Updated 2:52 p.m. Jan 19
The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission has suspended liquor permits for Clé and Spire. Clé will be unable to sell alcohol for 60 days starting Tuesday, January 19, while Spire will be unable to sell alcohol for 90 days starting Tuesday, Jan. 19. This is Clé's second suspension and Spire's third.
Published 11:48 a.m. Jan 19
In case you were trying to avoid controversies for a while (we totally understand), maybe you missed what went down between Mayor Sylvester Turner and the rapper Bow Wow over the weekend.
Okay, Bow Wow (formerly known as Little Bow Wow, whose real name is Shad Moss) performed at Clé, the Houston nightclub that has previously been under fire for letting a whole lot of people party without face masks despite the presence of Covid-19, on Friday night. And, of course, since it was Clé, there were a lot of people there, and it certainly appears that a lot of them weren't wearing masks. Yep, that's right, we're talking packed rooms, unmasked faces, and plenty of close contact in the middle of a pandemic that is currently surging in our city.
But the tension between Turner and Bow Wow was already on display in the hours leading up to the show. Turner was not exactly thrilled to know this performance was going to happen, so he went to Twitter to let his feelings be known. The rapper was in town that night to celebrate the birthday of Larry Morrow, a New Orleans-based entrepreneur. Turner took aim at one of the events—you know, the one featuring Bow Wow—and specifically called out the rapper.
These events that are scheduled with @BowWowPromoTeam today in Houston are on our radar. Other bars/clubs that are operating as restaurants, beyond capacity and social distancing requirements, please expect visits. Today we report 1964 new cases and 17 more deaths. st— Sylvester Turner (@SylvesterTurner) January 17, 2021
Then the event did occur, and shocker, a video surfaced of that aforementioned crowded Clé floor where only a handful of people seemed to be wearing masks. Bow Wow was on stage. And then, apparently the rapper finally saw Turner's tweet and took to the platform to vent about it.
Safe to say the mayor of houston hates my guts. I cant believe i get the blame for a whole weekend. This is ridiculous.— Bow Wow (@smoss) January 18, 2021
Turner responded by noting that he doesn't hate Bow Wow. It was concerns over the spread of Covid that were motivating him.
Let me be very clear. I don’t dislike @BowWowPromoTeam. While the city is in the midst of this pandemic nearly 2000 infected and 17 dying yesterday, this is not the time for concerts. Help us get past this virus and then do your thing. The same for other bars & clubs. st #COVID19— Sylvester Turner (@SylvesterTurner) January 18, 2021
On Saturday, another one of those Larry Morrow events was shut down by fire marshals, as apparently it was a fire hazard. That party was at Spire, also operated by the folks who run Clé.
We're not sure why Turner singled out Bow Wow, other than the fact that he was one of the biggest names showing up at this all-weekend public birthday celebration being held during a pandemic. Other artists who appeared or were scheduled to appear included Meek Mill, Mannie Fresh (of Big Tymers), Trey Songs, and Fabolous (spell it with me), but none of them got a Turner namecheck on Twitter.
Intriguingly, Turner didn't call out the Clé Group specifically, though Zack Truesdell of that group told ABC13 that he feels his businesses (which have been spotted hosting gatherings with a lot of unmasked people for months now) have been unfairly targeted. Truesdell pointed to the way the videos that always surface tend to show Black people at clubs when, he added, he knows white people have been packing clubs just as much during the pandemic.
That's certainly food for thought. Truesdell also told ABC13 that he believes big parties have been happening all over Texas. And he probably has a point: Check out this video of Bottled Blonde on Washington Avenue and try to spot a mask. And yes, the word Rooftop is in the new Rise Rooftop, but that's a lot of people packed in for a party, even if it's on a roof.
So yeah, these parties are happening all over the place. Why? Well, that's where this gets even more interesting. Clubs have found some creative ways around the closures mandated by state officials starting last year. Some of these clubs are able to reclassify as reception halls. Or they've re-opened as restaurants, because they'll sell enough food (it must comprise 51 percent of their sales) to pass Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission muster. Either way, what happened over the weekend isn't just Clé Group's fault—from its perspective, all of the other bars and clubs are open, and it will take its business if its concepts aren't open.
And thus, while it's easy to blame Morrow for throwing this shindig in the first place, the responsibility isn't entirely on his shoulders. While a public party to celebrate your birthday during the pandemic is misguided, Morrow was just doing what he could within established rules. (There are some questions about how much responsibility should fall on the group who own Clé and Spire since the videos do not show any indication of masks being enforced, and if that is 50-percent capacity—which it may well be—it's still a lot of people getting together right now.) Remember, this New Orleans guy partied in Houston this weekend. And it certainly isn't just Bow Wow's fault—yes, he didn't have to show up to the party, but his presence shouldn't make him the fall guy. (He did end up apologizing to Turner.)
But let's come back to the reasons behind why these clubs are able to host these parties in the first place. Gov. Greg Abbott re-opened bars and restaurants quickly during the early days of the pandemic, which has now cost more than 32,000 lives statewide since last spring. Then, after the state experienced a spike in cases, Abbott ordered bars to close again, but he didn't close up the loopholes that allowed these clubs to continue operating. On top of that, he did next to nothing to help restaurants, bars, and other small businesses once they had to close, meaning owners and operators across the state lost a ton of money and had to entertain opening back up and putting workers at risk.
As for the federal government? Hey, some places got loans! Cool. But as Congress spent months at loggerheads over a second round of stimulus, the PPP loans haven't been enough to keep restaurants and bars from closing either.
So, even though it is frustrating to see all of these images of places like Clé not entirely doing things the way we might wish they would, there are other reasons these things keep happening. We're nearly a year into the pandemic, and the spat between Bow Wow and Turner is just another consequence of our action ... and inaction.