New upscale restaurant and lounge planned for Hillcrest
Universal set to open by summer 2007
Published Thursday, 28-Sep-2006 in issue 979
If all goes as planned, the Hillcrest community will see a new upscale establishment opening by summer 2007. EnDev LLC, the firm owned by Demien Farrell, Mitchell Compton and James Brennan, has plans to open an 11,000 square foot, state-of-the-art restaurant and lounge on the corner of University Avenue and Vermont Street. The venue will be called Universal.
The $3 million project will be comprised of three concepts: an upscale restaurant, an outdoor garden lounge and an indoor ultra-chic lounge. The developers’ plans include a sophisticated restaurant area, which will include a grand piano. Dining will be available indoors and outdoors, which will flow into the garden lounge. This outdoor area will include a fire pit and comfortable lounge seating. The indoor lounge area will have more oversized lounge seating, booths and music. According to a press release issued by the developers, “The lounge will include a décor and style yet to be seen in the Hillcrest community.”
A lease has been secured by the project developers for two vacant storefronts at the corner of University and Vermont that previously housed businesses owned by F Street Corporation, The Video Outlet and Sensual Delights. In between those two buildings now sits a vacant alleyway that was previously the Exotic Gardens, which sold a number of plants and garden items. Next to the old Sensual Delights store stands a wireless phone store, the now vacant Marinello School of Beauty and the popular Ono Sushi restaurant. These three storefronts will not be used for the project.
“We had been looking around Hillcrest for about six months and stumbled into that location,” Brennan said. “I am a big advocate for corner locations, and this corner has kind of been a landmark for all of the wrong reasons.” Brennan feels that this is a prime location, especially since the unique design of the building gives them the ability to create the open-air space.
“People live in San Diego for the outdoors, and this will give people a chance to enjoy the outdoors,” Brennan said.
When naming this new project “Universal,” the owners played on the venue’s University Avenue location, but added that “in 2006, we are moving in a direction where people are becoming universally accepted everywhere.” Brennan stated that his company is very aware and supportive of the large GLBT community in Hillcrest and that this population will patronize the venue. “We want to make sure everybody is accepted. Straight, lesbian, bisexual or whatever. Times are changing, and quickly, so we want to build a place where everybody is welcome and comfortable no matter what their preferences.”
While Universal has received support from a number of business people, as well as residents and community members, some opposition does exist. Protests and complaints have been filed with the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control in response to Universal’s application for a liquor license. Brennan thinks some community members who have voiced concern or filed protests against this project may be under the impression Universal is going to be “another Stingaree,” a popular downtown night club, lounge and restaurant owned by Brennan’s group. Brennan hopes to speak with community members and other concerned parties to clarify this project to them. “This project is not a nightclub. This is an upscale, New York-style lounge with an upscale restaurant,” Brennan said.
If Universal’s permits are denied, it is possible that an establishment similar to those that previously occupied the corner of University and Vermont could fill the vacant buildings. According to a press release issued by the Universal project, the broker for the property has confirmed that a signed letter of intent has been accepted for an establishment dealing in the sales of adult books, videos and novelties which will also feature an adult video arcade. “If Brennan’s plans are squashed, the community could be stuck with the same purple eyesore and a similar adult entertainment establishment for years to come,” said the release, referring to the building on the corner of University and Vermont, which housed the Video Outlet, painted bright purple.
Some have questioned whether Hillcrest is ready for an upscale establishment of Universal’s planned scope. Brennan stated that a number of letters have come in supporting the project. “Overwhelmingly, the response has been positive,” Brennan said. “I feel Hillcrest has risen to a new level over the years and needs a few upscale establishments to put it over the top.” Brennan and his team plan to transition into Hillcrest and work with its residents to create a product that the community can be proud of, he said.
If the final plans and permits for this project are approved, construction will begin within the next three months. The owners plan to open the new establishment in early summer 2007.
“We are excited to get down to Hillcrest and set the bar for other establishments to come up to….” Brennan said. “This is an unbelievable project that will transcend nightlife in the area.”