With Yassine under fire, what’s next for downtown club scene?

Pigeon at Treasure Island

In ’96, Hussein Ali ‘Mike’ Yassine opened Treasure Island, what was to be the first venue of many in the Yassine Enterprises family. The ambitious Mike Yassine once told the Statesman he planned to open 1 new bar a year. As new venues opened, the scope and motif of the clubs also became more ambitious, from shark tanks at Qua, pulley-driven cages at Kiss & Fly to a real wood "eco-friendly" interior at Roial. At least two new venues were planned for this year: one where 219 West had once been and another unnamed project aimed for the Rainey Street District.

As Yassine’s presence in Austin grew, so did its reputation—and not always a in a good way. Underground activities of club owners and management brought the group to be known as "Austin’s Lebanese mafia". Above ground, after one bartender found himself not able to receive paychecks as a tipped employee, a class action lawsuit began by several in Yassine’s employ.

Today, Austin’s most prolific club dynasty has been brought to a halt, taking with it 9 downtown establishments and at least two planned projects. Aligning with a newly unsealed Federal indictment, 11+ people associated with Yassine Enterprises are charged with a slew of cocaine, firearm and money laundering accusations from observations that were made in 2008 and 2009. Throughout the past 24 hours, club offices have been raided by marshals and boxes full of documents and assets of interest have been placed in boxes on trucks destined to the FBI.

Marshals Load Boxes from Malaia

So what’s next for these spaces? For better or worse, Yassine introduced club styles of Vegas and Miami to a city that may have once scoffed at the idea of bottle service and a VIP section. It was a hard sell, but on peak nights of the past few years, it was hard to find one of those clubs empty. I proudly tell my friends that Austin is not only the Live Music Capital of the World, but also the Nightlife Capital of the World. My fingers are crossed for great things to come for Austin’s partiers, whether they want to sit on a VIP chaise, a wooden beer garden bench, a dive stool, or the couch of an espresso bar.

With one giant wounded, the doors might be open for others with similar ambitions that couldn’t penetrate the market previously. Off the top of my head, international club czar Michael Ault had trouble with Pangaea (later Phoenix) on Colorado St and may soon have more space for his Austin experiments. I hope, though, that this also grants the opportunity for new local innovation. One variable that worries potential local investors is the rising cost of commercial lease in downtown Austin—Emo’s comes to mind. We’ll just have to wait and see. Keep us posted if you hear anything.