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.