When retail chains or nightclub owners need to get alcohol permits in Los Angeles, they often turn to Westside land-use attorney R.J. Comer. The rub: Comer is a teetotaler.

Comer, 48, a partner in the West L.A. law firm Armbruster Goldsmith & Delvac LLC, specializes in obtaining alcohol permits for stores with multiple sites or in cases where the client might encounter local opposition. He became the go-to person for alcohol licenses in the late 1990s, when he obtained all 22 alcohol permits for the Hollywood & Highland shopping center and the permit for downtown L.A.’s Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels (which needs a permit not for wine at Masses but for functions at which alcohol is served).

Back then, Comer acknowledged, he was an excessive drinker. With the help of partners at a previous law firm, he checked himself into an alcohol treatment center and, after a couple of years, became completely sober.

Despite his struggles, he continued developing his alcohol permitting specialty. Initially, there was some temptation to relapse, but he said that only lasted a short while.

“It was a definitely an odd situation,” he said.

Comer said his experience with drinking actually helped him in the permitting business.

“Because I had frequented so many establishments, I knew exactly what makes a nightclub or another facility attractive for customers,” he said.

Of course, after he obtains the alcohol licenses, his clients frequently reward him with gifts of – what else? – liquor.

Comer turns over all his alcoholic gifts to his staff.

“They are very, very appreciative,” he said.

Tech Ticket

When Jason Nazar began hosting his monthly Startups Uncensored events for L.A. techies in 2009, he had about 40 guests. The talks have been steadily growing since, but Nazar, chief executive of Santa Monica startup Docstoc, at first wasn’t prepared for the crowd he drew earlier this month.

Tickets for the Dec. 1 event, which featured an interview with Silicon Valley tech blogger and investor Michael Arrington, sold out almost immediately. Nazar, 33, quickly realized his space at Santa Monica’s Milken Institute, which holds about 350 people, wouldn’t be big enough.

“When we announced the event with Mike Arrington, I had a sense we’d get a lot more demand,” said Nazar. “But when 200 tickets were bought within the first few days, I thought, ‘That’s not going to work.’”

So he went searching for a bigger venue and found the Fairmont Miramar Hotel, also in Santa Monica, which accommodates 700 guests.

It’s a good thing, too. The talk, where Arrington shared stories about his early entrepreneurial days and how he started blogging, sold out.

Nazar said he plans to keep up the caliber of the speakers next year and has already reached out to tech celebrities such as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer.

But if he lands those big names, he might need to get an even bigger auditorium.

“I’m looking for a venue for next year that can hold 1,000 people,” he said. “With each event, more and more people come.”

Staff reporters Howard Fine and Natalie Jarvey contributed to this column. Page 3 is compiled by Editor Charles Crumpley. He can be reached at ccrumpley@labusinessjournal.com.

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