altans wrote letters of concern, the company has scheduled a barbecue on Sunday, April 24, 3-7 p.m. for nearby Palo Alto and Menlo Park residents who would like to see the operation first-hand and to ask any questions, he said.

For noise and other complaints, staff is on site until closing and can address any issues, he said. The co-founders and managing partners are also Menlo Park and Palo Alto residents who are reachable by phone, he said.

"We welcome feedback from our neighbors as they are important, and we are trying to build an ecosystem that can help drive innovation as well as business, but jointly with them," he said.

Menlo Park Senior Planner Kyle Perata said that an initial public-comment period about the application will take place through April 29, after which staff will put together a report. There will be public hearings and a hearing before the Planning Commission prior to any decision on the application.


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52 people like this
Posted by Enough
a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 21, 2016 at 7:58 am

Wait, permits to allow Sunset Magazine to host weddings and cooking classes was denied, and yet THIS was allowed?

46 people like this
Posted by $$$$
a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 21, 2016 at 9:53 am

The City Council and powers that be in Menlo Park are no longer interested in keeping Menlo Parks small town status... allowing bigger houses on the small lots, techies allowed to run amok cause they can afford it. I'm holding on to hope that somehow there's a huge sunspot that kills the internet and sends them all back to their mom and dad's houses back east -- until then, I'll just be the crazy old time Menlo Park resident.

49 people like this
Posted by JoAnne Goldberg
a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 21, 2016 at 10:36 am

A private club with an alcohol license in a residential neighborhood? I can't believe we're even having this conversation.

Note that these are the same people who are building a 400,000 square-foot office complex downtown on El Camino. While perhaps not as scenic, this would be a more appropriate setting for a private club, and would contribute to the vibrancy of the downtown area.

47 people like this
Posted by Jessica
a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 21, 2016 at 10:52 am

Really - the Cuckoo's Nest? Ken Kesey and his merry band would freak out - this is all he was not about. Between this and Palantir doing the same with the Hobbit, it illustrates what a tin ear these folks have.

Neighbors are right to expect the city to uphold its own zoning ordinances. If a private, exclusive, oh so very cool and special club is desired, go have it in a place zoned for it.

12 people like this
Posted by AlexDeLarge
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 21, 2016 at 11:16 am

As a member who's attended many of these events at the 'Nest, I have to wonder really? They are well behaved business/social gatherings. Loud, bawdy, raucous they are not. Merely my opinion.

12 people like this
Posted by realistic
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 21, 2016 at 11:26 am

It's a private club. I have been to events there (4) and they are professional, mellow and well managed. It;s 2016 and we have to progress with our thinking. It's not a bar, nightclub or a restaurant. It an event space.

I agree that there should be a plan for controlling the noise and a way to enforce that. I respect the homeowners and residents of the area, and I think the club and the neighborhood can peacefully coexist.

38 people like this
Posted by Bicycle commuter
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 21, 2016 at 11:53 am

The bicycle/pedestrian bridge at the end of Willow Place is the busiest bicycle bridge in Menlo Park with over 800 crossings/day. I think that the Planning Commission should look to protect bicycle commuters from the increased risk of an accident due to Cuckoo's Nest traffic and parking. Note that one of the two Cuckoo's Nest driveways is on Willow Place, and that driveway has poor visibility for seeing bicyclists coming off of the bridge into Menlo Park.

16 people like this
Posted by MuniCode
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 21, 2016 at 1:29 pm

Regarding noise, this seems straightforward. Menlo Park's Municipal Code sets maximum noise levels for daytime and evening (10p - 7a). Has Cuckoo's Nest been in compliance with the maximum noise level? Have they measured it? If they are in compliance, then noise would seem to be a non-issue.

I think that the burden is on Cuckoo's Nest to show that they have done their homework on noise coming from their events. If they haven't yet, they should do so before asking neighbors to trust them that the noise will be compliant with existing code.

28 people like this
Posted by Shine the light
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 21, 2016 at 1:46 pm

I'm just glad we know where it is now so we can see who comes and goes and where they park their cars. Take pictures!

