Last Dance

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

As clubbers exited, F-Stop staffers and police hired by the club would begin barking instructions for everyone to disperse. The hangers-on got a small window of socializing, but within twenty minutes, most of the crowd - sometimes as many as 400 or 500 people -- had been moved off the 1800 block of Wazee, split in two directions: half toward Coors Field, the rest back toward 16th Street. Occasionally the cops had to use mace to get people moving, Sims says, but just a little squirt. By 2 a.m., when other LoDo clubs were just letting their clients out, the street outside of F-Stop was almost quiet. But not quiet enough for the neighbors.

Before mediation, F-Stop hired four cops to work from 9 p.m. until 1 a.m., and then two more to work until 2:30 a.m. to help disperse crowds. One of mediator Wehmhoefer's first moves was to request that the club increase the number of cops from six to ten -- a request that came at the club's slowest time of the year, summer, when revenue is usually down 20 percent. This summer it dropped still further, because F-Stop was advertising less as a "goodwill" gesture, to try to keep crowds down, Sims says. "We were basically giving up the summer," he adds, and as a result, revenues had dropped almost 40 percent.

Hiring more cops was going to be a heavy hit financially -- particularly since Sims didn't think they were necessary. "I don't need security up in the club," he says. "I've never had fights up there." Still, he agreed to the mediator's suggestion, hoping that the arrangement would be temporary. The extra cops, as well as more staff at the door, another Wehmhoefer suggestion, added up to $1,000 a night three nights a week, or $12,000 a month in additional costs -- in a business where profit margins are often modest.

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.

As mediation continued, Sims asked if he could reduce the number of off-duty cops; the mediator refused.

Meanwhile, the noise question lingered. The club did everything it could to decrease noise, Sims says, including turning down the volume, insulating windows, keeping doors closed and stuffing sandbags under the stage to swallow sound. "There's always one or two neighbors getting the brunt of that," he says. "If they can't sleep, I feel terrible about that."

Sims's sympathy wasn't enough for Straka, by now the club's most vocal critic. Residents have "picked up bottles and glass and stuff like that" and put up with everything from the Wazee closings to unannounced "special events" at 1819 Wazee, he says. "But we can't control the sound."

So in late August, Fattor and Sims watched a mediation-ordered sound engineer take readings from the street in front of the club and from Straka's apartment. The test was conducted on a Tuesday night near midnight, recording the noise level both when the music was on and when it was off, and revealed only three decibels' difference -- essentially no difference at all. And the readings when the music was off were already higher than the city's 55-decibel maximum ordinance, a level that's "totally unreasonable," Fattor says. "Crickets are louder than 55 decibels."

But at the next mediation meeting, Straka again complained that the club was too loud. "His apartment," says a disbelieving Fattor, "was painfully quiet. It was disgusting."

Straka says the problem wasn't the decibel reading, but the booming low-frequency bass. "We all agreed if you closed the windows, the sound was okay," he says. "You can live with it. It was that low bass sound that you had to deal with."

The next step would have been to have a city engineer come out and retest the sound. But Sims was already counting his losses from the summer -- "You add an extra $12,000 at the bottom and you lose 40 percent of your business, you lose $25,000 a month for three months," he says -- when the club was suddenly shut down for ten days in September.

The suspension stemmed from a May 20 incident, in which a club bouncer allegedly sexually assaulted a female patron in the men's bathroom, then masturbated in front of her. Though lab results confirmed that some sexual activity had occurred, the DA's office refused to press charges because, according to a police report, the criminal act could not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. Still, the club lost its license for ten days.

After that, Shipp decided to face the music and pull the plug -- not just on the club, but on the restaurant, too. Wazoo's closed last month, and F-Stop will be gone after next Tuesday.

"It's a source of frustration," Shipps says of the stymied mediation process. "They say it's give and take on both sides, and it was nothing but give on our side."

Sims, who's seen many clubs -- some of them his own -- come and go, says he's a big boy who can handle the loss of a nightclub. But he loves hip-hop music and its fans, and he believes they deserve the same kind of entertainment options in LoDo that sports fans and other music-lovers enjoy.

"It's all based on fear of what might happen," he says. "It's the exhaustion from A to Z of what might happen. If it doesn't come true, you've lost your balance of fairness."

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