Liquor license application for Cuckoo's Nest on hold

Neighbors in Menlo Park and Palo Alto worried about noise, parking issues

A request for a liquor license by a private club, called the Cuckoo's Nest, in Menlo Park has generated no insignificant quantity of emailed ire from people who live near the club's location at 68 Willow Road.

The outcry has resulted in at least a temporary victory for the nearby neighborhoods of Linfield Oaks in Menlo Park and Downtown North across the San Francisquito Creek in Palo Alto.

The liquor license request has been put on hold for the next few months, according to Mukul Agarwal, co-founder of the Cuckoo's Nest club and BootUp, a startup accelerator at the same address.

The decision was made after "talks with our neighbors and the city of Menlo Park," he wrote in an email to the Almanac on May 16. "We want to further our relationships with the residents that are adjacent to our communities and help build further understanding of what BootUp and Cuckoo's Nest stand for over the next few months."

Worries that events at the club will make too much noise, that the alcohol license could lead to excessive drinking by the club's visitors, and that parking during events could crowd neighboring roads have been expressed loudly and clearly by neighbors in Menlo Park and Palo Alto. Complaints from the minor to the more substantial have emerged.

On April 24, the operators of the Cuckoo's Nest hosted a neighborhood barbecue and invited local residents. In the days following, some residents complained of excessive barbecue smoke.

Representatives of the Cuckoo's Nest said that they would use the nearby parking lot of 66 Willow Place, occupied by Stanford Health Care Planning Design & Construction, for overflow event parking.

However, according to Courtney Lodato, a public relations manager there, Stanford has no intention of providing parking for the club's events.

So what is this Cuckoo's Nest, and what threat does it pose?

Despite the intrigue of its Ken-Kesey-meets-Peter-Pan name, the Cuckoo's Nest appears to be a far less exotic private social club and event space designed for entrepreneurs. According to its founders, Agarwal and Marco ten Vaanholt, they intend for the club to connote something more along the lines of a Rotary Club than a nightclub. Prospective club members can be nominated or can submit applications to join.

Membership doesn't come cheap. The standard annual cost of a membership is $3,000 for people who live in Silicon Valley and $1,500 for people who live more than 100 miles away. People under 30 years old can join for $1,250.

Neighborhood resident Nancy Wagner said she'd like to see the club open to the neighborhood more often. She said she often walks by, sees events going on and thinks they "(look) kind of fun."

Members can dine, entertain guests and attend events at the Cuckoo's Nest. The location itself is a large room with a dining area, a bar and a low-lying stage area with chairs. People who are members can also use conference room spaces.

Events hosted there, usually in the evenings, are often talks about entrepreneurship, but can range in content, said the club's manager, or "commodore" John Williams. Music events are rare, he said, but do happen sometimes.

More likely, he said, events will be something like the club's "Pitch and Mingle Fridays," where startup founders practice pitching their companies and participate in networking. Other recent events were a lecture on linguistics for alumni of the University of California, Santa Cruz, and an olive oil tasting and education session.

Meals are served at the club at specific times between 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. Events at the club would likely run 6-9 p.m. for cocktail receptions or startup presentations and 6-10 p.m. for other evening events or dinners.

The liquor license, Agarwal said, was being sought for financial reasons, so the club could be self-sustaining. The room has been operating as an event space for about two years, he said, and the club has held more than 100 events with little incident. Alcohol served at those events has been covered by corporate sponsors.

The club is partly an extension of BootUp, a startup incubator that bills itself as fostering an "ecosystem" to help early tech businesses, Agarwal said. BootUp, which shares the building with the Cuckoo's Nest, has roughly 50 startups working in its office spaces.

The Cuckoo's Nest began as an idea to create a location for young startups and their founders to more effectively woo potential investors. Bringing in investors to look at fledgling companies is one part of BootUp's work to consolidate the needs of startups in one place, said BootUp co-founder Vaanholt.

Agarwal added that some investors are wearying of the grungy, "MIT basement" atmosphere of some startups. Having a location to meet that is private and relatively classy can help.

Elena Smirnov-Otis, who is a member of the club and works in financial planning, said she uses the location to host meetings with her clients because it offers a different atmosphere and more privacy than other local meeting places, such as Starbucks or the Rosewood Sand Hill hotel.

Geoff Seyon, also a member of the club and a tenant of the BootUp office space, said that attending events at the Cuckoo's Nest has helped him connect with people who could help him with his startup, he said.

