The Cats restaurant faces COVID fines, supplied grownup leisure

This story follows a recent investigation by this news organization into how Bay Area counties use fines to enforce their COVID-19 public health orders. To read the main story, click here. 

The Cats restaurant and bar — a landmark of sorts for Santa Cruz-bound drivers because of its prominent presence along southbound Highway 17 —  has been fined $77,500 for allegedly providing late-night live adult entertainment indoors and violating other COVID-19 public health orders, according to Santa Clara County records.

Documents recently obtained by this news organization reveal that the owners of The Cats breached county zoning and business regulations as well as health orders by offering indoor services and live entertainment, specifically adult entertainment, without a permit from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.

The county’s zoning code defines an “adult entertainment establishment” as one that features “topless or bottomless dancers, strippers, or any entertainers regularly displaying specified anatomical areas for observation by patrons or customers.”

The Cats is located in an unincorporated area at 17533 Santa Cruz Highway near Los Gatos, so it falls under the county’s jurisdiction and laws.

Adult entertainment venues are outlawed in most areas of Santa Clara County and require a permit in the few places where allowed. The Cats is in a zoning district where adult entertainment is prohibited, according to James Stephens of the county’s code enforcement department.

County officials said they received several complaints during the winter about an “unlawful operation” at The Cats. They said they made multiple unsuccessful attempts by phone and email to contact the restaurant and issued a warning letter before eventually visiting the establishment in person.

During a site visit on Jan. 9, county business enforcement officers noted multiple violations of public health orders meant to curb the spread of COVID-19, such as those requiring social distancing, mask-wearing and displayed signs showing allowed capacity.

The enforcement officers also discovered that the restaurant was offering indoor dining and adult entertainment between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., according to the notice of fines issued to the business. Statewide public health orders at that time prohibited both indoor and outdoor dining in Santa Clara County.

Because the business allegedly failed to correct the violations and submit a compliance statement within an allotted 72-hour grace period, fines totaling $77,500 were issued.

“During the inspection, you confirmed to me that your business facility allowed indoor operation and live entertainment (you claimed it was live-streamed and that individuals were not watching it in person) at the Violation Address after 10:00 p.m.,” a code enforcement officer wrote in the notice to The Cats owner Aaron Crites and property owner Mark E. Edwards.

When asked by this news organization to clarify what kind of “live entertainment” was offered, a county spokesperson simply classified it as “adult entertainment.”

Santa Clara County thought fining businesses that broke the rules would help stop COVID. Here’s how it’s going

Efforts to reach The Cats’ restaurant operator and the property owner were unsuccessful Friday. The restaurant has been shuttered for more than a month, and though its website says “Reopening soon,” it does not state when the owners plan to resume dining services.

The owners of The Cats have not yet paid any of the $77,500 in fines, according to records obtained through a public records act request. It was unclear Friday whether they have appealed the fines or enlisted an attorney to help get them reduced.

When asked whether any other form of enforcement was taken against the business, the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office said the county’s code enforcement department was handling the matter.

The Cats Roadhouse was established at its current location in 1896 as a way station for horse-drawn lumber wagons on their way to San Jose, as well as a “rowdy social club for local residents,” according to the restaurant’s website. Over the past century, the establishment has served as a speakeasy, realty office, gun shop and sporting goods store. It was converted back to a restaurant and bar in 1967.

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