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It was a typically busy Friday night at Club Asylum. The hip U Street establishment, which dispensed a mix of punk, ska, gothic industrial, and booze to a motley local crowd ranging from buttoned-down political types to spike-haired rockers, had filled up with about 100 patrons. Somebody named Teddy Bear was selling leather goods, from bondage gear to rock ‘n’ roll accessories. Owners John and Jim Andrede were happily struggling to keep up with the crowd. Until the raid.
Around 10:30, just before the bands went on, a plain-clothes cop strolled in and asked for the owner. Ten of D.C.’s finest followed in his wake, sending CDs and beer bottles flying. They wasted no time locating the Andrede brothers and upbraiding them for selling liquor without a license. The brothers pointed to their framed liquor license, which hung on the wall behind the bar. Unimpressed, the cops proceeded to haul off the brothers in handcuffs.
“We happen to be Colombian,” explains John, “so everybody thought it was a busted drug-ring operation. It did a lot to ruin our reputation as bar owners in D.C.”
The Andredes’ real crime was less glamorous: pissing off their landlords.
The Andredes’ U Street boîte had operated for four years out of a rickety building that wasn’t exactly designed to accommodate the pounding of an alternative-rock crowd. Inspectors from the city’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs repeatedly warned the brothers that their caving-in ceiling and sagging floorboards were grounds for condemnation. The brothers claim that they requested structural upgrades from their landlords, Lydia and Tsion Asefa, but never got any response.
Last November, Asylum’s owners decided to get out while the place was still standing. The Andredes told the Asefas they would vacate Jan. 1 and forfeit the security deposit in lieu of the December rent payment. They bickered. The sisters claimed that the brothers never paid up for November. The brothers gave the sisters an earful about their crumbling club.
But the sisters held the trump card. On Dec. 18, the Asefas strolled downtown and placed Asylum’s liquor license, which was registered in their name, in safekeepinga move that temporarily inactivates the license. From that moment forward, every ounce of hooch that poured from Asylum’s bar was illegal.
“If a license is put in safekeeping by the owner, it can’t be used,” says a spokesperson for the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. “It’s not a license one can use from afar. It’s akin to a driver’s license: If it’s not on your person, you shouldn’t be driving.”
Seemingly ignorant of their landlords’ power move, the Andredes continued serving alcohol, and the cops busted them three days later.
“We were kind of naive,” says John. “We were really shocked at what happened. When she said she’d take action, we certainly never expected that she would take it to that level. In the blink of an eye we were broke.”
A guy known only as Suicide was working the door that night, as he had every Friday night since Asylum opened. Thinking back on the raid, he laughs in a baffled sort of way, remembering the way the cops kept telling him to shut up when he asked what the hell was going on. “You’d think we were running some after-hours speakeasy,” he says.
Although nothing of the old club survived the bust, the bad blood between the Andredes and the Asefas continues to circulate. Lydia Asefa predicts that the Andrede brothers will wear out their welcome in Adams Morgan, where they’re setting up the new Club Asylum. “The truth will come out,” says Lydia. “Even if it doesn’t come out in the next few months, it will come out, and people in Adams Morgan will see what kind of people they are.”
For now, though, the Andredes are the kind of people who are eager to avoid another embarrassing raid. “We’re going to have our own liquor license,” laughs John. The Andredes are also juiced about their new landlord, who they claim understands the nightclub business better than the Asefas. “We’re happy here,” says John. “We have found a new location, where we are now seeking asylum.”CP