City shuts club, removes patrons
Mayor says case shows need to get tougher on venues allowed open as restaurants
Hundreds of people were removed from a crowded downtown club early Sunday after it was cited for violating the city’s fire codes — an incident Mayor Sylvester Turner said serves as an example of the need for greater scrutiny into venues masquerading as restaurants to circumvent capacity limits.
Police were dispatched to a large gathering at Club Spire at 1720 Main St. around 12:30 a.m. There they found about 200 people waiting to enter the venue. Video from inside the club showed several patrons standing shoulder to shoulder without face masks.
The club has been operating with an alcohol license that allows it to function at 50 percent capacity, like a restaurant.
Fire marshals shut down the club and forced the patrons out, Houston police Lt. Emanuel Pavel said. Several customers were angry, the lieutenant explained, because the club had sold tickets in advance to the event.
“They came from San Antonio, New Orleans,” he continued. “They were very upset because they couldn’t get a refund on the tickets.”
Among the performers for the event — promoted as “Larry Morrow’s All Black Affair” — were Trey Songz and New York City rapper Fabolous, according to a flyer.
Trey Songz, whose real name is Tremaine Aldon Neverson, told Instagram followers in October that he tested positive for the co
ronavirus and would be taking the illness seriously. Two months later, about 500 people flocked to a nightclub in Columbus, Ohio, to watch him perform, and authorities there cited the venue for public health order violations, the Columbus Dispatch then reported.
Morrow, the Louisianabased promoter behind the Houston event, acknowledged the shutdown in a tweet but did not respond to an email request for comment.
Morrow said those who were unable to enter Spire would be refunded.
The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission also was alerted to the packed club because it was serving alcohol, officials said. Officials with the state agency could not be reached.
Hours before the club closure, Turner on Saturday ranted about the TABC allowing bars and clubs to continue operating through the pandemic by reclassifying themselves as restaurants.
He characterized the venues as “community spreaders” and asked the state to review its policies and remove the loophole.
“When you look at these pictures, there’s no food on the table — none. That is crazy,” Turner said.
The mayor also called on Texas music venues to stop hosting events from out-ofstate promoters, except for virtual performances. He tweeted a warning that events Sunday featuring the rapper Bow Wow were also
on the city’s radar. Bars and clubs operating beyond capacity as restaurants should expect visits, he said.
A flyer posted to Bow Wow’s Instagram showed that he was slated to appear during a football game watch party at the Kamp club at 6025 Westheimer Road.
Chief Sam Peña of the Houston Fire Department said the reasons behind Spire’s evacuation “go beyond the issue of COVID.”
The club, he said, was cited for blocking exits. Some people were allowed back in after the exits were cleared, but the promoter decided to cancel the event anyway, Peña continued.
He said Spire has been among the “thousands of complaints since last March” but that closing venues throughout the city has happened on a limited number of occasions.
“The only reason we would take such steps is if the hazard or violation cannot be corrected on the spot in any other way,” Peña said.
Police in Harris County have received 10,000 complaints since September for violations of Gov. Greg Abbott’s capacity orders. The county fire marshal has issued four citations, while records for its Houston counterpart were not available.
Peña said the city would continue passing complaints to the TABC.
“If we notice fire code violations during our visits, we will require they be corrected before business is allowed to continue,” he said.
Throughout the pandemic, social media images and video have shown Spire being packed with maskless patrons during concerts. State officials suspended its liquor license in July and October for noncompliance with COVID-19 guidelines. It was under investigation again in December, officials said.
Some of the violations at venues have led to criminal charges. This month, Set nightclub manager Nathan Gerk was charged with felony false statement on an alcohol license. Set is the venue where three Harris County Sheriff’s Office deputies were shot and a woman was killed after attending her son’s birthday bash.
Authorities contend Gerk portrayed the club as a restaurant in state documents but that it lacked the kitchen equipment to operate as one.