Menlo Park: Neighborhood feathers ruffling over Cuckoo's Nest club

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

Menlo Park and Palo Alto residents living near San Francisquito Creek say a proposed bar at an private 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' Affairs Hospital), according to the Cuckoo's Nest website.

The company bills Cuckoo's Nest 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. The company 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, Mr. 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 people, 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 to 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.

Mr.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 Ms. 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.

Mr. 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 contacted residents and businesses within 500 feet of the facility, but city staff told the company it was not necessary to contact Palo Alto residents, Mr. ten Vaanholt said. But after Palo Altans wrote letters of concern, the company scheduled a barbecue on Sunday, April 24, from 3 to 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 a public hearing before the Planning Commission prior to any decision on the application.

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3 people like this
Posted by LSD
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Apr 22, 2016 at 9:56 am

Most people would laugh at the name "Cuckoo's Nest" and its link to LSD. But if they only knew what goes on inside this private club. Remember, Jobs was very public about his LSD use.

16 people like this
Posted by pull that ladder up!!!
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Apr 22, 2016 at 11:05 am

Let's see: they've been serving booze and food for two years already. No problems ('cept the trespassers.)

So some otherwise pro-growth MPer's don't want it in their...

(wait for it)


Or is this just a stalking horse for the fight over the Sunset property next door? Shoot early. Shoot often. ('xcuse the mixed metaphors...)

Like this comment
Posted by Beth
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 22, 2016 at 12:30 pm

The person who thinks he's paying homage to Ken Kesey knows nothing about Kesey's gifts and values promoted in the 1960-70s. What a travesty, to borrow from another for whom you know not the worth.

Ride someone else's coattails.

26 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Apr 22, 2016 at 12:43 pm

They have only operated during the day. Not in the evenings. Not every day. A much-less intrusive request from Sunset was denied a few years ago.

It is a private club on a relatively quiet street in a residential neighborhood adjacent to a busy pedestrian/bike bridge. The Palo Alto neighbors, who have been largely ignored in this process, can hear the noise. With the club expanding its hours to 10 pm, kids and early risers will be unable to get to sleep. This is not an airplane flying 10,000 feet above homes. This is a private club with live music and a liquor license 250 feet from residences.

If you are posting on this thread, chances are you would not be welcome in this club. You don't fit their demographic.

If you are in favor of this club, ask yourself if you would feel the same if it were a private social club open only to Belle Haven residents. Let me guess: you'd be outraged.

20 people like this
Posted by really?
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 22, 2016 at 1:24 pm

What's the zoning for that site? I think it's C-1 which is not for 'private clubs.' How are they being allowed to operate at all?

Like this comment
Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 22, 2016 at 1:42 pm

It's nice to see that the headline writer has a sense of humor.

7 people like this
Posted by Bob E
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Apr 22, 2016 at 2:28 pm

Amusing to see PA residents complaining about development in Menlo Park. Do they live on the same blocks that recently limited parking to force Stanford Mall employees to park and drive across the creek in Menlo Park?

14 people like this
Posted by liquor?
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Apr 22, 2016 at 5:04 pm

Isn't a liquor license required in order to sell alcohol, as the article suggests is the plan?
There are some guidelines about that, and it seems only fair that the area of concern include neighbors who would be affected regardless of their city.

7 people like this
Posted by Liquor!!!
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Apr 22, 2016 at 5:20 pm

Willow's market sells alcohol - they're even hosting a vodka tasting event next weekend. Granted, it's open to everyone and this new venture in the neighborhood is exclusive. I would love to see some more restaurants and bars open up - there used to be one on Middlefield and nobody complained. Cafe Zoe just received a permit to sell booze and stay open later - in a residential neighborhood and everyone seems excited to have a local place to stop in and grab a beer or a glass of wine locally. What seems to chafe the neighbors is that this operation on Willow Rd has been in operation for a couple of years and ironically hardly anyone even heard about it. So long as they keep the noise down, what's the big deal?

27 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Apr 22, 2016 at 5:59 pm

Willows Market is a grocery, and grocery stores sell alcohol. Anyone can shop there. Anyone can go have coffee or a beer at Cafe Zoe.

Note that both the above are in differently-zoned areas. Cuckoo is zoned for office. They are not permitted to do operate a club, any more than you could open a private club in your home. And if you held loud and noisy parties every night, your neighbors would complain, whether or not you were charging money.

