Discrimination, deception, douchebaggery – the allegations and drama surrounding the former Gaslamp nightclub just keep comin'.
The Midtown bro mecca, which caused a furor last year over complaints of an allegedly racist door policy, has been rebranded “360 Midtown” (the building entrance is also apparently being moved, causing an address change from 2400 Brazos to 500 McIlhenny) by owner Ayman Jarrah, who hasn't been able to find an equally easy fix for the lawsuits and countersuits between him, his landlord and his business partners, as well as a potential TABC violation looming overhead.
With a host of new shenanigans, the Houston Press decided to check in with the stars of our favorite Midtown soap, “The Young and the Litigious,” to get the latest…cut to Midtown.
Gaslamp and Jarrah came under intense scrutiny after three African-American attorneys accused the bar of discrimination. They claimed that doormen charged them and other minorities a $20 cover fee while Caucasians entered the bar for free. The men filed a discrimination suit against Jarrah and the club in federal court. A judge tossed all claims except for one against the club, which is still pending.
Ike Okorafor, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs in the pending litigation, believes he knows the story behind Gaslamp’s rebranding. "Did Tim [Sutherland, attorney for Jarrah] go into detail about how they changed the name of the bar?” Okorafor asked us during our interview. “How they're trying to evade justice?" Okorafor went on to say that shuttering the business was a tactic to avoid losing the suit. "When you switch its name, Gaslamp is essentially worthless,” he explained. “There's no assets, because the bar is [Jarrah's] only asset. The judge didn't dismiss all the claims, and they want to get ahead of the judgment and change the name now."
Sutherland denies Okorafor’s assertion. “First of all, we’re expecting to get that remaining claim dismissed, so he’s counting his chickens before they’ve hatched,” he said. “Also, Land Guardian still owns the lease on the premises, so the asset still exists.” Sutherland also pointed out that it’s not uncommon for nightclubs to rebrand every few years.
Regardless, this isn’t the only lawsuit facing Jarrah.
Real estate agent Darrin Winner, who, it turns out, is a 10 percent stakeholder in Jarrah’s company Land Guardian Inc., filed suit against Jarrah in Harris County District Court on October 23, 2015, accusing the club owner of not consistently and accurately providing financial information related to the company, and furthermore claims that Jarrah is “secreting and diverting corporate money,” including a $2,000 per month payment to Jarrah’s son, Yazan Jarrah, who does not work there.
Yazan Jarrah is, however, one of the directors of Aleppos Inc., a company with the same address as Gaslamp’s. Sutherland says Aleppos provides and administers the automatic teller machines there. But check out this surprise guest appearance: Darrin Winner is also listed as a director of Aleppos, along with a business associate of Jarrah’s named Matt Pagel.
Complicating matters even further, in addition to being a shareholder in Land Guardian Inc., Winner is the real estate agent for the Clifford Kitten Family Partnership, making him not only a tenant but representative for the landlord.
If this doesn’t sound enough like a soap opera, strap yourselves in because we are heading for telenovela territory…insert plot twist.
Sutherland claims that Winner and Clifford Kitten (of Clifford Kitten Family Partnership fame) were (and possibly still are) romantically involved, and in order for Ayman Jarrah to be awarded the lease for the Gaslamp in the first place, he was required to give Winner an interest in Land Guardian, Inc.
Land Guardian's suit accuses Winner of “double dealing” and claims that his lawsuit is based on “frivolous and meritless claims.” Additionally, the countersuit states it has received allegations by the landlord that Land Guardian has defaulted on its lease, which are maneuvers to “force Plaintiffs out of the Gaslamp in order to take it by force.” Admittedly, this seems like an odd time to accuse someone of strong-arm tactics, two years after the club opened and the alleged forced partnership arrangement began, but there is, naturally, more to the story.
Sutherland says that after last year's controversy and subsequent federal lawsuit, Jarrah attempted to get out of the Gaslamp lease. "Even when we got fair offers that we perceived as fair value, the landlord wouldn't let us sell the business,” he said. “The reason is because the landlord and Darrin Winner wanted to purchase the business and pay way below fair market value.”
Copies of both original petitions appear at the bottom of this article. Calls to Winner and his attorney, Kevin Hedges, have not yet been returned.
And if multiple lawsuits, claims of racial discrimination and full-blown melodrama weren’t enough for Jarrah and Gaslamp, they are also facing issues with the TABC…cue ominous thunderclap.
Since we last checked on the status of its alcohol permit, Gaslamp has incurred additional violations from the state agency. The most serious one is still a pending case. The violation is listed as a “Breach; Failure To Report” violation. According to the TABC website, permit holders must report incidents on premises “where a person shoots, stabs, causes serious bodily injury to, or murders a person” within 24 hours.
TABC information officer Chris Porter told us a reported crime at the Gaslamp on January 10 was not reported to the TABC. According to the Houston Police Department, there were a pair of alleged assaults on or near that date. The first involved a victim allegedly shoved to the ground by a Gaslamp bouncer. “He went to a hospital and was released,” HPD public information officer Kese Smith told us, though the victim never followed up with investigators. The second incident allegedly involved someone entering the bar after closing time to retrieve a friend’s wallet and being struck by an employee. This case also has yet to be resolved, though HPD could not explain why.
Additionally, there was a rape reported at the "2400-2499" block of Brazos on January 8, the same block where Gaslamp is located. Because it's a pending rape case, no further information is available to the public and Smith wouldn't verify whether the incident actually occurred inside Gaslamp.
After a TABC investigation, multiple criminal complaints and pending litigation, you might think Gaslamp or 360 Midtown or whatever it is being called now would be closed for business. You’d be wrong. Even though Gaslamp's liquor license expired on May 11 and remains pending renewal — a renewal that was protested by TABC in light of the club’s violations — the Midtown bar can continue selling alcohol under the license until a final decision has been made.
If you are anything like us, this is the point where fatigue sets in. Keeping track of the ever-increasing cast of characters is like trying to remember the plot twists in All My Children. But we encourage you to press on, dear reader, because that is exactly what Jarrah is doing...end voice-over, cue organ music.
As this vortex of crazy continues to swirl around him, Jarrah has decided to open a new venture, a forthcoming restaurant called Oakmont at 1916 Baldwin, just four blocks from Gasla…er…360 Midtown.
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Secretary of State records show that the registered agent is Basel Aljarrah, Jarrah’s brother. According to TABC records, Aljarrah also owns the property. A public notice that was filed and reported in the Daily Court Review confirms Jarrah’s involvement, with Oakmont referring to him as “Manager.”
And now you are up to date. Gaslamp will apparently soon disappear for good — controversy, litigation and a dismal one-and-a-half-star rating on Yelp left in its wake — rebranded with a new name for unknown reasons, and its intrepid owner, mired in court proceedings, starting a new venture right down the street. As the World Turns had nothing on Midtown. And scene.