By Kevin Deutsch
Gunfire and fights in the streets outside. Unlicensed security guards. A bouncer stabbing a clubgoer with a pen knife.
Spades Lounge has been open just ten months, but the restaurant-cum-nightclub at 3398 Boston Road has already seen plenty of controversy. The problems have been so serious, authorities found, that the New York State Liquor Authority’s board granted an emergency suspension of Spades’ liquor license in July, with a permanent revocation issued in November.
Now, Spades’ owner is asking a judge for a second chance, promising to clean up his act.
In court papers filed in the Bronx this week, Damion Gregory said he’s invested almost $200,000 in Spades. Losing his liquor license permanently would spell doom for the lounge, he said in his petition asking the court to overturn or stay the license revocation.
Read the Spades Lounge Filing.
“I am in danger of going out of business,” wrote Gregory, who said he’s had to lay off most of his 31 employees.”If I lose this business, I would be ruined.”
Officials said Gregory’s already had plenty of chances to bring the club into compliance with state law.
Among the issues scrutinized by the State Liquor Authority since Spades’ May 1 opening: The hiring of unlicensed security guards with violent criminal histories; safety, signage, and equipment violations; Spades’ operating as a dance club despite being licensed only as a restaurant; and the final straw: a Spades bouncer stabbing a patron with a pen-knife after he failed to pay the $20 cover for each member of his party.
“This licensee hires men who are unvetted, some of whom have violent pasts, manhandle the patrons of this club, and act as security guards,” a lawyer for the state told the liquor authority’s board following the July 8 stabbing. “A patron nearly bled to death as a direct result of those actions, and in addition this licensee is a drain on police resources.”
One bouncer stabbed the victim, James Mendy, in his femoral artery while the other bouncer punched him, the lawyer told the board.
“The victim was listed as likely to die because of the level of blood loss he had sustained,” she said. “Had it not been for [an] off-duty fireman who happened to be there at the club, it’s very likely the victim would have died at the scene.”
The previous night, July 7, gunshots were fired three blocks from the lounge, leading police in the 43rd Precinct to visit Spades as part of their investigation, records show.
Inside, they said they discovered a number of violations. They issued nine criminal court summonses, eight of which were later dismissed. There were also reports of fighting outside.
“The crowds were rowdy,” the lawyer for the state said, describing a “mass fight” related to the shooting.
Administrative Law Judge Marilyn Piken upheld the state’s revocation of the club’s liquor license, finding that “the security guards who were working at the premises were unlicensed and unvetted and at least two of them were convicted felons.”
She ruled there was not sufficient evidence linking either the gunfire or the fighting to the club, but that wasn’t enough to save Spades’ liquor license.
“The man who is charged with stabbing the victim, has a conviction for manslaughter and was in possession of a pen knife,” Piken wrote, noting that the State Liquor Authority provided “substantial evidence…the noise, disturbance, misconduct , disorder, act or activity occurring in and around premises has historically been a focal point for police attention.”
In this week’s filing, Gregory claimed he’d been duped into believing the security firm he hired was “credible,” and blamed them for the club’s issues.
“The security I had employed misled me into believing that all the security guards were actually reputable people,” he wrote.
While Gregory initially hired a licensed company to provide security, he later switched to a company called “TMZ,” according to Piken. The judge said TMZ is owned by a man named Noel Bernard, and is “not a licensed security guard company.”
Efforts to reach two of the unlicensed guards allegedly involved in the stabbing, Akmir Gray and Jonathan Finner, were not successful.
Reached by email, Bernard did not address the issue of TMZ’s licensing. He now operates Zulu Warriors Security & Entertainment Services, which Bernard said “is not a security company.”
“We provide entertainment related services including and not limited too; assisting clients by recommending licenses guard companies in respected markets,” Bernard wrote. “Spade [sic] lounge has no contract with us nor any security company that we work with.”
For now, the future of Spades is unclear. At a hearing last year, Gregory said he’d hired a licensed security company and that all the lounge’s violations had been corrected.
The board told him it was too late.
Judicial intervention may now be Spades’ only chance at survival.
Gregory’s attorney, John Angrisani, argued that establishment’s with violations similar to Spades’ have been fined as little as $10,000, and allowed to continue operating with a liquor license.
A judge could rule on Gregory’s petition later this year.