Why Are Atlanta Officials Cracking Down on the Party?
I perfectly remember the first time I walked into Alley Cat. It was a warm summer night, I had on all black, and I was craving something that would remind me of my week in Berlin. When I entered the space on Auburn Avenue, I instantly felt at ease. It was a dark space full of smoke and fog, and there was an electric energy that gave off the vibe that anything could happen here. Everyone I met welcomed me with open arms, and Max Cooper delivered a set that reminded me of everything I had left back in Europe.
That night I found my new home, and from the first time I walked in to the last time I was there, every experience felt like the perfect uninhibited escape. I might have fallen in lust with techno and house during a short month-long trip in Europe, but here in Atlanta is where that heated desire turned into a genuine love. In this city, I had the opportunity to see amazing DJs like Roman Fluegel and &Me, as well as discover local talent like Tocayo and Tito Mazzetta, so when I saw Alley Cat issue a statement that it would be indefinitely shutting down, I was in shock.
According to an article for The New York Times, since the tragic fire in Oakland, California that resulted in the deaths of 36 people and counting, officials have been cracking down all over the country in different cities including Austin, New York City, Nashville and many others. Perhaps Atlanta officials might be doing the same thing. We reached out to the City of Atlanta numerous times for a statement , but they did not respond to our request.
On Friday, December 9, party goers who came to Alley Cat for the X-Mas Kitty: Holiday Party faced a big surprise. Mikey Cobb, who’s a frequent patron of the club said, “We showed up around 11 or 12 and they told us the party moved to Sound Table. They said there was an issue with the bar upstairs, but the bar on the bottom was still open.”
In a statement issued on Alley Cat’s social media page , Hernan Piraquive, founder and manager of the club, said “due to legal issues (that I am not at liberty to discuss) it is still uncertain if Alley Cat will return in 2017.” However, Piraquive also stated that he will be exploring potential new opportunities for a new project that continues to expand the music scene in Atlanta.
We were able to get in contact with The Koo Koo Room, a midtown staple, and they informed us that they were asked to shut down on December 2 due to "licensing issues." Currently it is going through a change in ownership and had a temporary license expire. The club had a hearing with the License Review Board Tuesday, December 20 and hopes to be reopening this Friday. However, it is worth nothing that their temporary shut down happened the same day of the fire in Oakland which means there's no way it could have been connected with the tragedy.
A source close to MJQ said they also faced issues with a permit, so they were forced to close down for the weekend of December 9. The club had to relocate their final Sloppy Seconds party of 2016 on Saturday to the Graveyard Tavern, but they were re-inspected Tuesday, December 13 and are back in business. Admittedly though, part of the appeal of MJQ is that it's a dark basement space that feels like it has no regulations and follows no rules.
Although some people believe the crack down on clubs is partly a response to the Oakland Fire, many believe this a basic pattern in which officials try to make as much money as possible in December before the year ends by slapping every club they can hit with a fine, which is perhaps the issue Koo Koo Room and Alley Cat are facing. However another big theory is that this is Atlanta's way of coming down on some spaces that don't fit the gentrified version of the "New Atlanta."
In 2000, Atlanta passed legislation ruling that all clubs had to shut down at 3:00 a.m. and the party scene was forever transformed by the closing of staples like Backstreet and Club Anytime. In a Creative Loafing article from 2004, Eltson Collins who was a board member of the Midtown Ponce Security Alliance said, "We used to have litter everywhere and hookers in our driveways. So we'll oppose any move that will return Backstreet to their previous status as a 24-hour nightclub." It seems that when an area starts to face the inevitable gentrification that comes with time, the people who were there first are always the ones who get the boot, which is perhaps most perfectly illustrated in the events surrounding the temporary shut down of MJQ.
Another potential issue clubs are dealing with is the difficulty in acquiring and maintaining the correct paperwork. The Atlanta Police Department is in charge of issuing licenses and permits to the night clubs in the city, and the process to get an alcohol permit is no easy feat - not that it necessarily should be. It's a $5,000 fee just for the permit, plus other application fees and lots of paperwork. Of course there's also fire department regulations as well as building safety concerns. Basically, if you want to throw a good legal party, you're going to have to spend a lot of money and go through a lot of red tape.
The nightlife scene is in between a rock and a hard place. Atlanta clubs are facing a lot of different challenges in order to stay open, but it's important they find ways to fight back because spaces like this are so crucial to us. They're not just clubs, but an opportunity to be part of a community, to have a shared experience where we can all come together to celebrate life or escape society's demands. It'll be interesting to see how promoters and club owners can step up to the plate and continue fighting for our right to party. Here's hoping they knock it out of the ballpark, good thing our city is full of some hard hitting batters.