Dream Time Extended

The multi-ethnic rap group Black Eyed Peas went gold in 1998 with "Joints and Jams," a celebration of diversity among urban party-music fans. The song's most popular chant-along refrain has been so heavily sampled in subsequent club hits that it's become a sort of sonic manifesto for the United Nations of Hip-Hop.

It goes like this: "We about mass appeal, no segregation/Got Black to Asian, Caucasian, singing, 'That's the joint, that's the jam!/Turn that shit up, play it again!"

Put a few Middle Easterners and lot of Latinos into the mix, and "Joints and Jams" could have been written about the crowd that frequents Club Dream, a Sunday-night hot spot at the Denver Pavilions.

Hosted by Pavilions tenant Sevilla, Club Dream features standup comedy, live performances by local rap groups and a hybrid form of DJ dance music common to Miami's sultry South Beach club district: funk, contemporary R&B, hip-hop and salsa.

"We play Santana; we play J. Lo; we play Ja Rule; whatever your flavor, we serve it," says Club Dream co-promoter Roger Keeler. He and partner Lay Low Bryant launched Club Dream last Cinco de Mayo with the first in a series of fashion shows that featured the street wear of celebrity designer Karl Kani, who personally attended the productions.

Since then, the night has become hugely popular, regularly drawing between 400 and 500 young clubgoers, who pay a $10 cover charge.

Los Angeles Lakers superstar Shaquille O'Neal got his groove on at Club Dream last December after his team's most recent victory over the Denver Nuggets, and comedian Paul Rodriguez showed up in November following his show at the Paramount Theatre.

To adopt the parlance: Club Dream's the joint. It's the jam.

But Denver Pavilions management is saying: Turn that shit off; never play it again.

On January 23, the Pavilions tried to get a court order to shut down Club Dream, alleging that Sevilla is violating a use clause in its lease that stipulates the space is to be used only as a Spanish restaurant with an attached nightclub offering Latin music.

"We want them to abide by the terms of their lease, which is Latin and salsa music only," says Pavilions lawyer Art Bosworth, who adds, "I don't have any further comment."

Denver District Court Judge Joseph Meyer denied Bosworth's filed request for a preliminary injunction against Sevilla and Club Dream, ruling, in effect, that he could not determine what legally qualifies as Latin music in an era when a Toyko DJ can mash a cut from Buena Vista Social Club with a beat programmed in Los Angeles by Dr. Dre featuring guest rappers Control Machete from Mexico City.

"Our lease may say 'Latin music,' but what does 'Latin music' mean?" asks Susan Garcia, head of Sevilla's promotions and marketing. "Does it mean the DJ who's playing it has to be Latin? Does it mean the lyrics have to be all in Spanish? We have a diverse spectrum of music, and we just call it good dance music. We don't call it hip-hop, because that term really seems to bother the Pavilions."

Latin-tinged hip-hop by any other name sounds as sweet -- it's just not what Denver Pavilions general manager Susan Cantwell had in mind when she negotiated Sevilla's ten-year lease and relocation from the Icehouse to the third tier of the Pavilions last Valentine's Day.

"The problem here is they informed us the nightclub portion of their business was going to be a salsa club, and that's what we envisioned as complementing the rest of our tenants," she says. "Every single one of our tenants has a use clause that protects all the other tenants. We'd [take Sevilla to court] if they started serving Italian food instead of Spanish food."

That would make perfect sense, because the Pavilions already has an Italian restaurant, Maggiano's, whose lease guarantees exclusivity. But when Club Dream began last May, Sevilla was the only nightclub with dancing in the shopping complex.

Now there is another: Banana Joe's Island Party, the nightclub sidekick to Margarita Mama's, the massive Mexican-themed restaurant that opened in the Pavilions last August. The music at Banana Joe's is primarily disco and Top 40, and its "tropical dance parties" draw a much smaller, more homogenized crowd than Sevilla's any night of the week -- especially on Sundays. And overall business inside the 38,000-square-foot chain restaurant and nightclub appears to be slow. It's practically dead most weekdays during lunchtime, and even on Super Bowl Sunday, there were plenty of empty tables and empty seats at the bar during the game.

But Margarita Mama's has problems beyond its lack of patrons. Last month, four Colorado contractors filed a lawsuit against the restaurant, alleging that its owners have refused to cough up more than $1 million the contractors are owed for completed work. Denver Pavilions is refusing to release more than $400,000 it had pledged toward the building of Margarita Mama's and Banana Joe's until the legal action brought by the contractors is resolved.

Paul Butler, project manager for Unit 45 Inc., the Ohio-based firm that owns Margarita Mama's, did not return repeated messages seeking comment for this story.

Club Dream's promoters say that their troubles with Pavilions management started shortly after Banana Joe's opened. "They started complaining that we were stealing their business," Bryant says. "We're not stealing their business. We offered to bring them business. We went over there when they opened and said, 'Hey, we're doing our thing at Sevilla, and we've got lines out the door, all the way down to the movie theater. Just tell us what kind of crowd you want and let us promote it for you; we'll get you that crowd. But they didn't want to do business with us."

Cantwell says she has received no complaints from any Pavilions tenant regarding Club Dream and that it was Pavilions security guards, not representatives of Banana Joe's, who informed her last September that DJs inside Sevilla were spinning hip-hop.

"I haven't heard it myself," she says. "I don't stay up that late."

Garcia admits that last summer and fall, Club Dream created a loitering problem for the Pavilions. "It was nice outside, and people would meet each other and talk as they were coming out of the club at closing time, and they'd stay too long on the property."

Also last fall, several fights occurred on the Pavilions property after Club Dream and Banana Joe's let out simultaneously. In October, Garcia met with Cantwell and representatives of the Denver Police Department and agreed to hire two off-duty police officers to supplement security.

"We want to make sure we're good neighbors, and we'd really like to just put all these problems behind us now and continue to create a positive relationship with the Pavilions, because we have nine years left on our lease," Garcia says. "We're not going to let anything go on that's going to jeopardize that nine-year commitment.

"At the same time, we're not going to stand still and let them do something that's not right. Because...let's be honest about this. It's not the music that they perceive as a problem. It's the crowd of people who are coming for that music."

Akara Khsham, who is Bryant's mother, works the door at Club Dream, and she is more blunt.

"We aren't willing to settle for stereotyping. We don't tear this place up like they do in LoDo when the Avalanche win a big game. We live in this city like anyone else, we pay taxes like anyone else, and we like to go out and have a good time, just like anyone else."

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David Holthouse
Contact: David Holthouse