An illegal gambling den and brothel in the Mission District that has been the site of a shooting and multiple calls to the police in the past few months is seemingly immune to closure, despite frequent raids from law enforcement.
“The police have been here six times, and they come in and take the liquor, but [the people] get let go,” said Manny Torres, the owner of the Coco Frio restaurant two doors down. Torres said two of his dishwashers frequent the club — which he described as “basically a bunch of guys gambling away their paychecks” — and have been arrested by the police only to be released the next day.
“Every night there’s a party, every night they get arrested, and the next morning they get let go,” he said, saying that twice he has gone out to smoke a cigarette behind his restaurant to find police armed with shotguns conducting a raid on the club and telling him to go back inside.
The club, located at 2949 Mission St., is the most active between 2 a.m and 5 a.m., Torres said, but will stay open until people leave, sometimes through the late morning. Employees of nearby businesses described carts of alcohol being brought in and empty bottles heaved out, with groups of up to 10 people entering the club at once.
But it’s not just a gambling den, Torres and others say. Some report prostitution at the illicit venue as well.
“It’s basically a whorehouse, a bar, and a gambling casino,” Torres said.
A local resident who visited the club a few weeks ago said he and a friend were walking in the neighborhood after a night out when they spoke to someone on the street who told them of the “after hours club.”
“We got there and someone opened the gate and frisked us and let us in,” he said. “We thought it was just a place where we could drink and listen to music, but within 10 minutes we saw that there was much more going on.”
The resident said some 25 people were drinking and gambling at the club, and that he saw cards and cash on the surface of a pool table. Upstairs, he said, prostitutes and drugs were available.
“There were two or three middle-aged women wearing mini-skirts that kept going up and down the stairs,” he said, adding that women would go up and down with a man every 10 minutes. “After a while, we got curious and went upstairs and saw the gambling, cocaine use, and in a dark room the ladies were offering oral sex.”
Torres said his employees had also spoken of prostitutes, though he had never seen any women enter the building himself. The club’s culture, however, is not exactly discreet.
“They’re doing it in the open, it’s not like they’re hiding. This is like a Tahoe casino. ‘Hey, can I have a tequila? Can I have a vodka?’ ” Torres said. “You can just go in.”
Illegal gambling clubs are a citywide issue and such a nuisance in the Excelsior that Supervisor John Avalos held a hearing on the subject in October, hoping for more attention to and effective enforcement on the issue.
At the time, the Ingleside Station police captain said the clubs were elusive because they easily close up shop and move elsewhere, meaning the police must begin the enforcement process — surveilling the site, obtaining probable cause, and executing a warrant — all over again.
It’s possible the Mission Street location is simply a transplant of a different club. Torres said his employees used to go gambling at a spot somewhere on 30th Street — until that spot moved next door.
“They do it all the time,” Torres said of the clubs moving. “They moved from 30th. They were there and then they moved.”
But to residents, the lack of enforcement is baffling.
“I don’t know how the cops have not shut it down,” said local resident Carter, who declined to give a last name. He has called the police several times and has spied plainclothes officers staking out the den and serving warrants, but is baffled that the casino and alleged brothel remains in business.
“None of us understand how it’s possible for them to still be operating,” he said. “Everything you think about the law actually doing something, this is like a flagrant violation.”
The frustration is shared by Taylor Peck, the owner of the former Fizzary, a soda and candy shop that used to occupy the gambling space. Peck lives in the building and is the master tenant of the space. He leased it out in September to a couple claiming they would be opening a vitamin shop, Capp Street Crap reported.
On Sunday, Peck tagged his own facade with graffiti reading “Hey SFPD, illegal club,” with arrows pointing downward, Capp Street Crap reported. He also graffitied “illegal” and “dangerous” on the sidewalk in front of the club and called out the fire department and Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, writing that the space was a “fire trap.”
Captain Daniel Perea of Mission Station declined to comment, but a police spokesperson said the club is under surveillance. Without evidence that a crime is being committed, however, officers are hamstrung in their ability to root out illicit activity.
“We can’t force entry into an establishment unless we have probable cause,” police spokesperson Carlos Manfredi said. “In the meantime, our officers are documenting every incident, we have increased patrols around the area, and we are working with [city agencies] in solving this problem.”
Manfredi also said that Peck has not filed a police report nor made himself available to police. The building owner, Roberto T. Sanchez, has filed for eviction against Peck and his subtenants, Manfredi said, but that process could take some time.
Peck countered that he was working directly with a police lieutenant, and said he went to file a police report on Wednesday only to be told that there were already several reports associated with him.
In the meantime, residents must contend with the loud music, late-night guests, and possible violence.
“My business has been completely collapsed,” said Torres. The restaurateur has opened three other spots in the Mission — Mr. Pollo, the Palace Steakhouse, and Roxy’s Cafe — and says his restaurants “always take off right away.” But not this one.
“The only thing that’s different is that place next to me,” he said. “It makes the block look really bad.”
And Peck is up against a wall. Though he didn’t comment to Mission Local, Peck told Capp Street Crap that he is “in a really frustrating situation” and that his graffiti spree was “a last-ditch effort to get some assistance [and] attention.”
“He has done everything he can,” Torres said of Peck. “Every time he does something, these guys know, they already know what to do. It’s very frustrating.”
This post has been updated to reflect Taylor Peck’s comment about his cooperation with police. You can listen to an interview with Peck below, or at BFF.fm