But the fact that they have been operating without a permit for years is not my main issue. Rather, it's that the neighborhood is being asked to bear all the costs -- the traffic, the noise, the inebriated drivers -- and yet will not get any of the benefits. If Cuckoo wanted to operate a neighborhood gathering place, the reception would probably be much different.

18 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Apr 22, 2016 at 6:29 pm

Having been to this club once by invitation, I would recommend that they find a place that they can redesign to be an aesthetically true club, with dark oak paneling, darkened rooms and quiet tables and art on the walls.

After 20 years in the high-technology business, the most distressing part was the absence of connection with anything resembling tradition. From the nerf ball fights to foosball to evangelists on the payroll to video games at 3 in the morning. I can't recall being associated with a more pathetic collection of non-serious people heedlessly and dramatically disrupting the lives and employment of ordinary people they did not know, had no interest in knowing and with whom they would not have been able to spend any meaningful time anyway, had they had the opportunity.

If Silicon Valley has so much money lying around, and if the high-tech community has matured to the point at which an exclusive club seems appropriate, it should be a real club, not this half-baked repurposing of an office in a residential neighborhood, a space that could be easily used for something else. That's not a serious attempt at a legacy and a vision and a meaningful gathering place -- unless you find meaning in nerf fights and foosball at the office.

Like this comment
Posted by Liquor!!!
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Apr 22, 2016 at 8:33 pm

Joe, are you saying the Cukoo's event went till 3 am? has there not previously been a 'closing' time of 11 pm as is stated on the permit application? How was the Kool Aid?

19 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Apr 23, 2016 at 4:53 pm

Liquor!!! - No, I'm not saying that the Cuckoo's Nest was open until 3 a.m.

I was referring to a Silicon Valley engineering culture -- a mindset that permeates this place -- that had employees essentially living at their workplaces and liking it, being paid to be disruptive without any having appreciation of or concern with what they were disrupting, creating products that displaced people and helped ruin economies between the coasts. It was shameful and ugly I was a part of it.

This culture or mindset trying to find legitimacy with what I consider to be a two-bit members-only club is just more of the same. It's not surprising, just disappointing. They've helped to hollow out the middle class, which is nothing to be proud of. Come to think of it, that club, with its second-rate configuration and mediocre vision, is a perfect statement of what Silicon Valley is about.

I don't get the name at all. Ken Kesey's book had nothing to do with technological innovation or sanctuaries for nerdy types. It's probably off putting to neighbors because it's meaningless and vaguely disquieting and out of place, all at the same time. Quite an achievement.

32 people like this
Posted by Martini
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Apr 24, 2016 at 9:53 am

To the best of my recollection the Cuckoo's nest was on Pope Street. According to my friend Ken, who used to live in Menlo Park on Perry Lane, the group morphed into the Merry Pranksters. The VW bus is long gone and has been replaced by a Toyota Prius. Another friend, Harold Fine was a frequent visitor at the Cuckoo's Nest. He and his girlfriend Nancy would bring treats whenever they visited there.

Like this comment
Posted by Liquor!!!
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Apr 25, 2016 at 8:12 am

Thanks, Joe.

Web Link

4 people like this
Posted by Liquor!!!
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Apr 26, 2016 at 4:27 pm

..and Free Parking?!


>>Thank you so much for stopping by the Cuckoos Nest BBQ 1m ago
Marco ten Vaanholt from Linfield Oaks
Dear community,

Thanks to many of you that came to our BBQ on Sunday. It was good to see over a 100 people that came during the afternoon. Many of your were interested as well as concerned and we hope we addressed most points that were raised. We want to go over this in writing one more time so you can share it with your friends and neighbors. We would love for you to show your continued support and send a note to Kyle Peralta who is the city planner that is working with

1. Naming : The Cuckoos Nest and BootUp are one and the same organization - We have been in business for almost 2 years at 68 Willow and have had many high end private events. During those events we have served alcohol with temporary licenses as is allowed by law. Our application for a permanent license is more one that it is an economic decision by our management team to make sure we can remain in business with rising rents and costs of employees. We currently employ over 20 people and have been a social contributor to Menlo Park and Palo Alto since we started, with many non profit events as part of our event approach.

