Nightclub jitters - Club Villa Fontana could lose its liquor license in the wake of two shootings

Jul 30, 2008 at 12:30 pm

Underneath the flashing marquee at Club Villa Fontana, security guards methodically frisk those lined up outside. Searching for weapons, drugs and other contraband, the bouncers pat down patrons before waving them through the nightclub’s tinted front doors to shell out a $10 cover.

Meanwhile, three off-duty police officers patrolling Theater Square on foot monitor a rowdy crowd that’s congregated in front of the hip-hop club near the corner of Fourth and Broadway.

It’s almost midnight and only a handful of young women occupy the nightclub’s vast dance floor, but a few regulars say they expect the crowd to pick up closer to 1 a.m., as usual. In the meantime, several stocky security guards in black T-shirts are positioned throughout the two-story venue, standing with arms crossed, waiting for something to go wrong. 

Given the track record for crime in and around Villa Fontana, the tight security on this recent Saturday night seems reasonable, but perhaps it’s too little, too late.

The owners of Villa Fontana are scheduled to go before the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control board on Aug. 5 for alleged violations including inadequate security, admitting minors into the 21-and-over establishment and allowing disorderly conduct on the premises.

The hearing comes one month after a Villa Fontana patron — a University of Louisville football player — was shot following an altercation in the club. The shooting marked the second time in 15 months that gunfire has erupted outside Villa Fontana.

Photo by Sarah Kelley: Club Villa Fontana in Theater Square.
Photo by Sarah Kelley: Club Villa Fontana in Theater Square.

In the wake of this violence — along with a string of drug arrests and nuisance complaints — the club’s owners could lose their liquor license as early as next week.

An ABC investigator will present recommendations at the hearing, and Bill Schreck, local ABC administrator, will make the final decision. Because Villa Fontana has several past infractions, Schreck says suspending the club’s liquor license is a definite possibility, and that revocation is not out of the question: “We are trying to change behavior, and if we cannot do that we will revoke the license.”

Upon opening the venue in 2005, Villa Fontana’s owners — Elias Estephane and Fouad Mohammad — billed the nightspot as an upscale dance club, touting a pricy wine list, bottle service and a VIP room. But the establishment’s reputation has since been marred by complaints from nearby businesses about ongoing criminal behavior, most notably the two shootings. 

Both the club’s phone number and the number listed on the liquor license have been disconnected, so neither owner could be reached for comment. In addition, the nightclub was dark and vacant on several visits last week.

“Any business that is causing the continuing problems that they have been causing are of concern to us, the recent shooting being one, as well as some drug activity,” says Ken Herndon, director of operations for the Louisville Downtown Management District. “At a certain point you have to say enough is enough. If the problems continue, then clearly the way to go is the liquor license, because that’s the bread and butter. That’s the heaviest hammer you can use.” 

A few Metro Council members have met with police in recent weeks to relay concerns about crime at the nightclub. Due to the upcoming ABC hearing, however, police would not comment on specific problems at Villa Fontana.

University of Louisville wide receiver Trent Guy was shot at about 2:25 a.m. on July 6 after scuffling with two men who “disrespected” his fiancée inside the club. The 20-year-old — who was not old enough to be in the club — has been released from the hospital and is recovering.

After being ejected from the nightclub, Guy and a fellow teammate headed toward a nearby parking garage to meet up with the rest of their party, according to activist Christopher 2X, who knows Guy’s fiancée. “When (Guy) opened the door, the two young men he had a confrontation with were in the alley, and without any warning, they just started shooting,” says 2X, founder of the Fight Crimes Against Children Partnership. Although about 19 shots reportedly were fired, only a single bullet struck Guy, and his friend was not hit.

A similar scene unfolded outside Villa Fontana in April 2007, when 26-year-old Rodney Taylor was shot in the head while exiting the club at 3:30 a.m. The man was in critical condition for weeks, and still is recovering, according to 2X, who visited Taylor in the hospital several times.

Police have not identified suspects in either shooting.

As for whether he thinks the city should yank Villa Fontana’s liquor license, in essence shutting down the club, 2X says, “I just hope for all parties involved, whatever happens, that it’s in the best interest of safety.”