By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
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.
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."
And now they never will be. On November 15, the kitchen and club equipment in both Wazoo's and the upstairs nightclub space will be auctioned off and the building cleared to make way for a new -- and presumably quiet -- tenant, Barnhart/CMI Advertising.
The change has been a long time coming. By the time of the August forum, Sims realized that paying for all of the extra precautions would make F-Stop's long-term survival difficult. Loft-dwellers who looked out onto the streets of LoDo and saw a crowd of 500 black people may have been seeing something they'd never seen before, Sims suggests. "If you have fears about a black group or a Latino crowd, this is where you need to take your stand," he says carefully.
"I'm not trying to stay open by screaming 'racism,'" Sims adds. "It's just something that you have to be around to know that's what's happening." Sims has been around the Denver nightlife scene for a long time; he's owned and managed many clubs, and he recognizes that F-Stop filled an important niche for hip-hop lovers. And while he insists that he doesn't think the neighbors are racists, or even unreasonable, he also thinks that if another loud nightclub were plopped into the space at 1819 Wazee -- a club such as Market 41, that draws a mostly white crowd -- there would be fewer complaints.
But neighbors say their concerns regarding 1819 Wazee have nothing to do with race. They don't care if patrons are black; they care that they can't get to sleep at night. And they want to make sure everyone understands that. A few weeks ago, St. Charles president Jerry Arca wrote to members of the residents' group, warning that Westwordwas working on an article about the neighborhood dispute. "There is a possibility the residents will be portrayed as unreasonable people who do not accept some of the inevitable frictions of living in an exciting mixed-use neighborhood, and who want no noise or commotion coming from bars or nightclubs anywhere in Lower Downtown," he said. "We are also concerned that the residents may be portrayed as racists whose objections to conditions at the F-Stop are due to its clientele rather than to substantive problems with the club."
The neighborhood's history in dealing with 1819 Wazee Street has been a "whole series of promises made and promises broken," Arca tells Westword. "I think the question that has to be asked is, are we kind of at the point where this group is responsible enough to have a license?"
Dan Shipp, owner of the building that housed Wazoo's and F-Stop, worked for years to keep those promises -- at a heavy cost to his business -- but says he never got a break from the nearby residents. "We know it's a witch-hunt," he adds. "When you get in these things, the neighbors usually win."
This weekend, the neighbors win.
It's just a coincidence, they say, that black music fans lose.
From her second-floor loft in the Streetcar Stables building at the corner of 17th and Wynkoop streets, Shannon Gifford has a great view. Across 17th is the Oxford Hotel, with its famous Cruise Room bar; her side of the street boasts a coffeehouse, a dry cleaner and, right beneath her, a Mexican restaurant. "I know more people here than any neighborhood I've lived in," says Gifford, a business and real estate consultant who's lived in her loft for five years.
For many years, the only people who lived in this part of town were bums and squatters who made their homes in flophouses and abandoned warehouses. But two decades ago, urban pioneers slowly began reclaiming the century-old storefronts of lower downtown; that trickle turned into a flood of loft-dwellers after Denver decided to build its baseball stadium at the edge of what had become known as LoDo.
Today LoDo is home to a few thousand people -- some renters, many owners of lofts that range from modest to million-dollar. They've worked together to become a neighborhood, forming associations and coping with such inner-city issues as parking, trash pickup (the city doesn't handle it for most of this part of town) and rowdy people who come to LoDo to party.
"Residents feel strongly that this is an economic engine," says Arca. "It's successful because there's a wonderful balance between residential, commercial and entertainment. If you talk to residents, you'll hear the word `balance' quite a bit."
The residents' group maintains that "balance" by getting incoming businesses -- particularly new clubs, restaurants and bars -- to voluntarily submit to certain demands, including controlling patrons' unruly behavior, cleaning up the area outside the building, not playing music anywhere outdoors. Businesses that promise to be good neighbors are welcomed. Those that resist are not.
Most of the residents have adjusted to urban living pretty well, and they co-exist with the businesses that lay claim to LoDo during the daytime and evening hours. "You get to the point where a fire truck or cop car doesn't bother you," says Jim Graebner, who lives at the Streetcar Stables. "It's part of the urban scene. You tend to tune it out. Sunday morning is a nice time 'cause it's so quiet. Seeing a pool of barf is a minor thing, but you have to suggest to folks that's not appropriate."
