Landmark could have been “Belly Up North” instead of a Sun Diego.
Plans to create a 400-capacity venue in Carlsbad that would have hosted major-name artists have been derailed by “the Walmart of surf shops.”
A group of Carlsbad businessmen, including owners of the Boar Cross’n and Mas Fina Cantina nightspots, banded together to buy the business, liquor license, and lease of the Ocean House restaurant and bar that has been housed in the three-story Victorian-style Carlsbad landmark on Highway 101 for nine years. Built in 1887 as the home to Carlsbad founder Gerhard Scutte, it was a restaurant known as the Twin Inns from 1919 until 1985. The plans for the new restaurant and bar, Nineteen Nineteen, would use the 6500-square-foot round ballroom for live shows and special events.
A deposit was in escrow. The state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control posted a transfer of license intention from Ocean House to Nineteen Nineteen.
But then, according to John Wantz, who put the deal together, the landlord reneged on the agreement when mega surf shop and clothing outlet Sun Diego offered to pay more in rent. “We wanted it to be the Belly Up North. A live venue like this would make the center of Carlsbad pop.... I see [a Sun Diego] having a huge negative impact on all the independent surf shops and apparel stores in the area. A cheesy surf shop shouldn’t be in that historic building.”
There are at least six Carlsbad surf shops in the immediate vicinity, including Witt Rowlett’s Carlsbad Pipelines right across the street. “I would be surprised if [Sun Diego] would be able to come in,” says Rowlett. “That place is a landmark. It has always been used as a restaurant.”
An insider who did not want to be identified says that Sun Diego will be paying about $29,000 in monthly rent, while Nineteen Nineteen had agreed to $22,000.
Two calls to Sun Diego spokesman Pete Censoplano were not returned.
Since the deal was called off two weeks ago, Wantz says the landlord, Santa Barbara–based Sima Management Corp., has stopped talking to all of the Nineteen Nineteen principals. Sima property manager Adam Geeb told the Reader that he cannot talk about new tenants until a final deal is signed. “Nothing is official yet.”
A restaurant manager, Wantz ran for Carlsbad City Council in 2010. He says the group will continue looking for a site to open their venue. “Their search hasn’t stopped. And I’m doing everything in my power to start a grass-roots effort to fight Sun Diego in this building. I think we’ll get some community pressure going. This is not a good thing for our community.”
Wantz says although he believes Sima negotiated in bad faith, a lawsuit against the landlord is not being pursued. “But I can’t speak for the Ocean House. They are the ones who lost a lot money.”
The Ocean House closed three months ago following internal water damage and did not reopen.
A call to Ocean House owner Martin Blair was not returned.