By Noah Hubbell
By Kiernan Maletsky
By Tom Murphy
By Noah Hubbell
By Alex Distefano
By Darryl Smyers
By Jon Solomon
By Britt Chester
Not long after midnight on Saturday, August 3, a pair of young men whipped out handguns outside La Rumba, firing bullets into the air as clubgoers spilled out of the venue and into the night. Save for a shot-out car window -- and the near-cardiac reaction of some Golden Triangle residents living in lofts near the club at 99 West Ninth Avenue -- the physical damage was minimal. No one was hurt, and both shooters, who'd been involved in a traffic altercation earlier that evening, were arrested and taken to jail.
Unfortunately, La Rumba's wildly popular Friday hip-hop/R&B night did not survive the incident. The following week, 3 Deep Productions, the promotional team that had kept the event rolling for more than a year, began sending out mass e-mail notices to regular patrons, advising them that as of August 9, the club would close its doors to the rap-loving crowd. And indeed, that Friday, 3 Deep's Alvin LaCabe and Francois Baptiste stood outside and shooed away the pimped-out, party-ready heads who arrived for the weekly clubland ritual.
There were plenty of them to shoo away. The Friday-night event never failed to draw a capacity crowd, and LaCabe says the bar inside did a very brisk business, enough to make it "very worthwhile" for everyone involved from a financial point of view. But the night's success may have been its undoing. As its popularity grew, so did the number of fights and flare-ups, both inside the club and out in the parking lot, where spillover traffic would swell and collect through the night. Equipped with beefy security and a strict dress code that prohibited, among other things, jeans and athletic wear, LaCabe and Baptiste had a front line against gangsta wannabes and others who emulate the Jay-Z school-of-hard-knocks style. Even with that check in place, however, LaCabe admits that the crowd often escaped their control. When the folks at La Rumba's parent company, Nobody in Particular Presents, decided to pull the plug, 3 Deep didn't blame them.
"We basically told everyone, 'This is a warning. We're never going to have a nice club if you keep acting the fool and acting stupid,'" says LaCabe. "The thing is, you get people hanging out outside, because maybe they couldn't get in and they want to check out who didget in when they come out. There's nowhere after hours for hip-hop people to go, so they kind of linger out there, and things can get ugly. Hip-hop people know the party isn't over when the music stops. We're a partying crowd, and we're a vocal crowd. And some of those people in that crowd, they're just like bad apples."
According to NIPP's Jesse Morreale, his company liked the idea of hosting a hip-hop event, but he'd seen an undesirable pattern in the scene. "I think that 99.9 percent of the people in the scene are cool and they've got a good vibe, and they just want a nice club environment in a location that works for the crowd," he says. "But you get that group that's buying into some bullshit MTV image, with their chains and stuff. They're just meatheads. I think there's starting to be a change, where the cool people are turning their backs on the other portion -- like they're going to think you're an idiot for costing them this cool place. I hope that's what happens, at least."
For now, LaCabe and 3 Deep are hoping that the La Rumba energy will spill over to Brown Sugar, the new Saturday-night event they're hosting at the Starline Lounge, the back bar in the former Denver Buffalo Company at 1109 Lincoln Street. Curt Sims, who now is the leaseholder on the building (and plans to open an upscale Mexican restaurant, Cielo, in the front half sometime next month), had hosted popular hip-hop nights at F-Stop, a LoDo club, before neighborhood complaints closed them down ["Last Dance," November 9, 2000], so he should be a sympathetic landlord. Still, LaCabe's disappointment over the disappearance of La Rumba's hip-hop night is palpable, and with good reason. Hip-hop promoters have struggled to find space and respect in a town that's seen the closing of a number of urban-themed clubs in the past couple of years, including not just F-Stop, but the Roxy (which has recently flipped between various owners and openings) and Jimmy's Boathouse. During the week, hip-hop fans' only option is to bounce from club to club: to Rock Island on Tuesday nights for So What!; to Club Bash on Thursday; to Los Cabos or Foxes at the Chili Pepper on Saturday. What made La Rumba's night special, LaCabe says, is the sense of sophistication it lent to an often-maligned genre.
"There still are a fair amount of nights for hip-hop, but the thing is, a lot of them just aren't that good. Hip-hop people are kind of used to going to places that aren't that nice," he says. "But La Rumba was such a nice club. It was a dress-up night. It was a class night. It was a night that made us feel good about being into hip-hop.
"There's going to be a lot of people hurt by this, and not just the fans," he adds. "It's like beauty parlors, salons, car places where guys would go get their cars washed, their rims detailed. People would go all out just to be looking good in this one spot on this one night."