Pop-up clubs, bars fueling violence in Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Speakeasies and illegal parties are nothing new in Philadelphia. They've been around for decades and were a problem before the pandemic.

But a string of recent shootings outside these illegal pop-up clubs have some city officials concerned.

"There are no restrictions, they're not closing at 2 a.m.," said Lt. Dennis Rosenbaum of Northeast Detectives. "You're not flagging patrons out like you're doing a bar, and most of them don't run the proper amount of security."

In November, Northeast Detectives busted an alleged speakeasy on the 4200 block of Leiper Street after shots were fired and several vehicles hit.

An investigation led detectives to the illegal establishment that served as an auto body shop during the day.

"They had a full bar set up with stalls, VIP tables, the whole nine yards, lighting, DJ stand and everything," Lt. Rosenbaum added.

Police busted another place on the 2100 block of Ridge last week after three people were shot.

And gunfire hit six people at an illegal "pop-up party" in a catering hall in Nicetown last month.

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1 dead, 5 others injured after shooting during a "Pop-Up" Party in the city's Nicetown section.

They're among a half dozen shootings in recent months at these alleged illegal bars, clubs and parties.

"I believe once these restrictions are more lifted, and I think they'll become less of a problem for us," added Lt. Rosenbaum.

The Philadelphia Department of Licenses and Inspections said there's been a surge in complaints for illegal bars and after-hours parties since the pandemic began.

Complaints are up nearly 20%.

L&I spokeswoman Karen Guss said social media helps to fuel these breeding grounds for violence.

She said locations are also hard for the department to track.

Most illegal spots root in warehouses, Airbnb's, and other legitimate daytime businesses in the wee hours of darkness.

The department also said these factors make investigations into the illegal pop-up slow.

"Sometimes even illegal clubs are in private residences and folks don't have to let you in," she said.

The uptick has also been a battle for its investigators with the Nuisance Property Unit.

"They face threats, they face aggression," said Guss. "It's not rare for them to come out of an inspection that they're doing and find that all their tires have been slashed, but they're very persistent."

The city says a coalition, that includes L&I, police and the Liquor Control Board, are trying new avenues to hold those who host these places accountable.

"We wish we had a bigger toolbox," said Guss. "So we're essentially looking for more tools and bigger tools. And we are having some success."

L&I said fines can reach into the thousands but did not have figures available for just how many had been busted during the pandemic.
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