By Danny Wicentowski
By Lindsay Toler
By RFT Staff
By Lindsay Toler
By Allison Babka
By Lindsay Toler
By Lindsay Toler
By Ray Downs
Federal funds enabled a face-lift for Washington Avenue in 2003, complete with lights beaming up from the street. The state handed out millions in tax credits to anybody rehabbing historic buildings. But most crucially, the city offered juicy tax incentives to developers. For a time, they even agreed to forgive tens of thousands of dollars in loans if a business stuck around for five years.
"We wanted downtown to start booming," says former mayor Freeman Bosley Jr., who now represents the Trupianos.
The siblings opened Lucky's at 1204 Washington Avenue in 2006. Two years later, they transformed it into Lure. The grand opening was a swimsuit fashion show.
By that point, the Trupianos had owned, co-owned, helped launch or managed five establishments from Laclede's Landing to Kirkwood: Rum Jungle, the Drink, the Bubble Room, Dolce' and Lucky's.
Taking a cue from the city's crackdown, the Post-Dispatch recently ran an exposé of the Trupianos' track record. Their bars and restaurants reportedly racked up more than 50 local or state violations from 2002 to the present, including fights, underage drinking and a giant brawl outside Dolce' in April 2008.
"We were young when we got into this business," says 32-year-old Tony Trupiano. "There have been growing pains." From Lure's opening in June 2008 to the recent brouhaha, he often repeats, the club had an unblemished record with the excise division.
Bob Kraiberg, who has been the city's excise commissioner for 23 years, says the Trupianos' management problems go much further back than Lure.
Asked whether the club's clean record until July was indicative of progress, Kraiberg demurs.
"Well, they seem cooperative. But that's kind of like saying, 'Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the theater?'"
In the wee hours of Friday, June 11, two policemen standing on St. Charles Street watched a mob gather in the middle of Tucker Boulevard. Just around the corner on Washington, people were pouring out of Lure's "Red Hott Thursdays."
Over the previous fourteen months, those weekly hip-hop-themed parties had started drawing capacity crowds, mostly African American. Seven fights had broken out inside the club during that time, five of them between young females (and in four of those, Lure management says, hair weaves were yanked out). The situation on this night in June looked more ominous.
When fists started flying in the street, officers called for backup. They set off across Tucker toward a parking lot where even more fights were raging. A black male with an assault rifle was already there, watching them. He fired several rounds in their direction as they approached. The officers dived for cover behind their patrol cars and heard the squealing of tires.
If that incident wasn't enough to get city hall's attention, the next one surely was. And ironically, it had nothing to do with Lure.
At 1:00 a.m. on Monday, July 19, two groups of young men in the parking lot at Locust and 14th streets started jawing at each other after an eighteen-and-up event at Sugar Lounge. According to a witness, one young man said, "We don't fight." He ran over to a car, opened the hood, pulled out a gun and shot three of his adversaries, one in the neck.
The next day, Jeff Rainford, Mayor Francis Slay's chief of staff, decided to get involved. "There had been two shootings," he recalls, "and people were like, 'Are you gonna do something about it, or are you gonna wait until somebody dies?'"
Rainford met with officials including Police Captain Kenneth Keigel, commander of the city's fourth district. He learned that the "problem properties unit" of the city counselor's office had already sent cease-and-desist letters to three downtown nightclubs — Lure, Club 15 and Sugar Lounge — owing to "disturbances and other unruly behavior."
Tony Trupiano knew about the cease-and-desist letter, but his brother Nick didn't. While sitting at a bar just after 9 p.m. on July 19, Nick peered up at the screen in shock as Charles Jaco of KTVI-TV (Channel 2) announced that the city was cracking down on all three clubs.
In a panic, Nick Trupiano hopped in his truck and sped to city hall, where Jaco was reporting live.
"I talked to him," Trupiano recalls, "and he took the racist stuff and ran with it."
The next morning, Jaco broke the news that the Trupianos were accusing city hall of wanting to expel blacks from the loft district. Certain unnamed city officials, the siblings claimed, had let it be known: Get rid of the cognac, Grey Goose vodka and Red Hott Thursdays, and all of your problems will disappear.
The following day, the Trupianos hung banners in Lure's front window: "Downtown Doesn't Like Black People" and "Jim Crow Is Alive and Well in Downtown St. Louis."
On July 21, Police Chief Dan Isom felt compelled to say of the Trupianos, "I think it would be better for them to sit down and work with us."
Here was a black police chief calling out a group of ethnic Italians for bemoaning racism — against blacks. "It's not about race," Isom calmly told the news cameras that day. "It is about behavior."
The siblings' truculent response scored them no points at city hall, either. If they had a philosophical case to make about where their responsibilities should end and the government's should begin, this wasn't it — or at least, this wasn't a tone conducive to dialogue.