Inside City Hall’s battle with Providence’s only after-hours club

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – One of the world’s most famous porn stars spent Halloween weekend in Olneyville. Costumes were encouraged. But no masks were allowed.

Sasha Grey, who has appeared in 224 adult films and also had a recurring role in HBO’s “Entourage,” was the featured guest at the grand opening of Dusk 2 Dawn, which holds Providence’s only license for an after-hours club. An invitation posted on the Dike Street club’s Facebook page said doors would open at 1 a.m.

The event went off without a hitch. There were no fights or shootings. No police reports. No complaints.

But just weeks after the club opened, Dusk 2 Dawn is under scrutiny from the Providence Board of Licenses after city attorneys discovered a full bar was being advertised for other events. While Dusk 2 Dawn has clearance from the city to operate from 1 a.m. to 4 a.m., it does not have a license to serve alcohol.

Instead, lawyers say, the club has taken advantage of a loophole in state law that allows catering companies to serve alcohol for up to five hours, but places no limits on the kinds of events they can cater. In a recent event invitation post on Facebook, Dusk 2 Dawn advertised alcohol sales between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m.

“This is an end around with regard to getting a [liquor] license,” Mario Martone, a solicitor in the city’s law department, told the board at a meeting on Nov. 10.

The board ended up voting to prohibit alcohol sales at the club after 1 a.m. and asked club owner Gerard C. DiSanto II and attorney Nicholas Hemond to return for a follow-up hearing. They attended a board meeting last week and are scheduled to appear again Wednesday.

Hemond, a prominent lawyer and lobbyist who also serves as president of the Providence School Board, said Tuesday Dusk 2 Dawn is willing to stop alcohol from being sold after 1 a.m., but it’s unclear if city attorneys will try to block any alcohol sales. If they do, he said, the battle will head to court.

Dusk 2 Dawn may be new, but the 1 a.m. to 4 a.m. license it holds is well-known in the city.

The license was granted more than a decade ago to Club Therapy, an after-hours club housed in another building on Dike Street. Therapy was initially owned by Alex Tomasso, a well-known restaurateur and nightclub owner who was closely aligned with former House Speaker Gordon Fox. (Fox served on the licensing board for a number of years and is now in prison for accepting a bribe related to his work there.) Tomasso now lives in Florida.

City licensing officials say they don’t know exactly when or why the 1 a.m. to 4 a.m. license was granted because those records no longer exist, but they acknowledge the club is the only one of its kind in the city. Other after-hours licenses are typically reserved for fast-food restaurants, pizza places and gas stations.

In 2003, a bouncer at Club Therapy was shot in the chest after he threw a patron out of the bar, according to an article published in The Providence Journal. The shooting prompted then-Councilwoman Josephine DiRuzzo to call for the city to stop issuing late-night licenses. In 2007, Club Therapy came under fire again for selling alcohol without a license.

But DiSanto, who became the majority shareholder of the license in September and opened Dusk 2 Dawn in October, maintains he is taking steps to avoid the trouble of the past.

DiSanto, who also owns Desire Gentleman’s Club of Allens Avenue, told the board he wants to keep Dusk 2 Dawn “high end.” Although he doesn’t own the club’s new building, also on Dike Street, he claims he has spent more than $1 million improving the property.

Hemond, his lawyer, said DiSanto has paid for street sweepers, more lighting and two security cars to patrol the area outside the club. And yes, the club has “continued the practice of having catered events,” which Hemond claims the previous owners hosted as well.

“They bring the liquor, they take the liquor when they leave,” Hemond told the board.

But Martone, the city’s lawyer, maintains “they can’t have a catered event every single night that they are open.”

“This board is not stupid and you understand what’s going on,” Martone said.

Martone acknowledged that DiSanto has “operated very responsibly” at Desire, but said he has received complaints from people in the community about Dusk 2 Dawn. Councilwoman Sabina Matos, who replaced DiRuzzo on the council in 2011, is among the club’s leading critics.

“This is not the type of business that we want in the city,” she told the board. “This is not the type of biz that we need in the neighborhood.”

For his part, Hemond said the Board of Licenses does not have jurisdiction over catering licenses, which are controlled by the state Department of Business Regulation. He claims that Dusk 2 Dawn has nothing to do with alcohol sales. A separate corporation, D2D Entertainment, hires DJs and works with a catering company, he said.

Records filed with the secretary of state’s office show D2D Entertainment Inc. was incorporated by DiSanto, but Hemond claims the business is run by DiSanto’s nephew.

Hemond maintains nothing in state law prevents Dusk 2 Dawn from allowing a catering company to serve booze at its club.

“If the hospitality association or the city wants to go up and change that law at the state house, then they should do that,” Hemond said. “But you can’t penalize Mr. DiSanto and his business who operating within the law.”

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Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan