.R.I.P. Johnny V’s: Downtown SJ Bar Closes Doors

San Jose dive bar and music venue Johnny V’s is closed. The news came abruptly on Wednesday, Dec. 7, and all live shows scheduled at the watering hole were cancelled—with many moving to the BackBar SoFa

The shutdown came suddenly, and in the immediate wake of the closure many could only speculate as to the reasons for the closure. According to the bar’s owner, Johnny Van Wyk, the bar had been in a precarious position for around five years, as he was unable to secure the proper alcohol license for his particular establishment.

The way Wyk tells it, he was authorized to run a bar only as long as he also sold food under ABC License Type 47. This license allows the sale of beer, wine and distilled spirits so long as the venue remains a “bona fide eating place” with a “suitable kitchen.” However, about six years ago, the adjoining Chinese restaurant closed down after the kitchen caught fire.

Van Wyk says the city and ABC has allowed him to operate ever since, “with the idea that this kitchen was going to get replaced.” But, he explains, every landlord who has ever held the building has declined to fix the kitchen. “That’s what finally did me in. No kitchen; no food; you can’t serve liquor.”

While he might have been able to fix the kitchen himself, Van Wyk says the City of San Jose wouldn’t approve the project unless he also agreed to bring the entire building up to code—and the building, he says, is a mess. “They wouldn’t even let us start the kitchen until all of that stuff was addressed—and we’re talking seismic retrofit, sprinklers, new roof, they want the stairwell down from the third level…” Van Wyk didn’t want to take on those repairs, since he doesn’t own the building and doesn’t even use the upper two floors of the building.

Van Wyk says he was unable to get a hold of his most recent landlord, a group operating out of India, even though the group doubled his rent over the summer when they took over ownership of his building. He tried to sell the building at that point, but he says the City of San Jose and the ABC refused to transfer his liquor license “because of the code violations in the building.” And then there was the matter of the landlord. Van Wyk says he couldn’t even reach his landlord to set up a new lease for a prospective buyer.

On Dec. 7 a suspension notice posted on the bar’s door confirmed rumors that Johnny V’s would be shut down indefinitely. Here’s a picture of that notice, ordered by the State Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control:

Photo by Justin Tonel.

Photo by Justin Tonel.

An official with the City of San Jose’s Code Enforcement Division said that she had no record of any open building code cases against the bar.

We attempted to get the scoop from the California ABC, but were soon redirected to a spokesman with the California State Board of Equalization, the state governmental body responsible for enforcing tax law. It was the BOE that ordered ABC to issue the suspension.

This was not the first time ABC has suspended Johnny V’s liquor license. Records show that the the bar’s In 2009 and in 2010—both times for unspecified tax issues.

Court records also show that the bar has faced its share of financial troubles in recent years Van Wyk filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy in 2011. In that bankruptcy filing, the value of the business was listed as zero dollars, because the corporate liability exceeded the value of its assets.

Reached for comment, Paul Cambra from the Board of Equalization’s Office of Public Affairs said he could not comment on anything related to specific taxpayers but pointed to Section 751.020 for the possible reasons the BOE might revoke a permit or license. Those reasons are:

  1. Failure to file and pay tax return(s).
  2. Failure to pay a balance.
  3. Failure to post required security, replace security, or post additional security.
  4. Failure to keep or make available proper records.
  5. Failure to surrender permit for cancellation when not actively engaged in business as a seller of tangible personal property.
  6. Failure to comply with any provision of the Sales and Use Tax Law.
  7. Failure to comply with Precollection of Sales Tax on Fuel (SG) program requirements.

An employee of Johnny V’s said they could not comment on the suspension but Johnny V’s might make a formal announcement concerning the shutdown next week.

It marks the end of an era. The bar had been in operation for around 13 years and according to Facebook posts, both members of the staff, Wyk and patrons were sad to see it go.

“Well folks, It’s official. Johnny V’s is closed as of today,” Benjamin Bremer, a Johnny V’s bartender posted to his personal Facebook page on Dec. 7. “Apologies to all the bands scheduled to play this month and beyond.” Attempts to reach the bar’s proprietor, Johnny Van Wyk, by phone were unsuccessful and he has yet to return an email request for comment, but multiple posts on to Van Wyk’s personal Facebook wall offer condolences, recall fond memories and pay tribute to the longtime drinking establishment and rock club.

Late Wednesday—the day the bar closed—Van Wyk posted this message to his personal Facebook page:

“I don’t know where to start, Johnny v’s bar evolved over the years into more than just a dive bar or a venue it really took on a life of its own. People would ask me to explain the magic we had there and I would have to say, the people. We had a night for everyone. Whether you are a punk, a rapper a rocker whatever we hosted it. Our motto was always if your cool then bring it. Our dress code was please wear pants ! Johnny V’s was not for the faint of heart, if you loved Johnny V’s you are definitely part bad ass ! The Johnny V family is a tight group of people, and we were a family there. I want to thank every band, rapper, performer and dj that ever performed. I also want to extend thanks to every customer that ever passed through our doors. And most importantly I want to thank the staff. The staff of this bar has always been the real reason this Shitty Dive bar thrived the way it did. Thirteen years 9 months is a great run for any bar, thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to be a part of the Downtown San Jose bar and music scene.”

Re-live the good old times with these photos by Metro photographer Greg Ramar:

The Defenders at Johnny V's. Photo by Greg Ramar.
The Defenders at Johnny V’s. Photo by Greg Ramar.
Drinking tall boys at the U.K. Subs show. Photo by Greg Ramar.
Punk rock. Photo by Greg Ramar.
U.K. Subs at Johnny V’s. Photo by Greg Ramar.



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