Club Dead

Did a drug bust kill Metropolis?

Photo by Heather SwaimOrange County officialdom's war on clubs claimed more territory when the Irvine nightclub Metropolis fell on May 3. Though early reports suggested the club folded after a dispute with landlord Irvine Co., there's evidence that the closing is linked to a drug raid two weeks before. Officers of the state Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) agency and the Irvine Police Department stormed Metropolis an hour before dawn on April 18 and arrested four people on drug-possession charges. Included among the arrestees was 43-year-old club owner Jon Hanour.

A city permit allowed Metropolis to operate until 3 a.m., but Hanour invited a select few to stay on for a private party. At about 4:30 a.m., officers raided the University Center building, which is across the street from UC Irvine.

Police arrested Myles Wooten, 30, on suspicion of possession of Ecstasy; Kristiene Brashier, 28, for suspicion of possession of methamphetamine; and Shawn Bineau, 34, on suspicion of possession of GHB (also known as liquid Ecstasy) and use of a controlled substance. Hanour, who also owns Costa Mesa's Shark Club, was arrested on suspicion of drug possession and sale. Pre-trial hearings for the four are scheduled through June.

Irvine police had no comment on the case, but sources said the raid came after a month-long investigation and was triggered by the alleged sale that night of GHB to an undercover officer. An ABC spokesperson would say only, "I hate to be evasive, but unfortunately, it's not public information yet."

AMay 14 Orange County Registerstory reported that the closing was merely the result of the Irvine Co.'s changing vision for the shopping center. The story made no mention of the drug sweep.

"Ithink they're going to put a gym in there," saysHanour, who denies the drug bust had anything to with the closing of Metropolis. "I prefer not to get that involved in this discussion. It's final. There's nothing secret going on, I just prefer not to talk about it."

Hanour says he remains on good terms with his former landlord. But sources familiar with Metropolis said Hanour's relationship with the Irvine Co. has been troubled. They said difficulties began a year ago when Hanour transferred management of the club to his younger brother David.

"It was the first time David had run a club," said a source. Management problems followed. By the time Jon Hanour resumed his active role in managing the club, the Irvine Co. had placed it on a month-to-month lease.

If the company needed an excuse to shutter the club, several sources speculated, the drug raid and Hanour's subsequent arrest gave them one.

Irvine Co. spokesman Larry Thomas would not provide specifics of the firm's troubles with Metropolis nor confirm whether the drug raid figured in terminating the club's lease.

"I will confirm that over a period of time, this was a problem tenant for us for a variety of reasons,"Thomas said. "Ultimately—after we tried to work on a number of issues on the way they conducted their business and their impact on surrounding businesses in the community—we ended the relationship."

The closing of the 18-and-over club marks a serious setback in a county in which officials routinely close successful clubs for controversies far less interesting than alleged drug possession. Throughout the county, city officials have used zoning laws and code enforcement to crack down on scores of clubs for parking violations, excessive noise or litter, and occasional fistfights.

But the loss of Metropolis is especially painful to clubgoers. Opened in 1992 with an industrial-style interior, the club hosted high-profile DJs from around North America and Europe. Metropolis was also an adventuresome home to regular Latino and gay nights.

"It was successful; it was great," said DJ Daniel Parker, who performed frequently at Metropolis. "It was simply the best Orange County club."

Hanour, who describes Metropolis as "a labor of love," wants to open another club sooner or later. "Not a Metropolis,"he says. The next time around, he'll work at arm's length from the club—"find the site, design it, act as an owner/builder." In the meantime, he says, adding a smoking patio to the Shark Club and preparing for New Year's Eve will occupy him for the next several months.

Will Swaim, Matt Coker and Nick Schou contributed to this report.
 
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