Wynwood's House Nightclub Sued as Employees Allege Missed Payments
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Updated: House nightclub owner Mark Lowe has responded to the allegation. His full statement appears at the bottom of this article.
House nightclub is a unique presence in Wynwood. It's the neighborhood's only real club (even though it's technically a half-block south of Miami's art hub) and operates as a literal house with kitchens, showers, and bedrooms and even an elderly lady who plays house "Grandma" and runs around, interacting with patrons. The club has survived heated battles over its liquor license and noise complaints to become a late-night hot spot.
At least that's what it looked like from the outside. The reality, however, is that co-owner and creative director Mark Lowe is being sued by two of his investors for — among other things — allegedly failing to pay rent to House's landlord for six months, misappropriating cash for his own personal use, and "raiding the cash register at the end of each night."
Several former House employees have also contacted New Times claiming that they never received proper payment for their work and that Lowe has offered bizarre rationales for the problems, including tussles with the Russian Mob.
Former House employee Jorge Prada remembers Lowe addressing the staff when the city attempted to shut down House nightclub in January. "He sat us all down the week before and said that this was going to happen and said that the Russian Mafia was after him," says Prada. "His story was that the Russian Mafia has bought out his investors, his partners in this
Lowe hasn't responded to messages from New Times requesting comment about the lawsuit or the employee complaints. Multiple messages left with his attorneys have also not been returned.
News broke about House's opening in December 2011. "I'm trying to approach it in a different way, telling myself I'm creating a house — essentially a house party," Lowe told New Times at the time.
The nightclub wouldn't open its doors until May 16, 2014, though. House had applied for a 5 a.m. license, but that was contested by downtown club owners. The city eventually gave House a 4 a.m. license, but then, in October 2014, anonymous noise complaints came flooding in. Others accused House of violating its liquor license by not serving food — even though the venue had a modest menu that included items such as "Grandpa's wrinkled nutsack." Lowe called it a "witch-hunt."
This past January, the city tried once again to close House, citing that the club was technically 874 feet from a school, not the required 1,000 feet. House again prevailed because a survey company had submitted faulty information.
House's latest trouble comes in civil court from investors Alfred Abiousness Jr. and Mahesh Harjani, who collectively own 63.5 percent of Glass House Productions, the company behind House (Lowe owns 11 percent).
"Both [Glass House] accounts are presently overdrawn," their complaint states. "Lowe has failed to pay rent to Glass House's landlord for over six months, thereby causing the landlord to file an eviction action." The suit also alleges Lowe has failed to produce the required financial reports to his investors, took money from cash registers, and mismanaged the club.
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Employees such as Prada — who says he's owed $1,300 — tell New Times of missed paychecks. One night, Prada says, one of the club's DJs even took a speaker home with him as collateral.
"What I'm starting to find out is that Mark's way of running his business is that he keeps people there for a few weeks. They accrue maybe $200, $300. These people leave or they're either fired mysteriously. His turnover rate is astronomical," Prada says.
Another former employee, who asked that his last name not be used, had a similar experience. After working three shifts as a bartender, Andrew had earned about $800, but one week, his name stopped appearing on the schedule. When he approached a manager about it, he was told he was short $100 when he cashed out at the end of the night, so they were letting him go. "I call BS on that," Andrew says. "There's no reason I should be short $100."
Prada was eventually able to get a check from House, but it was for only $400. He's been unable to collect the rest of his paycheck since then. And after weeks of trying to get in touch with Lowe, Andrew was able to receive half what he was owed, though not from House directly. Lowe ended up depositing $400 and some change into Andrew's personal bank account to try to settle the debt. But paychecks aside, Andrew fondly remembers his time at House. "It wasn't a normal club," he says. "The straights can hang with the gays, and the gays can hang with the straights. I loved it. It was almost too good to be true."
He admits that the club's management was sloppily run, but unlike other employees, he says his interactions with Lowe were professional, mainly about keeping his bar clean and staying off his cell phone. He thought the club's concept was working, but he admits, "It's one thing to start a club; it's another thing to run a club."
Editor's note: After this story went
The New Times has always been very fair in covering the story of HOUSE. From its inception 4 years ago, and almost 3 years of torturous construction, the attempted lawsuit to prevent opening from MEDA and Downtown Nightclubs, the hundreds of "anonymous" noise, parking, dress, homophobic slurs, and every other imaginable complaint that was thrown out, to the eventual loss of our CU (Certificate of Occupancy) 6 months after opening for a distance measurement, approved by the city of Miami countless times 3 years prior. In the history of Miami, no nightclub has ever lost a CU under these circumstances. Clubs have closed for prostitution, drug trafficking , and even shootings, yet managed to maintain a CU. The fact that people were digging 4 years later is testament to the attacks we've endured, To say it has been a nightmare is putting it mildly. When the press (including the New Times) reported we were closed, business dropped 80% overnight, and paralyzed HOUSE as an entity. We couldn't add nights , no promoters would touch us, and nobody's booking an event at a business with no guarantee of operation. The truth is HOUSE never had a chance to breathe and was swallowed by deep pockets, politicians, and shady side deals from day one. I have learned that Miami nightlife is a slimepit, and if you aren't part of the monopoly of three, you're ignored , crushed, or replaced. As for the politicians themselves, it pays to know someone, and if you want to get anywhere be prepared to make friends, and hire lobbyists, if you want to function let alone survive .
At the end of 2014 early 2015 investors inside this business met secretly and behind my back [with outsiders] to explore the sale of HOUSE ... These three investors...have interfered in every way imaginable with the success of HOUSE Nightclub culminating in the clearing out of every penny in the operating account on Memorial Day Weekend, causing 37 checks to bounce, including liquor, and most importantly staff. This was done under the guise of paying "attorneys fees" or "rent," but sat untouched for months. What was already a struggling business in the Summer with no CU, was completely destroyed.
Are we behind on bills ? Absolutely, how could we not be, with no CU, and the bank account being drained. I feel terrible that staff are owed anything, and do everything in my power on a weekly basis to take care of everyone. I implored the investors who drained the account to return the money to take care of these people, which they refused. Additionally, I have been working actively on a weekly basis with the department of labor to handle and respond to anyone who reaches out to them.
HOUSE broke ground in a neighborhood that's not quite Wynwood, not quite Downtown. There is a much larger plan in play. The 24 hr district cannot sustain its location. The condos being built will wipe out its very existence. The neighborhood of HOUSE , with its beds on the pavement , and crackheads in the street 3 years ago has changed. What was 3 million then , is now changing hands for 12-20 million. HOUSE has a 20 year lease, a liquor license exclusivity for an entire district , and most importantly a CU that only exists because it's grandfathered. HOUSE is the beginning of the transfer of the 24 hr district, the logical new location, and that equals potential billions.
As an artist and designer I spent 4 years sleeping on the floor and literally bleeding to create something that is the manifestation of my soul, my vision for nightlife globally. There is no more detailed, unique, and beautiful nightclub anywhere in Miami. HOUSE deserved to have a chance to breathe, and I will happily lose everything to ensure that it does.