Last Dance

LoDo's only hip-hop club was hot. Too hot for the neighbors, who put a stop to F-Stop.

Next week, residents of the Rocky Mountain Warehouse Lofts may finally get a good night's sleep. On Tuesday, November 14, the F-Stop nightclub will close its doors for the last time. No more boisterous crowds hanging out at 2 a.m. on the 1800 block of Wazee Street. No more monster jams blaring from super-amped car stereos. No more club. No more noise. No more troubles. Ahhh...

But hip-hop fans won't be resting easy. Since summer 1999, F-Stop had presented the wildly popular music to an underserved and grateful local audience. Now those sounds have been silenced, and the hip-hop fans run out of LoDo, at the same time that real hazards continue to spill out of nearby clubs and sports bars -- hazards that escalated into a murder Saturday night.

After F-Stop started hopping, Jerry Arca and other neighbors fought to stop the noise.For years, 1819 Wazee was a gathering place -- but now it's gathering dust.
Brett Amole
After F-Stop started hopping, Jerry Arca and other neighbors fought to stop the noise.For years, 1819 Wazee was a gathering place -- but now it's gathering dust.
After F-Stop started hopping, Jerry Arca and other neighbors fought to stop the noise.
Brett Amole
After F-Stop started hopping, Jerry Arca and other neighbors fought to stop the noise.

The August meeting at the new home of Bella Ristorante, two blocks away from F-Stop at 1939 Blake Street, had been billed as a forum on liquor licenses, normally a hot topic in bar-heavy LoDo, but it started out a snoozefest. Thirty or forty neighborhood residents listened as Helen Gonzales, head of the city's Department of Excise and Licenses, and Captain John Lamb, then-commander of the Denver Police Department district responsible for patrolling downtown, tried to talk above the din of restaurant patrons below, describing city policies and handing out copies of the LoDo Good Neighbor Handbook.

LoDo, according to the twelve-page pamphlet produced by several downtown business and resident organizations, is a "tightly-knit mix of residential, office, commercial, industrial, and art and entertainment uses. Because of the close proximity to one another, business owners and operators, and property owners must realize that the neighborhood is different and takes some getting used to." And so the handbook recommends sensible ways for people to be good neighbors, suggesting everything from picking up trash and keeping sidewalks and alleys clean to smiling and saying hello to new neighbors. Restaurant owners are encouraged to meet with neighborhood groups before applying for liquor licenses in order to "work out problems in advance of the hearing." But should those problems continue, the pamphlet also lists a half-dozen suggestions for resolving neighborhood conflicts, including "person-to-person dialogue," mediation and police or city involvement.

The section listing these approaches begins with the question "What if we don't act as good neighbors?" Although the "we" obviously refers to business owners and managers, these days residents themselves could just as easily ask the question.

That quickly becomes clear when the forum is opened to questions and the topic turns to F-Stop, located upstairs at 1819 Wazee. Open just over a year at that point, F-Stop is the only nightclub in lower downtown that caters to a largely African-American crowd. Residents of the next-door Rocky Mountain Warehouse Lofts have complained about previous occupants of the club space, too, but they've never complained this loudly.

That's because F-Stop itself is just too loud, say representatives of the St. Charles Neighborhood Association, which represents LoDo residents. And as the club closes at the end of the night, residents complain, patrons flood out onto Wazee and get even louder. The city has been closing the street so that the area can be cleared faster; as a result, some residents now can't reach their home by car in the early morning hours. But that's a mere inconvenience: Residents also claim that the club is flat-out dangerous, with fights and assaults common.

One neighbor wants to know what the city is going to do about it: "When the pattern is there, when the patrons get stabbed or shot or killed and they come out of the F-Stop, at what point does that danger to LoDo stop?"

It's an impossible question to answer, because, as Captain Lamb points out, no one has ever been stabbed or shot or killed inside F-Stop. Although there are hot spots all over LoDo, spots that get hotter as the clubs let out, F-Stop is not the biggest troublemaker. Not from a police standpoint, anyway. But that's irrelevant to this meeting. What matters is that F-Stop sits next to one of LoDo's largest, and earliest, loft complexes -- and its residents don't look convinced by Lamb's statements. And now that the cat is out of the bag -- F-Stop has been singled out -- the grumbling gets more pointed. Larry Gibson, the meeting's moderator, encourages the crowd to keep the pressure on: "They know you're interested. They know you're watching."

Both the city and the owners and occupants of 1819 Wazee know all too well that the neighbors are watching. Three times in six years, the liquor license for that address has been suspended. The complaints started a half-dozen years ago, when Wazoo's, a sports bar/restaurant, opened on the main floor, and it continued when the owners opened a nightclub upstairs, a club first called the Great Room, then Tabu and, finally, F-Stop. But only F-Stop drew an almost all-black crowd, and only F-Stop drew this volume of complaints. The club has tried to deal with many of them, adding more insulation, paying for extra security and shutting down the street. But the complaints keep coming.

No one pays much attention to the lanky white guy from Arkansas -- Curt Sims, F-Stop's manager. As the meeting finally draws to a close, he sounds exasperated. "It gets so overwhelmingly..." he tries to explain, then loses his thought. "The same people are complaining about the same things without any consideration to what's been done. Not that any of them would have been down there."

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