"Anyone who moves downtown expects it to be noisier," agrees Arca. But there's acceptable noise, and there's excessive noise: outdoor speakers, live bands on patios, the noise around quitting time. Between 1:30 and 2 a.m., the clubs let out, and the streets of lower downtown are full of revelers heading home or off to some other haunt.
"People know there's going to be commotion, but I think some of the bars overserve," Arca continues. "People can't handle their alcohol." Fights often break out, and "when that happens, residents do get pretty concerned."
According to records at the Department of Excise and Licenses, there are approximately ninety liquor licenses in the belt of blocks between 14th and 21st streets and between Larimer and Wynkoop streets -- an area that also includes Larimer Square and Coors Field.
"There's a large number of liquor licenses in an area never designed for the number of people it's getting," says Captain Lamb. "The number-one problem in LoDo is overserving. It's a problem, because what are they going there for?" The DPD often sends undercover officers into bars to see if they serve drunk patrons or if they let in underage kids. The officers tell bar owners they should "want to set a reputation as a bar that doesn't tolerate trouble. If you set that tone, you won't have any trouble," Lamb says.
But no matter how hard the police and bar owners work to make evenings go smoothly, LoDo may have hit a critical mass of bars, cars and crowds. "I don't believe we need any more liquor licenses," says Lamb. "I think we've got enough."
In order to receive a liquor license or a dance cabaret license, which allows dancing and live music, a business must complete an application and receive the necessary zoning permit. The city then holds a public hearing, at which an applicant must prove that the area needs and wants his establishment. The city's Department of Excise and Licenses weighs evidence at the hearing in the form of signatures for and against the project, the number of witnesses who show up, and the witnesses' testimony.
Businesses must also submit applications when they want to modify their premises -- by putting in a nightclub, say, or lengthening the bar or adding a patio.
In recent years, LoDo residents have actively worked to keep out unwanted bars and clubs. In 1996 they successfully blocked a license for a proposed 7,000-square-foot nightclub called Planet Lodo in the 1300 block of Wazee. And in 2000 alone, the St. Charles Neighborhood Association has met with ten restaurants, bars or clubs either seeking new licenses or trying to modify an existing license.
Lately, dance cabaret licenses have become the focus of the neighborhood's efforts. "Dance clubs have the most difficulty responding to the environment," Arca says. "Residents are asking, 'Are there too many dance cabarets in lower downtown?' If you have a standard restaurant with bar, people are there to have a good meal, a good time, and go home." At clubs, however, there's more drinking, a more active environment and "more potential for problems breaking out," he adds. "It's totally unscientific, but that's the feeling."
Mark Kinsey, general manager of the Sports Column, at 1930 Blake, applied for a cabaret license in March 2000; he says he wanted a place where people could shake and dance a bit after major sports victories. The license was approved in June after a lengthy hearing in May during which St. Charles members let loose with a volley of complaints. According to Kinsey, those complaints had less to do with the possibility of a dance club than they did with loud outdoor speakers on the Sports Column patio. "It was an opportunity for them to get us to abide by some of their policies, but I think the hearing officer was aware of that," he says.
Kinsey doesn't begrudge neighbors their concerns about noise, but he knows that if his outdoor speakers were removed, other clubs would have had to remove theirs, too. "The biggest argument with me is that I know what I'm getting into," he says. "If I move in next to a bar, I expect to hear music and occasional screams."
When Rodney Franks went through the initial process to get a license for Swanky's, his bar/restaurant at 1938 Blake, two years ago, neighborhood opposition "came down to almost intimidation," he says. Residents wanted to inspect his books before agreeing to support his application, he remembers. "I said, 'There's no way I'm gonna let any of you inspect my books,'" and he also balked at a request that neighbors be allowed to approve any subsequent buyers should he sell the building. City licensing laws already have a mechanism in place for such situations, he notes.
"I think they're saying, 'We should have the priority as far as what goes on down here,'" Franks says. "If I spent that much money on property, I'd probably have the same view. But I work sixteen to eighteen hours down here. I probably am down here more than they are."
Not all liquor-license applications are contentious. So far this year, the St. Charles Neighborhood Association has supported two of the ten applications and did not contest six others. (The owners of A-Bar, a nightspot in Union Station, had also applied for a dance cabaret license but withdrew their application once neighbors objected.) "We feel strongly that our record to date shows that we take an evenhanded and responsible approach to liquor licensing in Lower Downtown," Arca stated in his recent letter to members.
