Lure is not responsible for all Washington Avenue's trouble, but it's taking all the blame

Lure is not responsible for all Washington Avenue's trouble, but it's taking all the blame
Jon Gitchoff

Lure is dead.

When the house lights come up at 2:34 a.m. on Sunday, September 12, no one's dancing. Back in July, 450 bodies thronged this Washington Avenue club, Thursday through Saturday. "The place where the A list goes to unwind," as the owners bill it, always drew the gel-haired dudes sipping vodka in striped button-downs and Ed Hardy tees. Maybe they'd run some game. Maybe the ladies with strappy high heels and skimpy skirts would let them. Not so much tonight.

"The girls wouldn't come in," says manager Rob Olsen. Thirty-three, handsome and upbeat by nature, Olsen is now slumped against the club's front window, alongside a pair of off-duty policemen on Lure's payroll. His bouncers have given up trying to hand out free-entry and free-drink passes. One young woman told them she feared there'd be a shooting.

Aprille Trupiano, 43, owns Lure. Her younger brother, Nick, helps manage it.
Jennifer Silverberg
Aprille Trupiano, 43, owns Lure. Her younger brother, Nick, helps manage it.
The Washington Avenue strip on a Saturday night.
Jason Stoff
The Washington Avenue strip on a Saturday night.

Inside Lure, there's never been a shooting. But listening to the news or city hall, you might have thought otherwise.

The controversy began after gunshots cracked in the muggy streets nearby Lure on two nights over the summer. One incident allegedly involved Lure patrons (although that's never been proven). The other occurred down the block, close to a different club, on an evening that Lure wasn't even open to the public.

Still, for those already fed up with the drunken rowdiness that's become typical for late-night Washington Avenue, those were just details. Enough was enough.

The siblings who own and manage Lure — Aprille, Tony and Nick Trupiano — admit their track record in the bar business isn't blemish-free. But they say they've improved. And, as the children of the late Matthew "Mikey" Trupiano, a supposed mobster who did prison time for gambling, they feel unfairly singled out. Every club gets belligerent guests — Lure can't possibly be the worst, can it?

A loose coalition of loft-dwellers, local business leaders and city officials now believes precisely that. The St. Louis Street Department briefly revoked Lure's right to offer valet service. Then, with the mayor's blessing, the city's excise division went after its liquor license. It ruled on September 20 in favor of revocation. In a parallel move, the Partnership for Downtown St. Louis — a sort of chamber of commerce closely tied to city hall — circulated a petition among residents with the same goal. The media breathlessly followed every turn.

The costs to the nightclub, both social and financial, have been steep.

A year ago, Cedric the Entertainer partied here after the Major League Baseball All-Star Game with sportscaster Joe Buck, Boston Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield and several Playboy bunnies. Rapper Huey filmed a video here last July. of Black Eyed Peas DJed in August.

Yet by closing time on this September morning, gross receipts are $3,600 when they used to be $12,000. All that's left are maybe two dozen drinkers and George Michael's "I Want Your Sex."

When St. Louis' last big capo — Anthony "Tony G." Giordano — died of cancer in 1980, a car-bomb war erupted. Crime boss Jimmy Michaels Sr. was blown up while driving on I-55. His rival, Paul J. Leisure, was maimed in a retaliatory explosion, then landed in prison. The only person left in any kind of a leadership role was Tony G.'s nephew and head of the Local 110 Laborers Union: Mikey Trupiano of Mehlville.

The mob here was small potatoes compared to Chicago, and even by St. Louis standards, Trupiano wasn't much of don. He ran a bookmaking operation that somehow lost money. Federal wiretaps caught him lamenting a lack of respect from small Italian businesses and his own underlings.

Yet his biggest sin seemed to be a life-long addiction to gambling, which is how the feds finally nailed him, after years of obsessive pursuit. He was convicted in 1986 for bookmaking, then again in 1992 for playing gin rummy in the back of a car dealership on South Kingshighway.

For the rest of his life, Trupiano complained he was "railroaded" by the authorities. He once told Bill McClellan, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist who befriended him and chronicled his twilight years, "As sure as you love your children, believe this: I'm not as bad as the government says I am."

His children sometimes sound like him. Nick Trupiano, 28, recently said of Lure's troubles with the city, "I'm not being hardheaded; it's just I know we're right. They're trying to make us look like a bunch of jack-offs."

Aprille Trupiano agrees: "There's a lot of prejudice in this town against my family."

The Mafia in St. Louis has long since disintegrated. Still, the Trupianos feel like outsiders, a scrappy but well-meaning bunch that city officials (and those cozy with them) have made a scapegoat.

Of course, this time, the stakes are higher than a gin rummy game. This has become a fight over the future of Washington Avenue — who gets to party, and who gets to profit.

By the time a heart attack took Mikey Trupiano in 1997, the Washington Avenue loft district was just beginning its rebirth. For years, it had been a deserted stretch of elegant-but-empty buildings, save the odd punk club here and there. Then, in 1999, a public-private group called Downtown Now unveiled an über-plan for rejuvenating the area.

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