UPDATE: Only in Mad City: Why There Are So Few Black Bars and Entertainment in Town?

UPDATE (10/21/10):

I suddenly noted some activity regarding this story from last year.   I’m not surprised that R Place, out on Park Street near Madison‘s South Side, has survived only to be shut down.  All because the cops and the authorities and the residents never gave it a chance.  That bar. Those black people. From the Wisconsin State Journal:

A metal detector, security cameras and dress code weren’t enough to prevent a shooting and stabbing at a Madison bar over the weekend, so Madison officials are moving to close the place down.

The city attorney has taken the first steps toward revoking the bar’s liquor license. In the meantime, police have ordered the owner of R Place on Park, 1821 S. Park, to hire two armed security guards to keep order.

On Thursday the bar was locked and a notice was taped inside a front window announcing that the place “will be open for private or invitation only events until further notice.

Of course, Assistant City Attorney Jennifer Zilavy is up on her high horse proclaiming that it was not racism but a public safety issue that has caused authorities to demand the revocation of Roderick Flowers’ liquor license. Captain Joe Balles of the South Side police station is also dismissive of Flowers’ assertion of racism and a double standard. Once again, it appears that Flowers and his wife have done all they could to accommodate the city for nothing.  As I said before, why doesn’t the police crack down on those who are acting up, and not necessarily on the bar? The bar is not the problem; some of the clientele are.  But the authorities will not see reason; they evidently have their own agenda. They will continue to lump blacks together as if all the patrons are all making trouble at this little watering hole, when it is some who definitely need a little time in the drunk tank, in the slammer, and not alcohol.

So yet again, there will be no African American bars in Madison proper. I’m sure that those responsible can’t wait to roll their 800 lbs. onto R Place in court.

Happy now?


Um, because the clientele is mostly black, to answer my own question.

Rick Flowers, who with his wife Annie Weatherby-Flowers, are owners of R Place, the only black bar in Madison. For now, at least (Courtesy: CapTimes)

And it’s not always the fault of the owners or the patrons that there’s an element that does want to prey on other black people. We don’t deny it. The cops should be on to these idiots and put the scare on them so that they don’t show up. Unfortunately, as I have said before, the authorities, residents and neighboring store owners NEVER separate those blacks who are acting a fool from those who are simply wanting a place in which to hang out. They lump us all together. We ain’t all like that.

Plus, the cops have a weird set of priorities. They’d rather crack on anything black they think is moving sideways, especially if it’s across the street from Maple Bluff, home to the Wisconsin governor’s mansion, and an exclusive gated community that borders Sherman Avenue within Madison. And why is there a double standard regarding protecting students on State Street and environs from getting drunk and out of line and not providing even one squad car to R Place on Park or A Place for Friends, to prevent this kind of behavior from manifesting? Why is it blacks’ responsibility to “clean up” the aberrant behavior when the cops are there to do just that? Aren’t they black people’s cops, too? We pay taxes to pay these cops. Separate the idiots from the customers, and let the bars go on as they are.

But for authorities, it would just be too hard. Screw pissing off law-abiding blacks who want to have fun and entertainment. Somehow, that’s looking like the real crime: that blacks are getting way too comfortable in Madison. They don’t belong here in Cheeseland. And look what they did to Milwaukee…

The Capitol Times has it:

It’s a familiar story in Madison. Neighbors of a bar who were leery of it opening in the first place complain that their worst fears are being realized as customers, traffic and noise multiply. The owners say it’s not their patrons who are causing the problems, but people hanging around outside. Disgruntled neighbors are setting them up with a campaign of police calls, they protest.

And do they protest! To the point where there is hardly a black entertainment scene to be found in the city. But they don’t want to say that race is a factor. It’s location, location, location. Meaning that they don’t want a bar here or a bar there, much less a black bar. So they say. NIMBY.

[Kevin] McGettigan, who is white, lives across Beld Street from the rear of the bar and claims credit, with his neighbors, for placing at least half the 61 calls made about the bar to police this year. Drivers that cruise R Place sell drugs and alcohol from their cars, he says, leaving neighbors to pick up the torn bits of Baggies and empty booze bottles. And then there is the noise of circulating cars with booming sound systems, arguments, fights, and the loud music emanating from the club. South Park Street, with blocks of housing right behind it, is not the place for an establishment that amounts to a small night club, McGettigan says. “A neighborhood bar in a neighborhood is fine, but if you want an entertainment venue, you need a buffer zone for sound,” he says. “And the issue has gone from sound to safety. Frankly, where there is gunplay, the neighbors are afraid.”