In the future, Williams said, membership is planned to represent an equal ratio of women and men. Yet right now, with 300 members enrolled out of the potential 1,200 members, the ratio is about 35 percent women and 65 percent men, he said.

Vaanholt said the club would give a 50 percent discount on membership to neighbors. The club could host more open events, like barbecues, for neighbors twice a year, Agarwal added.

Go to the Cuckoo's Nest website for more information.

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1 person likes this
Posted by the_punnisher
a resident of Mountain View
on May 16, 2016 at 8:27 pm

the_punnisher is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

30 people like this
Posted by Relieved
a resident of Downtown North
on May 17, 2016 at 9:13 am

[Post removed.]

22 people like this
Posted by Mac
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 17, 2016 at 9:53 am

Disappointing the Menlo city council is even considering this. Disappointing this issue has come this far. Should have been rejected right away. [Portion removed.]

36 people like this
Posted by REJECT IT!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 17, 2016 at 10:22 am

Why is it even still being considered?! Obviously the neighbors do not want it, and it is a complete mismatch in a quiet neighborhood.
Horrible idea that should have been squashed at the start.

18 people like this
Posted by Watch Them Now
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 17, 2016 at 4:42 pm

[Post removed.]

8 people like this
Posted by Neilson Buchanan
a resident of Downtown North
on May 17, 2016 at 8:36 pm

This is a relatively simple issue. What is the zoning for commercial property adjacent to prime residential properties? Menlo Park residents and voters can express their opinion, then Menlo Park City Staff and elected official can legislate the best solution for residents and landlords. The proposed use is not simple office with occasional beer bust; it is a restaurant/bar/multi-purpose event venue disguised as a private club. IF any property zoned for "office" can unilaterally transform itself into 7am-10pm 7-day a week multi-purpose venue, then city government must transform itself to manage the impact traffic, parking, noise, etc.

27 people like this
Posted by michael griffin
a resident of Downtown North
on May 17, 2016 at 10:55 pm

Hard to believe City of Menlo Pk would EVEN CONSIDER granting a Conditional Use permit to anyone wanting to open a bar/restaurant in a residential neighborhood. C'mon people! This is just nuts. If they want to have a bar, go on over to the Oasis or some other established joint in Menlo that already has a license. LEAVE US ALONE!

25 people like this
Posted by C'mon, protect the neighborhood
a resident of Menlo Park
on May 18, 2016 at 7:08 am

Entitled people will say "Oh I know there's a law, but surely we can get around it. It shouldn't pertain to us because, well, we're us" The behind the scenes maneuvering is now in progress. Very poor form on the part of these people in attempting to force this down the throat of a well established residential neighborhood. The residents deserve much better than this.

31 people like this
Posted by Annoyed
a resident of Downtown North
on May 18, 2016 at 8:01 am

So why are billionaire "geniuses" allowed to ignore the law? Change the rules?

These same billionaire "geniuses" are keeping children awake with their smoky, choking BBQ's, LOUD live music, VERY LOUD live comedians telling endless dirty jokes--all in a quite residential neighborhood with children who must go to bed early because this is in the middle of the week!!!

Since the billionaire geniuses are most likely lowering our property values and making our homes un sellable because they have given our neighborhoods a bad reputation for mid-week noise, perhaps they would condescend to buy us out of our homes, so we can move to another, QUIETER neighborhood???

BTW, don't these billionaire geniuses have to go to work on weekday mornings? Or are they so ADHD that they don't need to sleep???

Like this comment
Posted by Hulkamania
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 18, 2016 at 9:33 am

The building was the district headquarters for Pacific Telephone. In keeping with tradition the liquor license should be granted so the building will continue to be full of drunks.

13 people like this
Posted by Mental Floss
a resident of Menlo Park
on May 18, 2016 at 10:20 am

If these people need a party house, but one up in the hills and have at it. Do NOT ruin a wonderful residential neighborhood. The parents did not buy into that area to have their kids kept awake all night with amplified music and comedy night club acts, and now they want to fuel things with booze?!?!
And this hasn't been rejected because why?????

11 people like this
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of Menlo Park
on May 18, 2016 at 11:18 am

This just gets better and better. Why can't they accept that the place they want to make party central, sorry, I mean "Event" central, is woefully misfitting to this great family neighborhood?

4 people like this
Posted by Opposed
a resident of Menlo Park
on May 18, 2016 at 2:54 pm

I could see a once per year thing like Sunset used to do, but that's it! There's no reason to allow these people to trample on the others desire to not have a party house on their street.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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