Sylvester's Restaurant and Polish Pub - its french fry machines filled with solidified grease, half-empty bottles of liquor on its shelves and soiled red-checked tablecloths in its trashcans - was auctioned off by the federal government yesterday to the only bidder.
The sale took place because earlier this fall a federal jury found that Sylvester's had been a front for a cocaine distribution operation. After the owner, Joseph (Joe Winters) Swiderski, was sentenced to a two-year prison term on Nov. 29, the government seized the restaurant-bar under racketeering statutes.
Sylvester's was purchased for $31,600 yesterday by the owner of the building in which it is housed at 1129 21st St. NW.
The building's owner, James Moshovitis, said he was merely protecting his investment by purchasing the restaurant and its fixtures intact.
Otherwise, according to persons familiar with the restaurant's financing, the bank that held a $31,000 note on the business property could have fore-closed on that amount and stripped the restaurant's interior by selling individual fixtures piecemeal through its own public or private sale.
Moshovitis said he is hopeful that another restaurant will move into the premises soon. He said he already has prospective restaurateurs who are interested in the property.
In the long run, Moshovitis added, the building probably will be torn down as he is now assembling other property in the block for a larger venture.
There were no other bidders for Sylvester's or any of its individual fixtures yesterday, a situation that prompted auctioneer Benjamin Weschler to announced at one point to the 15 or so persons assembled at the sale that "Nobody seems to want anything."
At that point, deputy U.S. marshals monitoring the sale told Weschler he could close the brief auction that began around 10:15 a.m.
The narrow bar area, which seats about 40 persons, was crammed with tables and chairs stacked on top of each other. The restaurant's chalk-board menu was still on the wall, featuring "Polish burgers" and kielbasa sandwiches, as well as smaller posters advertising krakus beer from Poland.
The restaurant had been open for about two years before federal and local agents announced last spring that its owner and other downtown rackets figures were using offices in the facility as a clearinghouse for cocaine distribution in the downtown bar area.
Swiderski, who is free on bond pending appeal, did not attend yesterday's sale. A friend of his, Riley Carter III, a downtown bar owner himself who held the stock for the corporation that operated Sylvester's attended the sale and said he thought the actual value of the bar probably was more than $150,000.
The sale marked the first time that a Washington business has been seized by the government and auctioned off because it was found under racketeering statutes to be part of a criminal enterprise, law enforcement officials said.