Social House II Fight Heats Up with Council Hearing Tonight

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IMAGE VIA INSTAGRAM/SOCIAL HOUSE

For six years, John Racanelli operated Market Pub House in the Loop. But after trolley construction decimated his business, says attorney Albert Watkins, Racanelli closed the sports bar and started readying for a new venture — a second location of a Soulard bar best known for its servers decked out sans shirts in body paint

See also: Social House II Plans to Bring Topless Servers to the Delmar Loop

Neighbors, naturally, aren't thrilled with the idea of a topless bar, and they're trying to mobilize University City to stop Social House II. Even the Loop Business District has filed a letter with City Hall in opposition.

But whether they succeed could rest on a question far less salacious than the servers' clothing (or lack thereof). Forget body paint for a moment. This one could all come down to ownership.

Watkins insists that Racanelli, a veteran restaurateur, is still the owner of the business — which means he doesn't need a new liquor license or occupancy permit. "He has a valid occupancy permit, a valid business permit, a valid liquor license," Watkins says. "He's wholly compliant with all terms of his lease. ... There's nothing the city can hold up here, because all the necessary permits have already been issued." And if the city tries to stop him from continuing to operate a restaurant/bar at 6655 Delmar simply because they don't like the staffers' body art, well, "art" is protected under the First Amendment — meaning that such actions will almost certainly trigger a lawsuit.

But Dan Wald, who is Racanelli's landlord, says things aren't quite so simple. Racanelli, after all, has some new partners in the Social House II venue — the Trupiano family, which owns the Soulard location of Social House. If the city can show a change of ownership, Wald suggests in an email to RFT, Racanelli's plans may end up in reams of red tape.

And time is likely not on his side. "John’s lease ends in March of 2017 and I have advised him that I will not renew or extend the term of the lease," Wald says. At some point, the dispute could become a question of running out the clock — and in the mean time, Wald vowed in a letter to neighbors that he's contemplating a lawsuit of his own. He suggests to RFT that the new use may not be compliant with the lease.

But angry as the Loop denizens are, Watkins argues that the law is on Racanelli's side.

"They can do what they deem is appropriate, but I recommend they do that which is appropriate and legal," he says. "My client is a man who won't be bulled and won't tolerate having his rights compromised any more than you would. ... If they choose to do something inappropriate here, they're doing so at their own peril."

The University City Council informed neighbors that they'll be discussing the matter at a 6:30 p.m. meeting tonight. But on Friday, at least, Watkins said he and Racanelli had no plans to attend. "We haven't been invited," he said. "Why go to a party when you're not invited?"

We welcome tips and feedback. Email the author at sarah.fenske@riverfronttimes.com

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