A Virginia Square lounge and restaurant may have a permit renewed at tomorrow’s Arlington County Board meeting despite outstanding code violations.
Darna Lounge was closed in February due to “numerous violations of the Building, Fire, Zoning and Environmental Health codes, affecting the health, safety and welfare of the public.” The structure was deemed unfit for habitation but has since reopened.
According to a county report, most of the violations have been corrected and the applicant is “diligently pursuing resolution of the outstanding issues.” But some still remain, per a county staff report.
The establishment was allowed to reopen after correcting the major violations that were identified during the coordinated inspection. The applicant was granted an extension to April 1, 2018 to come into full compliance. A building permit to correct the outstanding violations was submitted on March 12, 2018, for the purpose of addressing unapproved alterations to the building. However, the applicant was not able to meet the April 1, 2018 deadline. The Inspection Services Division (ISD) has provided comments to the applicant that require revisions to the drawings associated with the building permit. The applicant is in the process of addressing the comments and resubmitting the revised drawings.
Despite the building concerns, the County Manager’s office is recommending that the Board approve a renewal of Darna’s live entertainment and dancing permit, with an administrative review in three months.
“Staff finds that at this time the applicant is reasonably working to resolve the outstanding violations, which are not deemed to be of a life, health or safety concern,” the report said, “Therefore, staff recommends renewal of the subject use permit with a three (3) month County Board review (July 2018).”
Staff also notes that police reported no recent issues with the business and that Darna reps “attended the Arlington Restaurant Initiative training on April 7, 2018 conducted by ACPD officers.”
The lounge recently gained some national notoriety as the location where Cleveland Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson was caught on camera cheating on his pregnant, reality TV star girlfriend, Khloe Kardashian.
Darna, at 946 N. Jackson Street, opened back in 2012.
(Updated) The Arlington County Board revoked the live entertainment permit for Pines of Italy (3111 Columbia Pike) last night, siding with dismayed neighbors over outraged management.
Pines of Italy General Manager Darlene Wilcher calmly presented the case for a permit renewal. After the board’s unanimous vote against the restaurant, a woman can be heard going up to the live microphone in the board room and calling County Board members “c–ksuckers.”
Wilcher, who said she took over as manager in October, had earlier asked to speak again during the Board’s discussion.
“Can I just say one thing?” she asked while Board Chair Jay Fisette was speaking.
“No, I’m sorry, the discussion is with the Board,” Fisette responded, before telling Wilcher, an Arlington native, “I do want to compliment you personally because you appear to be someone with great possibility, you present yourself very well.”
Less than two minutes later, the Board voted and the expletive was hurled before leaving the room.
The decision to revoke the permit came after neighborhood controversy in 2012 over fights outside the restaurant/hookah bar/nightclub and multiple deferrals by the Board to approve a live entertainment permit, which it finally did in March 2013. Restaurant owner Jorge Escobar — who has owned the building and business since it was called Coco’s Casa Mia a decade earlier — and his management group had vowed to reach out to the community and to put a stop to the health and Alcoholic Beverage Control Board violations that had been repeatedly reported.
“That meeting was one of my high points 9 months ago because I felt so good about it,” Board Member Libby Garvey said. “Where we are now, I find myself thinking about the classic abusive relationship. Things are really awful, and then you say ‘oh no I’m going to be better now,’ but look at this list [of violations since March]… We’ve got to stop this.”
Since the permit was approved in March, the Arlington County Police Department has reported six calls for service at the restaurant, including “use of the premise for residential purposes” and serving alcohol when the kitchen was closed. According to county staff, it was the second such occurrence since 2011 of an individual appearing to be living in the space.
Five residents of Arlington Heights, some of whom live down the street from the business, asked the Board to revoke the license, citing broken promises in the past from the management to do things differently.
“It’s been a bane in the neighborhood for many years,” resident Scott Winn said. “We’ve had new management, new agreements, new promises and I think it’s time once and for all that we cut the problem to the quick and that the live entertainment license is revoked.”
Wilcher, in her presentation, said since she has taken over the operations, all the code violations and issues with the use permit agreement have been fixed.
“In those months, we have done better,” she said. “We have fixed all of our violations and have no issues with anyone.”
Escobar wasn’t present yesterday during the meeting. He had previously attended meetings on the issue and, in April 2012, his attorney “promised the board that the three partners of this establishment are interested in starting anew.”
Without music, DJs and dancing — all of which will be prohibited without the permit — the nightlife-oriented business faces long odds of survival.
“The main protagonist of this drama is still the owner of the property,” Fisette said. “This doesn’t happen very often, but time’s up. The words that come back to me are fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on you. But fool me thrice, shame on me, and that’s where we are.”
Update at 12:55 p.m. — The video of Fisette’s comments and the restaurant manager’s outburst can be found below. It’s not safe for work.
County staff researching the permit request had recommended the issue be deferred until the board’s September 15 meeting. That recommendation — which was approved by a unanimous vote of the Board — is supposed to give the owner time to convince the community there would not be violence or disruptive incidents like those that previously occurred on the property. Police and neighbors have expressed opposition to approving the permit.
Seven residents who live nearby showed up at the meeting to enumerate the reasons they oppose the permit. In addition to the noise, loitering and public drunkenness that all reported witnessing, a major concern is safety. Nearly all of the speakers had reported calling the police after witnessing brutal fights between club goers, some of which spill into the neighborhood.
“I’m afraid for my safety, I don’t know what’s going to come out of one of these fights,” said Melanie Myers. “I can’t even sit out in my backyard.”
It was noted that the establishment is at the end of a residential street and has a significant impact on people’s lives.
“It’s unsettling and it’s not fair,” said Amy Pasion. “It’s a residential area and we shouldn’t have to deal with this.”
Like other speakers, Pasion stated she didn’t mind the restaurant or hookah bar inside the building, but a club is too disruptive and dangerous.
Part of the controversy is the involvement of Jorge Escobar, who is currently named as the landlord. He has been involved with the property in various capacities for more than a decade, sometimes as a manager of the club.
“We’ve suffered for many years as a result of this specific location and business,” said Aristia Glinka. “And the people that are applying for this permit are linked to the problems that we’ve been having over the years.”
Escobar’s attorney testified at the meeting and promised the board that the three partners of this establishment are interested in starting anew. He expressed Escobar’s interest in working with people living in the neighborhood. However, residents claim attempts to work with him before have been unfruitful.
Officers from Falls Church and from Arlington and Fairfax counties swarmed the parking lot after the call, which came in around 12:30 AM. Responding officers disbursed a crowd of several hundred people, according to Maj. Mary Gavin of the Falls Church Police Department.
An officer was assaulted during the scuffle and suffered minor injuries, but did not require hospitalization, Maj. Gavin said. There were no arrests.