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The Woes Of Cafe Van Kleef

After attending the Mayor's Debate and meeting a friend in SF, I visited one of my favorite Oakland places Cafe Van Kleef last night, and seemed to wander into a rather sticky matter. Peter Van Kleef -- the energetic owner of the bar and music place -- had sat down with me to have a cocktail just after calming his wife. It seems they just saw the East Bay Express news, and it was posted in large print at the front entrance of the establishment.

I hope they can work out something. Peter's got a great place and has worked hard to make it a fun venue. If you have a chance, pay a visit to 1621 Telegraph in Downtown Oakland.

Here it is:

The Party's Over?
"Saloon guy" Peter Van Kleef fights for his bar's survival, while "lifelong Democrat" Bill McCammon fights to prove his partisan bona fides.
By Will Harper
Article Published Apr 19, 2006

Justin Page

Take Out: Celeb Cachet — Jerry vs. Rocky

Who / What:
Peter Van Kleef
Bill McCammon
Peter Van Kleef

For nearly three years, Cafe Van Kleef has played a proud role in the hipsterization of uptown Oakland with its funky art and funky jazz performances. Now, the future of the little bar that could is in doubt: Peter Van Kleef says his new landlords have spent the past few months trying to kick him out, citing trumped-up reasons. "I'm so tired of this," he sighs. "I'm a saloon guy and that's all I want to do. I don't really want to deal with this."

"This" all started after a consortium of eight partnerships bought the building at 1621 Telegraph Avenue last fall. Van Kleef says things quickly soured during his initial sit-down with some of the owners. According to Van Kleef, they wanted him to give them his basement and mezzanine space. He was willing to do so only if he could get something in return — like the space next door, so he could expand. Ever since he resisted their demand, Van Kleef says they've been trying to get rid of him.

But that won't be easy: The bar owner has a 25-year lease, which he negotiated with his previous landlord. So, he says, the new landlords began raising dubious allegations showing him to be in violation of that lease. They claimed, for instance, that patrons were smoking inside the bar, which he denies. Last month, they sent him an eviction notice for hosting live-music shows without the cabaret license required from the city. As it turns out, Van Kleef was indeed violating city rules, although the bar owner says that no one made an issue of it until the new owners came along.

One of the owners, Stephen DeJesse, denies that he or his partners have been waging a campaign to get rid of the bar. DeJesse says everyone knew when they bought the building that Van Kleef, with his superlong lease, would come with the package. "He's more of an asset than a detriment to this area," DeJesse allows.

DeJesse says the building owners have been trying to get Van Kleef to address various safety hazards, particularly fire risks like bad electrical wiring that is not up to code. In a March 31 letter to City Administrator Deborah Edgerly, DeJesse expressed concerns that the pub's live shows attract large crowds even though the place has only one exit. DeJesse invoked the specter of the Great White concert in Rhode Island — where a fire killed 100 people — as something that could repeat itself at Cafe Van Kleef.

Ostly questions DeJesse's purported safety concerns, noting that Van Kleef has never been cited by the city for code violations. The lawyer also dismisses any comparisons to the Rhode Island tragedy, which resulted from pyrotechnics fired off at a heavy metal show. The jazz musicians who play at Van Kleef typically don't blow up shit during their performances.

Ostly says the owners have backed off on their last eviction threat. In the meantime, Van Kleef has applied for a cabaret license from the city so he can keep offering live music. Good thing for him that he has friends in high places: Cafe Van Kleef happens to be one of Mayor Jerry Brown's favorite neighborhood watering holes. Last year, for instance, he spontaneously showed up during an Express bash there. Brown's press secretary, Gil Duran, also has been known to stop by for a cocktail once in a while and has clearly taken Van Kleef's side of the landlord-tenant dispute: "They're acting like Peter's stockpiling WMDs or harboring al-Qaeda," he says.
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