A homicide early Thursday morning in Soulard has caused a battle between the city and a Soulard night spot to heat up. The man killed in the shooting on 8th Street had been a customer at the Social House, a block away. That bar has been labeled a nuisance property by the city of St. Louis.
“The Social House has been on our radar screen for a little over a year now,” city Operations Director Sam Dotson said in an interview Thursday. Dotson says the Social House was sent it’s second “cease and desist” letter in just over a year last week, due to several dozen police calls to the location.
“Fights, disturbances, underage drinking,” he said, ticking off some of the calls. But two calls in the last four months have been far more serious. Thursday’s shooting, and a hit and run death that happened after a fight in September. That victim also had been a customer at the Social House.
But the attorney for the club says the problems are more the result of what people are doing after leaving the bar. John Bouhasin says the two cases share something in common beyond the fact that both involved Social House customers being shot around 2:40 am.
“The victim was a patron of the bar that evening, but the suspects were not patrons of the bar, not inside the bar, did not get in any kind of altercation with these subjects inside the bar,” he said. “Everything occurred outside the bar, outside the lot, off the property.”
He says there may be another reason the Social House is getting so much attention from the city: It’s owners.
You may recall a flap in 2010 pitting the city against Club Lure on Washington Avenue. The circumstances were similar. A pair of shootings near the club sparked neighborhood outrage, and led to the city putting heat on the owners. In that case they tried to take away the liquor license, and action that remains tied up in court to this day.
Lure is owned by a group that includes the Trupiano family, the same people who own the Social House.
“Do I feel that Social House is being unfairly picked on?” Bouhasin asked rhetorically. “You could come to that conclusion if you look at the facts carefully.”
He says the adjacent parking lot, owned by the city, is where most of the problems have occurred. He says the Social House has gone so far as to hire its own security to watch the area at night.
“Unfortunately we have the unique position of being next to that city lot, where a large amount of crime occurs. When it was a different establishment, my car was broken into in that lot.”
But city officials say the fact the club is providing that security, is, in a way, an admission of guilt.
As for whether city fathers are holding a grudge against the Trupianos, officials firmly deny that.
"I think it’s easy for anyone to say, hey don’t pick on me,” Dotson said. “But really the root cause, the reason was a high number of calls for fights, for disturbances, for unruly behavior, underage drinking, of course it’s gonna get our attention.”
It’s also gotten the attention of area residents, who don’t buy the claim that the Social House is an innocent bystander to these violent events.
“Jimmy John’s and Franco aren’t open at 3am,” iLoveSoulard.com blogger Ryan Brockschmitt said, referring to other nearby businesses, “so I think it is somewhat fair to tie it to them.
“Something’s gotta be done,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s the business or the clientele they’re bringing in, but something’s gotta be done.”