Menlo Park: Cuckoo's Nest liquor license application on hold


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 Cuckoos 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, Mr. 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 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 UC 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 from 6 to 9 p.m. for cocktail receptions or startup presentations and from 6 to 10 p.m. for other evening events or dinners.

The liquor license, said Mr. Agarwal, 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, Mr. 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 Marco ten Vaanholt. Mr. 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 down the hall, 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, Mr. 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.

Mr. ten 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, Mr. Agarwal said.

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

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10 people like this
Posted by Crazy
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on May 16, 2016 at 2:00 pm

After learning more about the Cukoo's nest and the amount of events they plan to hold there (their web page states that it's available for private rentals) it just seems like a crazy idea to allow this club to continue to function in a residential neighborhood. The noise factors alone have not been addressed, nor have the parking issues. The operators seems squirrelly and dishonest. The fact that they've been hosting parties and renting out the space for the past couple of years and skirting the permit process seems reason enough for the City to deny them a permit. I'm sure the operators can find a more suitable location for their 'nest.

9 people like this
Posted by our town
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on May 16, 2016 at 5:42 pm

our town is a registered user.

Seems as though they are diluting their brand by allow the riffraff from Linfield Oaks and downtown north Palo Alto to join the exclusive club!

The story overlooks the fact that the a C1-zoned business has been illegally operating a club for the last 18 months or so, hosting events that have disturbed hundreds of neighbors. And that even without a liquor license, as a private club they can serve alcohol, just not sell it. Here's what else they have to offer, according to their website:

"...Regional Wine Tastings and special presentations from fashion to food, from craft beer tastings to the Arts, peppered with live music to book signings."

It's not a "threat," but for many good reasons, a private club with evening events does not belong in a residential neighborhood. The city has received over 100 complaints from neighbors in both Palo Alto and Menlo Park. Why even entertain this application? It's not a permitted use, and the city can and should say no.

Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 16, 2016 at 6:40 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

Seems strange that a business has been operating in a "residentialy zoned area" for all this time. Is this a case of residential zoning being adjacent to residential zoning or an actual violation of our zoning ordinance?

2 people like this
Posted by really?
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 16, 2016 at 9:44 pm

Goodbye Cookoo's Nest, nice knowing you, should have had a drink together while you were here......

Time for the steel-toed construction boot of our Planning Department to start kicking.

Like this comment
Posted by Bill
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on May 18, 2016 at 10:21 pm

I think people are overlooking the fact that there are numerous businesses in this area including the willows market which hosts outdoor events, music, food trucks, etc. I think the city of Menlo Park should set a precedent that our city is startup and business friendly. Interfering with a private business that is bringing lots of startups and employment opportunities to our community is anti-American and not very smart. More business, more employment = more revenue for the city = more services for our residents.

10 people like this
Posted by our town
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on May 18, 2016 at 11:09 pm

* They are not in compliance with city zoning.
* [part removed.]
* They seem to think they can ignore the rules.

I fail to see the connection between operating a private gentleman's club and bringing jobs to our city. As for "anti-American" -- we still live in a society that respects individual rights. Why should a private club be given carte blanche to violate those?

Menlo Park is home to many startups, but this is the only one that doesn't seem to know how to behave properly. Maybe they need to get in line instead of expecting the rules to change for them.

Like this comment
Posted by Our town
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jul 9, 2016 at 11:10 am

[Post removed; don't make claims of illegal activity without evidence; please email if you have evidence.]

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

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