By Gary Walker

Surfside revived its historic arcade building as a nightlife destination

The sudden closure of popular Windward Avenue restaurant and bar Surfside Venice comes after state officials temporarily suspended its liquor license following a sting operation that uncovered blatant sales of cocaine, ecstasy and other illegal drugs.

Surfside had been “temporarily” shuttered while its license was suspended from Sept. 5 to Sept. 25; on Sept. 25 the owners of Surfside announced on social media that it would “close its doors for good.”

The California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control launched its investigation of Surfside this summer, when undercover ABC agents visited the bar
on multiple occasions and were able to purchase a variety of illegal narcotics with the apparent knowledge of staff members, said ABC spokesman John Carr.

“ABC conducted an investigation of the site and discovered employees who were knowingly permitting the illegal sale or negotiating the sale of illegal substances on the premises, including cocaine, MDMA and Xanax,” Carr told The Argonaut. “The agents were able to purchase these illegal narcotics in plain view of the business’ employees.”

A statement by the ABC further elaborates that “agents were able to purchase cocaine, MDMA and Xanax at the bar in full view of employees on more than one occasion.”

At least two people have been arrested in connection with drug sales, said Carr, but it was not clear whether those arrested had been employed by the bar. It also remains unclear whether the investigation of Surfside came from a tip or was part of a wider-ranging enforcement effort in the area.

Surfside Venice was operated by Canada-based Samesun Ventures, which also operates the Samesun Venice Beach Backpacker Hostel located above the bar. Surfside opened in 2017 after the closure of Danny’s Venice.

Samesun has now sold Surfside and its license to a partnership that will remodel the location and reopen it as Winston House — an ambitious relaunch of the popular Abbot Kinney Boulevard listening room that’s hosted intimate concerts from both up-and-coming talent and international superstars such as
Billie Eilish, Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber (see Food & Drink, page 17).

Samesun Ventures President Craig Kelley said the sale of Surfside was in the cards before the ABC enforcement action.

“The reality was that we’re a hostel operator, and the restaurant was experiencing rising costs and is seasonal in nature. The ABC was not the reason we decided to seek a different operator — that was in the works,” he said.

Kelley expressed both disappointment about Surfside’s closure and optimism about the new operators.

“We spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on security and millions of dollars in building improvements that included better lighting, better cameras — better overall safety for our guests,” Kelley said. “We took the location and improved it from what it was, and I think [Winston House] can take it to the next level. It’s in good hands, and we can be proud of what’s going to be there.”

Managing Editor Joe Piasecki contributed to this story.