2. Dialogue. Until our application became public we had not heard any issues and there have been almost no incidents to our knowledge that were brought to our attention. However we feel strongly that since we are a part of the neighborhood that we would like to have a continuous constructive dialogue with our neighbors. As such we propose that each area adjacent of our area will have a designated spokes person that can contact us directly if any future issues might arise. Additionally we would like to propose a yearly or twice yearly neighborhood party where we offer our backyard and Cuckoos Nest to host that party for all of our Linfield Oaks, Willow and Palo Alto neighbors. Last but not least we continue to be a listening ear on the nextdoor neighborhoods to see if any issues might arise that we should be aware of.

1. Noise concerns - Our business is normally opened only during the day from 9 am to 6 pm except for events that might run till normally 9pm. There will be no amplified music on patio at all times and all small private music events will be held with closed doors so our neighbors can have a peaceful evening. We will have people on the patio talking like any other networking event we have had over the past few years.

2. Parking concerns - We have had many events and we use our parking lot with 80 parking spots as well as parking next door with Stanford Medical, and Sunset's parking lot for overflow parking. Many of our events are small Ted like talk and kept to under 50 people. Only larger events that occur sporadically happen to have more parking needed. We also encourage our neighbors
to be able to park on our lot in case they have visitors and need overnight parking.

3. Alcohol concerns - As mentioned before we have had and will continue events with temporary licenses for the time being and our audience is not a young rowdy, drink yourself silly crowd. These are professionals with a reputation to protect. Our license is focused only on private club members and we are not an open bar at ANY time. Our staff is trained to work with people that might drink too much and are instructed to cut it off and call them a taxi in case that happens. In our last 100 events we have had zero incidents and also because we are so close to MP police station people know drinking and driving is a bet they should not make.

We know we will alway have people that don't want any change and understand there will be always opposition. We were encouraged that 90% of the people after we talked to them, were supportive of our efforts to change the world and pay it forward. Our business focuses on building global highways for entrepreneurs and influencers and we will continue to host delegations like the prince of Luxembourg, the Secretary of the US Airforce, or the IT minister of India. We invite some of your to join us in this journey and become a member to the club, as well as continue a dialogue with our community

Marco, Mukul and John
Shared with Linfield Oaks in General

18 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Apr 27, 2016 at 12:56 pm

Many people in the neighborhood are not on Next Door so missed the above post, which was not "shared with Linfield Oaks in general."

They are misrepresenting the situation.

"Until our application became public we had not heard any issues..."

Not true. The only reason they are submitting an application now is that the neighbors became aware of the club and notified the city. The owners knew about this at the time and even offered to meet with neighbors last fall. They had not applied for a Use Permit, so had been operating with disregard for the law for over a year.

Private clubs do not belong in quiet residential neighborhoods. Or really in any residential neighborhood. They want to compare themselves to The Battery? Web Link Fine! Locate in a non-residential area.

Or, let's go ahead and open the door to allowing commercial offices to host whatever events they deem economically essential.

2 people like this
Posted by Liquor!!!
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Apr 27, 2016 at 1:56 pm

Hi Neighbor. I tend to agree with your comments. To be fair though, it's not like Cuckoo's nest tried to keep their private club a secret - see the link from 2 years ago in Their late PR campaign now to woo the neighbors is late and lame. I doubt the City is going to deny them a permit though. I also doubt that the club will be a lasting venture, at least in that location. There are way bigger noise and traffic issues that need to be addressed in Linfield Oaks.

13 people like this
Posted by really?
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 27, 2016 at 2:22 pm

Their argument seems to be 'We're really cool so you should bend your zoning laws to suit our business.'


8 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Apr 27, 2016 at 5:03 pm

Here's a video they posted in the summer of 2014.Web Link

Nothing about a private club in there! Nor did the 2014 Fortune and other articles mention the neighborhood where Cuckoo's Nest would be located, much less the street address.

Cuckoo's current stance seems to be that they want to able to serve alcohol to people attending office meetings. No big deal, right...other than the club sharing a driveway with a heavily-used bike/pedestrian bridge. Conversely, their website, until it was recently sanitized, stated that their facility was available for rent every day as an event center -- alcohol, live music, outdoor space for up to 200 people. Their application indicates that this is still the plan, except they no longer will rent out the facility on weekends, and will close the doors at 10 pm.

Meanwhile, their attempts to buy off the neighbors with occasional barbecues and meetings seem both disingenuous and misguided. I hope the city will follow the precedent established with Allied Arts (minus the lawsuit) and Sunset and let BootUp know this is not an acceptable use for a commercial property in a residential neighborhood.

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

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