Civic group eyes late-night club

WILLIAM KENNY / TIMES PHOTO
The GoodLife Lounge is officially designated as a post of the Catholic War Veterans of America.

It’s anyone guess what inspired the founders of a Bustleton nightclub to call their establishment GoodLife Lounge. Is the name a tribute to the 1963 Tony Bennett hit song The Good Life? Or is it a more contemporary reference, such as Kanye West’s 2008 Grammy winner Good Life?

Either way, the nightclub has brought a lot of badness into the lives of some neighbors, they say, as a result of the establishment’s repeated scrapes with state liquor code enforcers and its apparent connection with occasional and potentially lethal violence.

What’s more, all of that trouble seems to belie the site’s official designation as a post of the Catholic War Veterans of America, an 80-year-old national nonprofit organization that espouses the motto, “For God, For Country, For Home.”

Now, upon further investigation, authorities and public records confirm that CWV Post 162 has been under the microscope for years. State police have cited the place at least six times since 2005 for violating its liquor license, with numerous individual violations alleged on each occasion. Last Dec. 3, an administrative law judge ordered the sitting officers to “divest themselves of interest in the club” and to transfer the liquor license to a “legitimate club” within a year. Otherwise, they will have to surrender the license back to the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board.

The club is in the Belair Center strip mall at 9855/59 Bustleton Ave. Jack O’Hara, president of the Greater Bustleton Civic League, says that neighbors, such as those who live to the rear of the property on the 9800 block of Wistaria St., have been on the front lines for years.

“We’re not against a bar in the neighborhood, but businesses with rowdy crowds we are against,” O’Hara said. “This business seems to attract rowdy crowds. A bar with apparently unsupervised rowdy crowds, we cannot tolerate. (Philadelphia) police say there have not been a lot of complaints, but every time something goes on, neighbors call me and ask what’s going on over there.”

The latest disturbance and serious scare occurred on Jan. 31 when shortly before 3 a.m., a group of 50 to 75 people outside the club got out of hand, Philadelphia police say. The club’s own bouncers called 911 to report a disturbance and possible shooting in the parking lot. The location is a half-block from the 7th Police District station.

During the incident, one man allegedly charged an officer, who discharged pepper spray. Then a woman allegedly assaulted three cops. Ultimately, police arrested three people. No serious injuries occurred, although investigators later found 11 spent shells in the parking lot.

Capt. Mike Gormley, commander of the 7th district, says that those reports of gunfire have not been confirmed. Authorities are unaware of any injuries. No guns were found. The district plans to pay close attention to the location moving forward, he said.

Another incident with life-or-death ramifications occurred in the same parking lot on July 20, 2013. Again, it was about 3 a.m. when a large group of people gathered outside the nightclub, which was then known as Studio 98 (although still affiliated with the CWV Post 162). Police said at the time that a fight began inside the club and spilled outside, where someone sprayed Mace into the air and a woman drove an SUV into the crowd. Eight women were hospitalized, including two with critical injuries.

A retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, Nicholas Taylor, is the Pennsylvania Department commander for the Catholic War Veterans. Reached by telephone, the Norristown-based Taylor said he was unaware of a history of troubles at Post 162.

“The state commander is launching an inquiry and investigation into this matter,” Taylor said. “My understanding is they do pay their dues and I do believe they are a post in good standing.”

Taylor added that the CWV will not allow public nuisances at its posts. Post 162 has 49 members on its books, he said.

“It is (my) policy as department commander that this type of activity will not be tolerated,” he said.

According to public records, Post 162 has owned the liquor license since 1987. It’s a “catering club” license, the kind issued by the LCB to “a fraternal organization and its №1 priority is to operate for the good of club members. The sale of alcohol is a secondary aspect of the operation,” said Sgt. Dan Steele of the Pennsylvania State Police’s Liquor Control Enforcement branch.

The liquor code requires catering club licensees to have stated by-laws, conduct regular officer elections, maintain membership lists, hold regular meetings and conduct regular club business. Any parties must be a “registered catered event” arranged at least 24 hours in advance, Steele said.

Financially, a large portion of a club’s proceeds from business activity must benefit charitable activities. Clubs who run catered events must keep detailed logs of attendance, the purpose, expenses and income (such as admission fees and liquor sales), although guests don’t necessarily have to sign log books upon entering the building like they would for a standard club license. A catering club licensee may serve alcohol until 3 a.m. Patrons must exit the property by 3:30 a.m.

But some licensees have been known to stretch the rules. Often, the club — ostensibly a charitable organization — will use the license to operate potentially profitable after-hours spots.

“What I term that is a sham club,” Steele said.

Common “red flags” are large social media marketing campaigns that advertise “after hours” or “all are welcome,” the state trooper said. Other signs of trouble include community complaints, lines outside the door and police reports citing disorderly activity.

On the night of Jan. 30 (and early morning of Jan. 31), GoodLife promoted a live musical act and a birthday party publicly. Hours after the parking lot trouble, the club posted two videos of the indoor concert on one of its Facebook pages. The clips showed what looked like hundreds of partygoers enjoying the entertainment.

On Jan. 2, the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspection issued a cease operations order to the club based on alleged fire code violations and that it did not have a required “special assembly” license. But the shutdown was short-lived. The club quickly cleared up the relatively minor violations, an L&I spokeswoman said. In keeping with its new special assembly license, the club must now shut down at 2 a.m., regardless of the liquor license. Now, the club is promoting more parties for next weekend.

“They have a big event this Saturday and what has changed?” O’Hara asked rhetorically. “It doesn’t look like a whole lot, based on their advertising.”

O’Hara said that a senior L&I official has agreed to address questions at the next meeting of the Greater Bustleton Civic League on Feb. 24 at American Heritage Federal Credit Union, 2060 Red Lion Road. Start time is 7 p.m. ••

Examining the GoodLife: The GoodLife Lounge, in the Belair Center strip mall on Bustleton Avenue, has been the site of violent assaults and many liquor code violations. WILLIAM KENNY / TIMES PHOTO