Last Dance

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

But this time, management was in no position to put up a fight. "When we redid the Great Room into Tabu, we changed the bar around quite a bit," explains Shipp. "When we did that, the lofts next door decided they were going to try and stop it." Shipp had already spent $400,000 on the changes, and he couldn't afford for the new license not to be approved. "We had to give in," he says.

So in April 1998, the owners agreed -- in writing -- to immediately discontinue playing music on the patio and to close its windows when music inside the restaurant got too loud, to remove trash and debris from its sidewalk, to limit recycling operations to the day hours so as to "mitigate the sound and disturbance associated with these activities," and to add extra sound insulation in the club.

After that, Wazoo's relations with its next-door neighbor improved -- although "the patio became worthless," Shipp says now. But once F-Stop replaced Tabu in July 1999, things went downhill -- fast.

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.

While the Great Room had offered a Tuesday-night Hennessey special geared toward a black crowd, F-Stop was the site's first full-blown venture into hip-hop. Managed by Curt Sims, a veteran of Denver's club scene, the spot was an immediate success, on weekends filling both the club and the streets below. Knowing that neighbors had complained about previous clubs, Sims worked hard to keep F-Stop running smoothly. A dress code was strictly enforced, no gang colors were allowed, and people were patted down at the door.

Sims didn't meet with F-Stop's neighbors until this past January 27, when he went to a St. Charles Neighborhood Association meeting to talk about the club. Although he knew there were some concerns about noise, he was expecting a friendly exchange. At the end of the meeting, he remembers, someone asked, "What kind of crowd are you going after?"

An odd question, he thought, considering the club had already been open half a year. "We're going after 21- to 30-year-old upscale clubgoers," Sims responded.

Several people in the audience looked irritated at that, he recalls. His answer was specific enough -- the crowd going to F-Stop was certainly better dressed than the average sports-bar group -- yet maddeningly vague.

Another resident asked what kind of music F-Stop was playing. When Sims responded that the club played hip-hop, he remembers, another resident commented that the people frequenting his nightclub were "a bunch of thugs and criminals."

After Sims took offense, the topic was dropped. At the meeting, at least.

A few weeks later, though, F-Stop's license was suspended for holding illegal teen nights. After that, neighbors began demanding that Excise and Licenses hold a "show cause" hearing, at which Wazoo's owners would have to justify why the club should continue to have a license.

In one letter, Joseph Hardy and Judith Blondell-Hardy complained that the club had broken promises for years. "There are now fights every weekend outside of F-Stop around their closing time," they wrote, "and we have had to call 911 on three separate occasions in the last six months when woken by yelling or screaming outside to see someone lying on the street bleeding or being kicked. Our impression is that the ownership of Wazoo's/F-Stop now accepts this weekend violence as part of doing business."

Another neighbor, Ed Lindgren, echoed the Hardys' observations. He wrote that he had "observed brutal fights, assaults, destruction of personal property, public exposure, vulgarity, defecation, vomiting and urination...I have heard firsthand stories of drive-by shootings on our blocks."

By June, enough complaints had poured into Excise and Licenses that F-Stop agreed to enter into mediation with disgruntled neighbors. The first mediation hearing, on June 12, was attended by a small group: Dan Shipp, Curt Sims, Amy Fattor, whose management company oversaw operations at Wazoo's, mediator Rick Wehmhoefer and Jerry Arca. When Shipp raised the idea that people were complaining about the club because of the color of the patrons' skin, Arca reacted. "He says something to the effect of, 'Why do you bring these people down here? They don't belong here,'" Fattor remembers. "Rick got very pissed, and it was very uncomfortable."

Arca recalls it differently. "What I said was that an operation that has this much violence associated with it may not be the best place to be next to a residential building.

"It doesn't matter if you're white, yellow or green, we ask that people follow the laws and behave themselves," Arca continues. "Curt feels like he's been picked on because of the music he plays and his clientele. I think people who live downtown are pretty liberal and broad-minded."

And demanding. Throughout mediation, the onus was on the club to spend money on extra insulation, extra personnel, extra security. After residents complained about illegal parking in front of the Warehouse Lofts building, the club agreed to hire someone to prevent illegal parking on the entire block. And cars weren't the only things they tried to clear off the street. Typically, F-Stop started winding down around 1:30 a.m. But even as the party reached its climax upstairs, the street outside the club was filling up, too, with F-Stop castoffs -- people who couldn't get into the club because they didn't meet the dress code or were underage, and now wanted to meet up with their friends.

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