Maria Brown says she finds the race card hard to take. “I don’t care if he has polka dots, it’s the location of the bar that is the concern,” says Brown, a Native American who recalls that a beauty salon was operating where R Place is now 15 years ago when she and her husband bought their house on Beld Street. Neighborhood residents have worked to get drug dealing out of the neighborhood, she says, and they see the scene around R Place as a step backward. “I’m woken up two, three nights a week. I have to put my time and energy into this, and it’s not what I want to put time and energy in to,” Brown says.

So here it is again. Blacks attract crime. Blacks attract drugs. All blacks are packing guns when they visit clubs and bars. All of these statements are underlying the responses above, and they are blanket, erroneous responses. There is the same element arising from country music honkytonks and student bars and clubs, but the cops have let them proliferate. Hallowe’en at UW Madison once made headlines across the country five years ago as the number one party school in the nation (according to Playboy) showed everyone how to stage a real drunk-and-puke baccanal riot, despite the cops.

I’m not a Madison native. I was born in New Orleans, and until 2000 had called the Bay Area of Northern California my home. In New Orleans, before Katrina, there was a barroom hangout every other block, just like there’s a storefront church, and a grocery store on the corner. In San Francisco, bars used to proliferate on Fillmore Street and Third Street in the historically black areas of the city. There are fewer ones there now because blacks, after resisting the redevelopment of the Western Addition that killed the community, is moving to other places like Stockton, Tracy and Sacramento.

In every city that I have mentioned, the cops never came in unless that bar or club becomes a noted hangout for the drunk and disreputable, or breaks the rules having far too many patrons. It had little to do with color. And that didn’t happen a lot. The cops worked with the owners black, white or Asian. Even if a bar became a haven for drunks, all the bouncers or the bartenders had to do is call the cops, and they removed the offender(s) and booked them. The cops let the bars go on doing business and/or did not cite them unless the owners clearly didn’t care, and they became a public nuisance.

I lived practically next door to a bar in New Orleans; my home was on the corner of Peniston and Magnolia, and the bar–Mr. Joe’s–was a couple of doors down. I could hear the sounds of mid-Sixties and New Orleans soul. I could hear raucous laughter, but most nights I turned over and went to sleep. I was 12, 13, 14 years old. Mr. Joe’s bar usually closed around 2:00 a.m., and I hardly lost sleep the next day at school. The cops NEVER appeared.

Yet for the four years that I’ve been resident here in Madison, I have seen a marked prejudice against black people who have moved and settled here.

In particular, the discomfort is engendered by former residents of Milwaukee, Kenosha, Racine, WI and Chicago, IL. No doubt, many of these people are trying to escape the gang violence and poverty endemic there and get better schooling for their children. Some others, though, have been invited to come over with one-way bus tickets by friends (like single mothers with one child) and have hoped for the best. Unfortunately, some of the people find that the gang violence has either followed them here, or they find it homegrown in Madison. It may be that some of the violence comes from that.

But in order to frequent a black-friendly environment, there is always a cover charge for the entertainment featured. Not everyone can afford that cover charge, so they stand or sit outside and listen. And listening outside is a pretext for engaging in all sorts of activity unrelated to what is occurring inside.

The controversy over black bars in Madison has been simmering for a long time. Back in the mid-1990s, closings of several venues — the Underground on Gorham Street, the Paramount Music Hall on North Park Street — after violent incidents spurred a public debate over allegations that racism was behind a heightened level of scrutiny of the mostly black crowds drawn by the hip-hop music offered there. A study by the city’s Equal Opportunities Commission found what appeared to be a different standard for bars that cater to people of color compared to campus-area bars, recalls Bert Zipperer, who is still a member of the commission. But recommendations to subject all bars to unannounced inspections and adopt a standardized point system to replace the subjective “disorderly house” standard were never adopted, he says.

More recently, an owner of A Place for Friends, across Sherman Avenue from pricey Maple Bluff, said police labeled the bar a problem because of its mostly black patrons. The city pulled the bar’s liquor license early this year, deeming it a “disorderly or riotous house,” after the pistol-whipping robbery of a patron on premises capped what police called a pattern of ordinance violations.

Governor Doyle is the adoptive father of two black men. The ludicrousness of all this pales.

As I said, most of the illegal activity occurs outside the bars. It looks like the suppression of a black entertainment industry within the city.

The Majestic Theatre, only a few steps from the Capitol Building, used to be a venue for hip-hop audiences in Madison for a few months between 2005-2006. People flipped out at the large, mostly black crowds that showed up both within and without the then-400 capacity club, that had hip-hop DJs performing Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Soon the clientele were not only coming from within Madison, but coming from way out of town. Naturally, when some of these individuals and groups came together unsupervised, violence erupted. They were the outgrowth of beefs that started or were expanded upon and finished there, sometimes under the influence of alcohol and drugs. There were knifings, beatings, and one out-and-out riot. The ownership at that time, however, were said not to have enough security at Club Majestic, but really the cops didn’t deign to work with the owners, but kept requiring them to follow this and that ordnance, and spend large sums of money making improvements. And so it went. The cops were called–not once but several times–and they upped the pressure against the owners until hip-hop in downtown Madison was effectively shut down.

