It's a slow Wednesday night at the Rising Phoenix Coffee House, so the kid in the high black boots, black jeans and black T-shirt has the dance floor all to himself. His moves are a lithe combination of what looks like Victorian waltz posturing and liquid meandering. The music is equally fluid, a throbbing miasma of warp-speed electronic beats and synthesized washes of minor chords accented by a woman's Middle Eastern ululations and a man's artificially deep voice--a dark but righteously buoyant sound.
Even if there's only one goth dancing, that's a good sign for Rising Phoenix owners Bob Alberti and Sharon Hartmann, who last month disposed of a load of bureaucratic garbage laid on their establishment by Adams County officials. When Alberti obtained his original building permits in 1997, no one told him he needed a dance license for his coffeehouse. After Adams County detectives stopped by the club this past January and asked to see his license, Alberti applied for one. But instead of adhering to a 1975 law that simply required a ten-day wait followed by a public hearing, county officials trotted out a 1927 regulation that forced the couple to submit to background checks and fingerprinting, as well as provide proof of possession and maps of the premises. They were also given just six days to return the dance-license petitions, which could be signed only by those over 21, since the procedure was the same as applying for a liquor license--even though Rising Phoenix never wanted to serve alcohol.
"I fought hard," Alberti says. "With all their black, these kids are considered 'problem children,' which is truly unfortunate. I could spend all day talking about how polite they are and how courteous they are to each other. People talk about keeping kids off the streets, but every place that these kids have congregated has been shut down by the county or the state. We've lost a lot of revenue. I don't know why it had to be that way."
For those who hang out at the Rising Phoenix, though, the owners' efforts were worth it. On this night, a few dozen of the kids are sitting around tables smoking, drinking coffee and talking with friends, or reading in soft lounge chairs. One is painting what appears to be an otherworldly, science-fiction-inspired dreamscape much like those already hanging on the walls--which themselves are painted to look like the stone walls of a protective castle underneath a dark, starry sky flowing with blurry, far-off, rainbow-colored galaxies.
"This is my home away from home," says Lucy Lobato, 23. "I love to dance; I have a lot of friends here." Lobato giggles uncontrollably as she shows off her outfit: a black, ruffled silk "poet shirt," black velvet pants, Doc Martens, a silver belt with tiny hearts and chains, a silver-and-black fabric choker and a silver cross her mother gave her.
On busier nights, Lobato says, it's hot and sweaty, with "lots of kids, from fifteen up into their thirties. It's a very accepting place. You can come in here and just be who you are without anyone judging you." Alberti knows many of the kids' parents, including "an Adams County sheriff who drops his kids off here," he says. "The parents know there's no alcohol, no drugs--basically, no bullshit."
Except for that unloaded by the county administrators, which was finally cleared up with the dance permit: Issued on April 7, it's now framed by the front door. And just in time, too, because when school gets out in a few days, the Rising Phoenix will be packed.
Gothic nights, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at the Rising Phoenix Coffee House, 5368 North Sheridan Boulevard, Arvada, 303-964-9097.