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Lounge Axe 

Potrero Hill gives new meaning to the term "DJ battle"

Wednesday, Feb 5 2003
Two turntables and a misdemeanor How many cops does it take to bust a move? Five, apparently -- the same number that showed up on Jan. 25 at the Lingba Lounge to slap the bar's owner, Cody Robertson, with a misdemeanor charge and cart away his turntables (no word on whether the microphone got off with just a warning).

Robertson's troubles started last August, at his Potrero Hill bar/restaurant's one-year anniversary party. According to Robertson, Permit Officer Paul Swiatko showed up, telling him that he'd be shut down if he didn't get his permits in order. The young businessman says he had no idea he needed a Place of Entertainment license to have DJs, but he filed for one immediately after the officer's visit. And when Robertson learned that the powerful Potrero Boosters Neighborhood Association was unhappy with his bar, he attended one of the group's meetings -- only to be told that his customers were urinating in the streets, leaving condoms around, and breaking windows. "People are forgetting that the worst projects in the city are four blocks from here," Robertson says. "This is not Pacific Heights."

But even after Robertson installed a less powerful sound system and passed noise abatement, fire, health, building, and electrical tests in late August, the authorities denied the license. (Numerous calls to the Bayview police were not returned.)

From August to December 2002, Robertson's bar went without DJs. Then he learned of the "Butter exception," the permit end-run that allowed that SOMA club to have DJs as long as they weren't paid. As a result, Robertson started showcasing volunteer DJs in December. The police were none too pleased, and impounded the decks on Jan. 25.

When questioned about the Lingba situation, Boosters President John deCastro refers me to a Jan. 15 letter he sent to the Board of Appeals, which states that "the only issue is noise and neighborhood disruption." Booster Vice President Joe Boss is more forthcoming, although he makes it clear he's speaking only for himself. Boss points out that the group has worked well with other nightspots like Sno-Drift, Il Pirata, and Cafe Cocomo, and that the problem with Robertson is that "he's never opened up a two-way communication."

"That's bullshit," Robertson responds. He says he has acted upon his neighbors' requests: He installed the new sound system, along with outdoor floodlights and a motion detector to address concerns about loitering; changed his recycling and cleaning schedules to cut down on noise and garbage; and says he's willing to put in air conditioning so that the bar's windows can remain closed. "These people don't want any clubs on Potrero Hill," Robertson says. "They can't differentiate between a little lounge with a DJ and 1015 Folsom."

Lingba may face an uphill battle, considering who its neighbors are. At the bar's Board of Appeals hearing last week, former Public Defender Kimiko Burton and current School Board President Emilio Cruz argued vehemently against Lingba's permit. Still, there's a ray of hope for the club. The Board of Appeals refused to pass a judgment because of a chicken-and-egg problem: The police had denied the permit because the Planning Commission ruled against the club, and the planners had voted against the license because of a police discrepancy. Therefore, the appeals board ruled, the commission must re-review the case. If the group finds everything in order, the request goes back to the cops, and then probably back to the board, which, Robertson says, seemed amenable to the club having a permit.

As for the turntables, they couldn't be reached for comment.

Winter wonderland Don't tell Jonathan Lee that the Bay Area doesn't have any real seasons. This past year, his nascent S.F. label, Dreams by Degrees, released a 10-inch EP for each quarter of the year, featuring four different bands. Listeners were treated to Coastal's shimmering Winter, Colophon's burbling Spring, Sappington's Summer-y pluckings, and the fading sunlight of Loquat's Fall. Now, to celebrate the cycle's completion (and get a hint of the upcoming Color Series), Dreams by Degrees holds a label showcase on Friday, Feb. 7, at Cafe Du Nord. Loquat, Sappington, and Colophon will perform, along with DJs Justin, Nyles, and Wes. Tickets are $6; call 861-5016 or go to

About The Author

Dan Strachota


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