Club Diesel, Lupo’s here to stay

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Contrary to allegations by the Providence Police Department, Club Diesel – known for its go-go birdcages and spinning “vertigo” dance floor – is not a “disorderly house,” the Providence Board of Licenses decided June 7 after 16 hearings that lasted three months, the longest in the board’s history.

Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel, which shares licenses and space with the club and is a longtime destination for live music in Rhode Island, would have been forced to close if the licensing board had revoked Diesel’s entertainment and liquor licenses.

Numerous early morning violent incidents have been reported in past months near Diesel, which is located downtown at 79 Washington St. In January, a man was stabbed in the neck with a broken beer bottle after leaving the club, and just weeks later another stabbing occurred in a parking lot nearby around 2 a.m.

The PPD has responded to over 350 calls from the club in the past three years and currently has at least seven officers in the vicinity of the club at closing time. There are 26 other bars, clubs and restaurants within 300 feet of the club.

Though Diesel and Lupo’s will stay open, it is unclear how the PPD will continue to handle the need for an increased police presence downtown on late weekend nights. Police Major Paul Fitzgerald has said the department could use more officers.

Rich Lupo, who owns Lupo’s, said a later closing time could stagger patrons’ departure from the club, reducing the chaos that ensues when the club closes.

He called later closing time “a great idea” and said it would solve much of the problem. But the city has not yet considered extending the closing time for clubs like Diesel, which are required to kick patrons out no later than 2 a.m.

Despite some uncertainty about how to handle rambunctious late-night crowds, the decision from the Board of Licenses is a good sign for nightlife in a city where there has been tension in recent years among real estate developers, the PPD and club owners.

Lupo’s was previously located on Westminster Street but moved to its current location in the Strand building to make room for a residential redevelopment project.

Diesel’s owner, Michael Kent, has said he believes the PPD’s attempt to shut him down is the doing of Mayor David Cicilline ’83.

Kent is frustrated because the licensing board ruled in favor of the city regarding two specific incidents in the fall of 2005, during one of which a police officer’s baton was stolen from someone inside the club to prevent him from making arrests.

The board ordered Diesel to close one hour early on Friday and Saturday nights in July and put the club on probation for six months, a punishment Fitzgerald has called “a slap on the wrist.” Diesel stands to lose nine hours of business this month. Lupo’s will not be affected by the curtailment of Diesel’s hours, since it closes early those nights.

“There are a couple of hawks against the nightlife, but they are few, and I don’t think Cicilline is one of them,” Lupo said, mentioning his continual wariness of real estate development. He said these types of incidents are nothing new.

“Having been in business for over 30 years downtown, I’ve found that human behavior has not changed, and young adults act pretty much the same now as they always have,” Lupo said.

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