The presence of live music in downtown Providence is in some danger because of a dispute between nightclub impresario Michael Kent and the Providence Police Department.
Because of safety concerns raised by the police, the Providence Board of Licenses has scheduled a February 10 hearing at City Hall (1 pm in room 112), in which Kent’s company has been asked to show why its entertainment and liquor license for Club Diesel on Washington Street should not be suspended or revoked. Rich Lupo operates Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel from the same space used by Diesel, in what is often referred to as the Strand Building.
Police contend that incidents involving patrons from Diesel, including a dispute on January 6, when an 18-year-old Johnston man was stabbed in the neck with a broken beer bottle, pose an ongoing problem. Kent points out that the stabbing took place outside his club, in a parking lot owned by the Providence Journal, and that he had hired an eight-officer police detail on the night in question. He also says the brand of the bottle of beer used in the stabbing is not sold at Diesel.
Raising the stakes is how sanctions against Diesel — which could range from a fine to a suspension of the club’s ability to operate — could affect Lupo’s. Lupo’s has shared space with the dance club since relocating from a previous Westminster Street location, in part to accommodate one of Arnold “Buff” Chace’s residential downtown developments. If Lupo’s had to cancel previously scheduled concerts, “It would be devastating, totally devastating,” Rich Lupo says. “How can we make contracts [for live shows] not knowing if we’ll be there?” (Disclosure: Kent and Lupo are longtime Phoenix advertisers.)
On a more basic level, Lupo’s would not be able to operate if the city closes Diesel, in part since the two venues share the same liquor license, Kent says.
While several calls to the police department went unreturned as the Phoenix was going to press, Cliff Wood, director of Providence’s Department of Arts, Culture, and Tourism, says the city considers Lupo’s an asset, and that it is not being targeted. As far as the police view of Diesel, Wood says, “My impression is that this [January 6 stabbing] was sort of the last straw in a series of incidents, I believe, over time.”
Wood’s words notwithstanding, it’s hard to know how the conflict between Kent and the police could affect Lupo’s. The venerable club presents more Grammy winners than any other Rhode Island venue, and unlike the Dunkin’ Donuts Center, the Providence Performing Arts Center, and AS220, it doesn’t receive any public subsidy. It would be ironic if this current dispute hurts Lupo’s, which helped to pump life into downtown long before it started edging toward becoming a residential neighborhood. While priorities are changing, one could ask whether the fallout is fair and whether it is sensible.