The Long Beach City Council on Tuesday reaffirmed its denial of a business license for JP23, a Downtown bar that it blocked from operating last year after officials said it repeatedly violated city rules by hosting parties and opening without required permits.
The council voted in August to overturn a hearing officer’s determination that the bar should be granted a business license, but the business filed an appeal, and a Los Angeles Superior Court judge found the council would have to vote again and “provide an analytical bridge” for its decision to deny the permit.
JP23’s primary location is in Fullerton, and the bar sought to open a second location at the corner of Pine Avenue and Broadway in Long Beach, above the 7/11 where the old Cohiba nightclub had been shuttered for years.
City officials said that JP23 opened without a business permit in September 2021 and continued to break city rules—even after being granted a temporary business license—by hosting live events and parties, something it needed an entertainment permit to do.
Notably, the bar advertised a Super Bowl party with performances from Busta Rhymes, Nelly and T-Pain while still seeking its permanent business license and still not having an entrainment permit. The city says the bar went through with hosting those events despite being told it would be a violation.
The alleged violations weren’t the first time JP23 found itself in hot water. Weeks before JP23 was set to open in Long Beach, its Fullerton location was rocked by allegations that a woman was drugged at the bar and raped, something that was followed by protests outside the bar that received regional media coverage.
The bar’s owner, Jacob Poozikhala, blamed the events in Fullerton for Long Beach’s decision to not issue his business permit.
“I wouldn’t have violations if I had a business license,” Poozikhala said in August. “This was on purpose; this was a setup because of what happened in Fullerton.”
Poozikhala began renovating the space in 2019, but construction delays and COVID-19 paused the opening of the space that he says he invested $3 million into before its grand opening.
The bar faced pressure from community groups and residents, who seized on the headlines generated by the Fullerton location and called for the City Council to block its permits from being issued last year.
Despite the City Council reaffirming that decision Tuesday night, a new petition has begun to circulate, this time calling on the city to block any new business operator associated with Poozikhala from assuming the lease. The petition cites an advertisement for a weekly “Club Tropix” event beginning May 28 that is scheduled to be held at the JP23 location in Downtown Long Beach. Poozikhala, though, denied he’s hosting the event, adding that the advertisement is fake and was put up by an opponent.
Last month, the Fullerton City Council discussed the bar’s future in its city, which is currently closed as it undergoes renovations.
An April 18 Fullerton city memo said that Poozikhala notified the city that he was transferring ownership of the Fullerton location in October, after months of continued violation of city rules that its City Council adopted in February regarding live music and operating hours.
Fullerton officials said that after meeting with the buyer, Luke Pathiyil, they were able to verify that he was Poozikhala’s cousin and had no experience running a restaurant or bar, but had agreed to sublease the property from him with a purchase price of $0.
“It was very clear to all of us in the room with Mr. Pathiyil that he was nothing more than a ‘straw man’ put up by Jacob Poozikhala to avoid his responsibility and that Mr. Pathiyil was not a bonafide purchaser,” the memo said.
During the April 18 meeting, Fullerton council members showed reluctance for issuing a new entertainment permit to Pathiyil once the location reopens.
Fullerton Mayor Fred Jung pointed to the ongoing violations before the ownership change was announced and said he would not support giving the bar a path forward for a new entertainment permit.
“Now he’s transferring it to a family member and stating, I suppose, unequivocally, that he’ll have nothing to do with this restaurant,” Jung said in April. “I find that hard to believe.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that Jacob Poozikhala denied that he plans to host a weekly “Club Tropix” event at the Long Beach location.