24 people like this
Posted by Uh-Oh
a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 21, 2016 at 2:25 pm

Well, there goes the Willows neighborhood. This is a really bad idea, a bar for alpha males, basically.

Not in MY Back Yard!

5 people like this
Posted by noodnik
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 21, 2016 at 2:38 pm

theres an old saturday night live piece in which the participants just keep saying ; No, No, No, this reminds me always of Menlo Park.

36 people like this
Posted by Yes Yes Yes
a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 21, 2016 at 4:04 pm

...and Menlo Park continues to be one of the most sought after places to live so all those No's look pretty good if you want your property value to keep going up.

5 people like this
Posted by Mike Pritziken
a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 21, 2016 at 4:22 pm

This watering hole is for the elite of the elite. It is a prize opportunity for Menlo Park to take its place among the upscale service communities of Silicon Valley.

40 people like this
Posted by I know some of these people
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 21, 2016 at 4:29 pm

They should actually call the place the Tool Shed, and the wives of those guys better clue in as well to what is facilitated behind those exclusive doors. Nothing actually in-house, but oh those quiet conversations...I'll just leave it at that

25 people like this
Posted by hmmmmm
a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 21, 2016 at 6:06 pm

Many of these guys worship Jobs, who made no secret of the fact he experimented with LSD and said it was "one of the two or three most important things I have done in my life." So LSD, alcohol, non-public .... hmmmmmm, what could go wrong?

24 people like this
Posted by lies
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 21, 2016 at 6:21 pm

Teo ten Vaanholt has never heard any complaints? Certainly both the Palo Alto and the Menlo Park police departments has heard them. Only music chamber outside? I laughed out loud when I read this.
It's discomforting to hear the very disingenuous comments from Teo. He talks like politician. You cannot create a quiet, convenient "ecosystem" in a quiet neighborhood if you intend to throw parties until 10pm. That is just reality. Teo can still drive his business and innovation during regular business hours. After 5pm, he can take the party somewhere else away from the residential areas. That will work better for the residents around, who are so "important" to Teo, as he likes to remark.

32 people like this
Posted by Roger Overnaut
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Apr 21, 2016 at 6:52 pm

There is no such thing as a cuckoo's nest. Cuckoo birds lay their eggs in other birds' nests. The cuckoo chick aggressively pushes to the head of the food line, and it eventually shoves the starved native chicks out of the nest to their death.

Just an innocent coincidence in naming, no doubt.

7 people like this
Posted by Pole Climber
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 21, 2016 at 7:56 pm

Pole Climber is a registered user.

That building was the district headquarters for Pacific Telephone years ago. The Cuckoo's Nest should be allowed to serve alcohol so the tradition of having a building full of drunks will live on.

2 people like this
Posted by Chris Zaharias
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Apr 21, 2016 at 8:44 pm

[Having purposefully skipped all comments...]

a) the Grateful Dead started in Palo Alto. Joan Baez is from here and told my Paly graduating class we should all get arrested once or twice. PA's Safeway, WholeFoods, Ernie's etc are the most long-standing businesses we have. The flow of illicit substances to our H20 treatment plant is measurably constant. Admit it - everyone misses Whiskey Gulch. It is literally the honest truth that out of the past 20 after-dinner walks my wife and I have taken in Duveneck/Crescent_Park, we've seen 1 or more people three times - you could walk naked here and no one would notice, so workaholic, un-community-minded and without-a-life are we.

b) first draft of (b) was "Sign me up", but then I visited the Cuckoo's Nest website and must now retract. I quote "The Cuckoo's Nest is a club reserved for disruptive founders and CEOs, risk-taking venture investors, and other distinguished champions of the entrepreneur." O M G

c) until a worthy new drinking/entrepreneur establishment submits for a license, I'll see you at The O.

20 people like this
Posted by Only Fooling Themselves
a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 21, 2016 at 10:56 pm

"The Cuckoo's Nest is a club reserved for disruptive founders and CEOs, risk-taking venture investors, and other distinguished champions of the entrepreneur."

