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On Dec. 12, D.C.’s Between Friends Nightclub hosted a benefit concert featuring Mexican-Minnesotan hiphop duo Los Nativos, 1998 Howard University “Verbal Armageddon” runner-up MC Akir, and politically radical rapper and Viper Records Executive Vice President Immortal Technique.
Money collected from the $10 to $12 admission charge, according to the Viper Records Web site, “will be used for the rebuilding of schools and clinics in Chiapas, Mexico, where the indigenous community are struggling for their rights to be free.”
Talk about “The poor shall not give less.” Not to dis the chiapanecos, but Between Friends could probably use that money itself: The cash-strapped club is struggling to stay open.
In fact, the place should be shuttered any day now, according to an attorney for the club’s landlord. “I can’t believe they were operating last night,” bankruptcy lawyer Charles H. Bogino told S&T on Monday. “At this point, the business is shutting down—they have to.”
In September, the embattled U Street NW venue filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, citing debts exceeding $100,000—including $66,000 in unpaid rent and $27,443 in unpaid taxes, according to court records.
Chapter 11 is a common SOS strategy for sinking enterprises. It guarantees federal protection from creditors. And in the case of Between Friends, the key creditor is the club’s landlord, Fen C. Chan of JRC Standard Properties. By filing for Chapter 11, club owners Schree Hicks and Tedara Lindsay halted Chan’s efforts to evict them.
Lindsay says the club went the bankruptcy route in order “to better reorganize.” The owners are determined to stay in business, she says.
But the club’s outlook isn’t good. A federally sanctioned holiday from bill-paying doesn’t come automatically, after all. Between Friends, like any Chapter 11 applicant, has to convince the court that it’s a viable business with a quick road to recovery.
On that front, it has fallen short. Far short. Citing the club’s failure to file monthly financial reports, failure to pay quarterly fees, and failure to provide proof of insurance as “evidence of the absence of a reasonable likelihood of rehabilitation” and “indicative of the inability to reorganize,” U.S. Trustee W. Clarkson McDow Jr. asked a judge in November to revise the venue’s bankruptcy status. And last week, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge S. Martin Teel Jr. did just that, moving the case from Chapter 11 to Chapter 7.
In a Chapter 11 case, there’s at least a glimmer of hope that a business can pay back its creditors over time. But in a Chapter 7, the court basically decides that the business is hopelessly fucked. The U.S. trustee takes possession of its property, and with the court’s consent, sells it all off and distributes the money to creditors. Remaining unpaid debts are wiped out.
“It’s a liquidation,” says attorney Bogino.
In other words, Between Friends is nearing its last call. On Dec. 7, Teel ordered the club to turn over “all records and property of the estate in the debtor’s possession or control.” According to prior court filings, the club’s property amounts to, well, not a whole heck of a lot: an $11,000 insurance claim for water damage, an $8,500 security deposit—which, given the club’s ongoing nonpayment of rent, the landlord is not likely to give back—and “Liquor-Beer, Wine, Alcohol, and Cups,” valued at $1,500, plus “Tables and Chairs,” valued at $1,000.
The club also has its liquor license, of course. At least for now. Listed as an asset in court records at an “[i]ndeterminate” current market value, the club’s license also appears to have an indeterminate future.
On Dec. 15, the owners appeared before the District’s Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board about renewing Between Friends’ license. But protesters, including the Cardozo-Shaw Neighborhood Association and Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham, have asked the ABC Board to reject that renewal.
Speaking to the board on Dec. 8, Graham cited “a history of problems” with the establishment and blamed Between Friends for “causing havoc” along U Street.
On Nov. 28, for instance, a large brawl outside the club turned the busy corridor into “an absolute wreck,” said Graham, reading from one resident’s e-mail account of the incident. “The club had been evacuated and there were no less than 10 police cars and vans surrounding the club, with U Street down to one lane in each direction. The streets were filled with loud masses of people and police.”
“The neighborhood is being terrorized by this club,” Graham said. “You cannot put on blinders about what’s going on here.”
Lindsay, however, suggests that Between Friends is no more of a nuisance than any other nightclub. “A lot of people want us out. A lot of people want us to stay,” she says.
But this isn’t the first time a city official has called for the club’s closure. Back in March, Metropolitan Police Department Chief Charles Ramsey demanded in writing that the ABC Board revoke the club’s license, following a “series of incidents” associated with go-go concerts at Between Friends on Friday nights.
From December 2003 through March 2004, police documented 125 calls for service, 15 reported crimes, and 50 arrests within 1,000 feet of the club, according to Ramsey’s letter to the District’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA). In addition to the typical club-beat duties of breaking up bar fights and arresting younger patrons for underage drinking, police also responded to several far more serious incidents. According to Ramsey’s letter:
•On Jan. 31, after officers dispersed a large fight in front of the club that had spilled out into the street, three persons—“patrons of Between Friends and relatives to the bouncer”—were shot along nearby Florida Avenue when “a rival group from the club opened fire on them.”
•On Feb. 21, a male patron waiting in line to enter the club around 1:55 a.m. was stabbed four times in the back by an unknown assailant and “a major fight broke out.” The victim was later released from the hospital “after major medical treatment.”
•On Feb. 28, an officer on traffic patrol in front of the club “was almost run over by a fleeing subject that had just left the club and disobeyed an order from another officer….This fleeing subject also struck a police cruiser in the area and attempted to flee until he was apprehended by Metropolitan Police Officers two blocks away from the club.”
•Then, on Mar. 13, a fight erupted inside the club during which three patrons were stabbed. One victim, George Barnes, 21, died as a result of multiple stab wounds. “It was revealed that the security inside of this club threw the three stabbing victims outside prior to police arrival and then attempted to clean up the restroom where the crime had occurred.”
Following that fatal incident, the ABC Board decided to take decisive action: It voted to shut the club down. For 17 days.
After that suspension, Between Friends was allowed to reopen, albeit under certain conditions. For one thing, the club was prohibited from having “live or recorded Go-Go music.” And it was further barred from hosting “nude dancing or nude performances,” in light of a September 2003 ABRA investigation that discovered G-stringed male exotic dancers performing at the club in apparent violation of D.C.’s strict nude-performances rules.
But reopening under those conditions apparently didn’t do much to improve the bottom line. After the suspension, court records show, the nightclub never again paid its $11,475 monthly rent or its monthly utility costs of about $1,000 apart from one partial payment in June.
Not that landlord Chan expects to get any of that money. At this point, he’s resigned to take the loss. “He just wants possession of the premises again,” says lawyer Bogino.
The club, meanwhile, has other plans. On Dec. 31, for instance, Between Friends is scheduled to host area fetish group Bound’s “New Year’s Eve Perv Ball.”
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