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This Week: Defending Downtown



Gangland shootings, strippers cavorting in Hummers, panhandlers on every street corner and known drug dealers peddling their wares in broad daylight.

If you guessed that such things happen in Detroit, then you might be right, but I'm instead referring to downtown Richmond, or I should say, some sheltered individuals' perceptions of the area.

The recent “gang” killing in the parking lot behind “urban” night club Have A Nice Day Cafe did nothing to squelch talk that downtown, or more specifically, Shockoe Bottom, is nothing but a run-down, dilapidated piece of garbage, many years removed from its heyday. That an area once known for its vibrant nightlife and restaurant scene is now littered with failing clubs catering to urban clientele, a strip club that constantly makes national headlines with its misjudgments and political statements, and drunken hellions painting the streets with their vomit every weekend.

I, of course, know the truth, and none of the above is it. But if you were to listen to your typical West Ender, Fan head, South Sider or any number of commenters on the Richmond Times-Dispatch's Web site, you'd believe that you need a Teflon helmet to go anywhere near 18th Street.

Choruses of “Shut down Have A Nice Day Cafe” and “Where are the police?” abound. Both of these are absurd statements, especially the latter. Downtown on the weekends looks like a light show at a Pink Floyd concert, if they only used blue and red lights. Police have always maintained a strong and extremely vigilant force in the area. Clubs and bars, including Have A Nice Day Cafe, and my bar, Cha Cha's Cantina, hire off-duty police officers on the weekends to maintain a presence at the door. Trained security staffers, not knuckleheaded bouncers, are everywhere.

People will still get shot and there will still be fights. Strippers will continue to strip for money. Underage kids will continue to find ways to drink, and drugs will not be completely eliminated from everywhere. Humans, in general, are animals. Especially when alcohol gets thrown into the mix.

The best that can be done is attacking the problem with cops, ABC agents, cooperation from bars, and people doing their best to report the issues to authorities. Bitching and moaning, in addition to trying to take away people's livelihoods over matters that are inherently very difficult to control, is not the answer.

Shutting down clubs, trying to remove troublemakers (such as Sam Moore, the owner of strip club Velvet), and attempting to eliminate the urban influence from the area are among the things some people are clamoring for — people who no doubt live elsewhere. Do you honestly think that shutting down one of these clubs will make way for an antique store or a Rite-Aid? It won't. Another club will magically appear. Take the spot where Big Daddy's used to reside on Main Street between 18th and 17th. It seems to have a new moniker and owner every other week.

 I recommend taking the kiddies somewhere else if you're foolish enough to fear for your safety downtown. I hear Short Pump is nice in the summers.

We have a beautiful city and with the exceptions of a few miscreants acting up at rare and odd intervals, a safe city. I'm proud to work in Shockoe and I support the owners of the businesses down here, including Moore and Have A Nice Day Cafe.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to change some of these crumpled twenties for crisp singles and go help put a few single mothers through community college.

Postscript from Jack: Since writing this column Club Velvet has decided to close its doors because of its ongoing court battles with the Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control board. While Velvet and its owner, Sam Moore, have been a nuisance to this city from time to time, quitting the fight and closing only cedes more control to an organization (VABC) that hardly needs more power. Club Velvet wasn't for the feint of heart, but it gave downtown a little bit of character, and for that it will be missed.

Richmond bartender Jack Lauterback consumes and slings drinks at a number of local establishments. He also writes a surly blog at Find him on Twitter @jackgoesforth. Have a question or comment for the bartender? E-mail:

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