The new Celtic Tavern, at 18th and Blake, made it through the application process easily, says owner Noel Hickey. From the start, he promised that his place would be a true neighborhood bar and restaurant, and he agreed not to play music outside in the street. "One thing I have to say is, we've had a large amount of neighbors in, and they love the place," says Hickey.
When neighbors really don't love a place, the city has suggested mediation, with the business and nearby residents working with a mediator appointed either by the city's Department of Excise and Licenses or its Office of Neighborhood Response. Sevilla, the Latin-themed nightclub in the Ice House, was in mediation for eight months.
According to Sevilla's Bart DeLorenzo, the complaints stemmed from "strictly a few residents that didn't realize the repercussions of living downtown."
At first the club tried to work with its neighbors. "We did everything we could to cut down the sound, but once they felt it's not good enough, then they go to the city," DeLorenzo says. Since then, the club has "put up a cover, a roof on our atrium, which is an expensive process. We did that in good faith."
The monthly mediation meetings recently ended; the process was "amiable," DeLorenzo says. "We all have part of our lives invested in this building. We just try to work through it."
Only one other LoDo bar has gone to city-sponsored mediation: F-Stop.
The owners of 1819 Wazee received their liquor license in May 1993 - two years before opening day at nearby Coors Field - and Wazoo's opened in the downstairs space later that year. In 1994, people began moving into the Rocky Mountain Warehouse Lofts - but since the loft project was sold out a few years earlier, the question of who had first claim to the block remains debatable.
What's clear, though, is that it didn't take long for Wazoo's and Warehouse Loft residents to clash. In June 1994, the restaurant's owner, Bunt LLC, filed a request to modify the premises by adding a street-level patio. Neighbors balked.
"When confronted with the problems his restaurant was causing, [co-owner David French] replied that it should be a police problem," resident George Handley reported in a letter to the Department of Excise and Licenses. "His reasoning was that he had no way to tell whether a patron was drunk and rowdy because of coming to Wazoo's or became that way at another bar arriving. This is an irresponsible attitude on his part that washes his hands of any concerns that the residents of LoDo might have."
Yet a month later, residents gave the application their blessing. "We agreed that Mr. French was making a reasonable effort to control his patrons, and he agreed to keep the noise level down to the 55 decibel code so as not to bother the Rocky Mountain Warehouse Loft Residents," Handley reported in another letter. The license was granted in July.
In February 1995, the owners applied for another modification, this time to use the empty second floor as a dance club. The Denver Downtown Residents Organization, which encompasses all of downtown (St. Charles represents just LoDo residents), filed a letter of complaint, stating that "adding additional capacity at this site will only aggravate an already difficult and noisy situation for the residents that surround Wazoo's." Nevertheless, the application was approved.
The Great Room opened later that year, bringing live music - and big crowds - to the 1800 block of Wazee. Complaints soon followed. In August 1996, the city got reports that the Great Room was using unlicensed bouncers; that October, Excise and Licenses ordered a fifteen-day license suspension at Wazoo's after an undercover police officer found that the restaurant had served alcohol to a visibly intoxicated customer. The suspension was later reduced to three days and then rescinded in lieu of a $2,394 fine.
Barbara Henderson had moved to the Warehouse Lofts from the Bonnie Brae neighborhood in 1994; she was attracted to the small-town feel of LoDo in the midst of a big city. "You know the shopkeepers, you're friends with them," she says. "It's urban, but it's warm."
Sometimes too warm. After the Great Room opened, Henderson was not above putting a sweatshirt on over her pajamas and going to the club to ask that the music be turned down. "I did that all the time. They knew me; they saw me coming," she remembers. Sometimes the DJs would oblige her, but not often enough, and in the spring of 1998 Henderson moved a block away to the Ice House. "It was a hard two years," she says. "I would have rather heard the music than that bass beat. It permeates your body."
That same year, when the club applied for yet another modification to transform the Great Room into a new club called Tabu, another resident sounded off - and he knew how to make his voice heard. Former city employee Ron Straka occupies a loft that's right next door to 1819 Wazee, and his wall of windows was a poor sound insulator. In a letter to the Department of Excise and Licenses, he complained that sound from the club penetrated his residence until 2 a.m., and after that, there was the usual rowdiness and noise when patrons left the building. Straka also complained about the "after-hours use of outdoor service areas for high-pressure cleaning of equipment after closing" and, in general, management's arrogance in dealing with any complaints.