IOW, heavy BS required.

29 people like this
Posted by Ben
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 22, 2016 at 7:12 am

A liquor/party license for some of the most entitled people in the world at an exclusive private venue.. what could go wrong?!

23 people like this
Posted by Illegalities
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 22, 2016 at 9:09 am

Illegalities is a registered user.

I know some of these men also.

Some do drugs to work longer hours without sleep, a few to " boost creativity". A few are clients of high- priced call girls.

As long as none of that is happening at this bar, and no illegalities or solicitations take place here, it shouldn't be a problem.

Paul and Eddie's in Cupertino, a dive bar, coexists peacefully with the neighbors.

10 people like this
Posted by Safety1st
a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 22, 2016 at 10:39 am

In Dec. 2015, there was an article in the Almanac stating that the Menlo Park Fire Department response times for accidents was much slower than the department norms because of gridlock traffic on Willow Road. The Fire Department spokesperson said that there wasn't much the fire department could do to improve it and that some accident victims were suffering due to delays. Having Cuckoo's Nest have events for up to 200 people (see their website) on weeknights during the evening commute would just make traffic and fire department response times worse. Where's the priority here - Cuckoo's Nest music parties ("Shoreline Amphitheater on Willow Road") or public safety?

20 people like this
Posted by JoAnne Goldberg
a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 22, 2016 at 11:00 am

There seems to be some confusion about the location of this office building. It is not in the Willows but in Linfield Oaks, down the road, on a quiet section of Willow that does not get much traffic. There is no gridlock in this neighborhood, not yet. It is not Steven's Creek Boulevard and there are no strip malls, just several modestly-proportioned office buildings across the street from two-story homes. The adjacent bike bridge -- that shares a driveway with this building -- gets a lot of bicycle, stroller, and dog-walker traffic. Take a ewalk and you'll get the picture.

The private club should be located in the new Greenheart building on El Camino. Not in a residential neighborhood.

8 people like this
Posted by Chip
a resident of Professorville
on Apr 22, 2016 at 11:05 am

Willow Rd will be congested whether Cuckoos are there or not. Sunset's annual 3 day closure of Willow west of M'fld was a mess for locals too.
Well-paid MP cops should respond to residents' noise complaints. If not, take up non-response with police chief & elected City Council?
Is this where the Rosewood girls moved after that action got too much attention?

2 people like this
Posted by Just stop by
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 22, 2016 at 1:05 pm

Typical Menlo Park and Palo Alto complainers...Regular people and most people don't oppose... You only hear about the ones that do. This is not a late night bar/club for partying twenty year olds but a gathering place for professionals. It's a gathering place not a bar and alcohol is not the important part of the club. Events are not every night and not intended to be late. Nor is intended to be considered a "bar". It is a social club where you can have a glass of wine. Not much different than Friday beer bashes. I have been to many of their events and they are classy. For all these people complaining.. the operation has been in business for a year and half and the people you meet there are nice and gentle folks doing business. These are hard working business people that already have done many events with alcohol, they just want it more official... all you nay sayers should just stop by and have a look and then judge.

26 people like this
Posted by This just in
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 22, 2016 at 2:43 pm

Guess what, the neighbors don't want you there. That makes those trying to force it down the neighbors throats typical MP/PA entitled little <something that will get censored>'s

16 people like this
Posted by Stop By?
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 22, 2016 at 4:31 pm

Please tell me how any of the neighbors of this nightclub can possibly just stop by and enter!

It is private, for members only. Membership costs mega bucks!

4 people like this
Posted by Cuckoo neighbor
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jul 5, 2016 at 9:18 pm

I live down the street from Cuckoo and bike over the bridge between Menlo and PA multiple times a day. A car swerving out of the Cuckoo parking lot out to Willow Place nearly hit me the other day. As the driver and I both stopped at the stop sign at Willow Rd and Willow Place, I rode up next to the car to see a young man in a black BMW and yelled that he was going to fast. Of course, he ignored me and drive off.

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