Now the two bar-clubs in question don’t have 400 mostly black people milling about and getting out of hand. And the owners of Club Majestic in 2005-2006 were white. The clientele R Place wants to attract aren’t exactly hip-hop fans. They would be home-grown Old School, Quiet Storm, jazzy music lovers, a demographic that includes folks in their late 30s to 70s. Unfortunately, the dysfunction is that is occurring outside the club appears to be from a generation that’s much more recent. The pressures, though, are the same as they were for Club Majestic: telling the owners that they install more lighting, car barriers to discourage drivers from circling the establishment, more security surveillance cameras, and on and on and on.

I wish the Madison Police Department would stop this kind of passive-aggressive behavior towards citizens of color, and revise these practices.

When the majority culture cringes at bars that are “too dark,” [Rick Flowers, owner of R Place] says, that fosters policies that limit the number of black bars and puts the few allowed to operate in an impossible situation. Because there is no other “black” bar in Madison, Flowers says, R Place draws not only the mature clientele willing to pay a cover charge to hear live music, but also those who cruise outside but never come in. Because R Place is the focus of nightlife for people of color, he says, if you’ve got a beef with someone who’s black, it’s the place to go to try to get a shot at them.

Some twit commenting on the CapTimes article didn’t understand that last remark by Rick Flowers, and said that this justifies R Place being closed. “[…W]ait, what? is this condoning violence, pardoning behavior by color, or just more solid proof that the neighbors do have something to be concerned about?”

That is not what Flowers meant at all. It means that the bar is becoming a place to be for blacks, and it would follow that if someone had a beef with you, they would follow you there to continue the beef. There is nothing in that remark about condoning or pardoning antisocial, stupid behavior. It means that the speaker understands what would make this element hunt up an adversary, and bars are not safe or exempt. It’s not unlike what would occur in Marshal Dillon’s town at Miss Kitty’s Long Branch Saloon in Gunsmoke. That’s what I mean about the kind of hair-trigger, stupid response this triggers in people who are afraid of black bars around them. This is also the difference between the clientele these black bars want to attract, and the kind that they don’t want to attract.

And if the cops and the authorities want to stop antisocial behavior, it would behoove them to work with the black bar and club owners and patrons. Otherwise, black Madison residents and customers will continue to see these stepped-up actions against them as structurally and institutionally racist. They will see the cops and the authorities and the neighbors as obstructionist not because of the behavior by a minority within the minority. It’s an attack on the clientele–black people–as a whole.

~ by blksista on October 21, 2009.

3 Responses to “UPDATE: Only in Mad City: Why There Are So Few Black Bars and Entertainment in Town?”

  1. There is an element of Black or people of color associated with negative or violent behavior. Blacks only make up a small percentage of the minority population in Madison and but have the highest rate of everything else negative. There is no conscience effort to make Blacks part of this city/county and those who have managed to assimilate elevate themselves about others. As long as we (blacks) view each other in the same negative vain as most whites do, we will always be separate in every aspect. Economics and wage differences keep people boxed in to certain living standards and therefore you have no opportunity to rise above the standard that is set for you no matter how great your efforts are. You cam come to this city/Madison with education and job skills and they are deemed less than those who gained them here, therefore leaving you to start at the entry level and that could take years to gain ground until someone decides to give you a break or you can gather enough information to prove that you have been treated differently whereas your rights has been violated. People are not willing to stand up because they are struggling to survive and they don’t have the energy to put into fighting the majority. So, we loose again and again and again. Race relations have gone backward in this in city, and those who once stood up paid a price. “”Black listed” to not have employment paying a living wage, which has nothing to do with skills or education. You cannot advocate for yourself or others in this city without feeling threatened with your livelihood. This applied in every aspect of black life in Madison and it also applied to free enterprise, whatever that is.


  2. […] Only in Mad City: Why There Are So Few Black Bars and … (thisblksistaspage.wordpress.com) – October 21, 2009I was born in New Orleans, and until 2000 had called the Bay Area of Northern California my home. In New Orleans, before Katrina, there was a barroom hangout every other block, just like there’s a sto… […]


  3. […] City records show that all eight buildings … http://www.readthehook.com/blog/ Only in Mad City: Why There Are So Few Black Bars and … Oct 21, 2009 I was born in New Orleans, and until 2000 had called the Bay Area of Northern […]


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