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.
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.
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.
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."
LoDo shuts down at 2 a.m., when the clubs let out and the last nightlife-lovers lazily and loudly make their way to their cars.
By 1:30 a.m. one recent Sunday, many have already called it quits, but the streets are still full of traffic. An ambulance races past. People honk their horns and shout, and music pumps loudly from the cars, many of which appear stuffed with one reveler too many. A white stretch limo parked on Market Street rocks back and forth, but the windows are tinted, so you can't tell what's going on inside.
Two fire trucks are parked outside F-Stop, lights whirling. Clubgoers file out of the second-story nightspot and down the stairs to the street, which is blocked to traffic. The exiting F-Stop patrons don't pay much attention to the engines; most shrug from indifference, a few from intoxication. Firemen soon emerge from the building and return to their rigs. Someone tripped the alarm, they explain; there's no fire.
Although a large SUV bearing the DPD logo is parked in front of the club, there are no police officers at F-Stop. Usually they're working with club staffers to disperse crowds on the 1800 block of Wazee as fast as they can. Up the street, in a parking lot at the corner of 19th and Wazee, hip-hop grooves blast from stereos with a massively reverberating bass that sounds ready to rip the cars to pieces. People are chatting with each other, chatting on cell phones, making out. Phone numbers are exchanged, friends look for friends. It's a typical LoDo crowd -- except that since these people came from F-Stop, there's one critical difference: Most of the faces are black. And the crowd, if anything, is mellower than other crowds standing outside other clubs that are shutting up all across LoDo. Across the street, the Warehouse Lofts are dark, except for one apartment that glows with blue light.
Now several cops stroll toward F-Stop from the corner of 19th and Wazee. The revelers are usually low-key on this block, says one of the black officers. The real action, he adds, is over on the 1900 block of Market, home to such nightspots as Market 41, the Soiled Dove and LoDo's Bar & Grill.
There are more cops visible on Market Street, but there are also more clubs, more people and more traffic; the block seems very congested, partly because all the pedestrians are crammed onto the sidewalks. (Last summer police experimented with closing off this stretch of Market, but that only made it tougher to move people out of the area.) Two cops watching cars exit from an alley look bored; they broke up a couple of scuffles earlier tonight, nothing major. They're giving directions to a clubgoer when a Camaro Z28 squeals its tires in an excruciating display of machismo.
"Isn't that illegal?" one guy asks the officers.
"We're just here to make sure no one gets in any fights," a cop responds.
A few minutes later, a Denver Sheriff's Department van pulls up to Market 41. A smallish man is escorted out of the club and cuffed. His pockets are emptied into a plastic bag, and he's placed in the van, where at least one other face pokes out of the darkness. The kid goes quietly as another cop explains that he was arrested for causing a "general disturbance." It's typical LoDo stuff, the cop says, before retreating inside the nightclub.
While police have received calls reporting fights and assaults at F-Stop, other LoDo nightclubs have inspired the same sort of calls -- and worse. Even Jerry Arca admits that the "police will tell us this is not the rowdiest club in the neighborhood." But while neighbors were complaining about F-Stop, no one seemed to notice that in February, an altercation broke out in front of Market 41 during which one man fatally stabbed another.
Just this past weekend, Market Street saw more trouble. Early Sunday morning, right as the clubs were letting out, a fatal altercation broke out in the 2000 block of Market. According to police, a man was driving his car through a parking lot when several other men walked in front of his vehicle and blocked it. A shouting match followed, the driver got out, and a fight ensued. One of the men began to shout, "Shoot him! Shoot him!"; a moment later, the driver was shot in the chest. He died shortly afterward at Denver Health Medical Center. The three suspects apparently fled in a black Nissan SUV.
The victim was white. The alleged assailants were Hispanic. None had been at F-Stop that night.
On a normal weekend night, at 2:30 a.m. a dwindling crowd is still hanging out on Market Street, and cars continue to create a din as they cruise past. But by now, the 1800 block of Wazee has become a ghost town. The clubgoers are gone. The police SUV is gone. The parking lot is empty. The whole block is empty, except for one guy lugging an armful of street barriers to a giant parking garage at the other end of the block.
Next week, he'll be gone, too.