Meet Downtown Oakland

For years the city wanted downtown housing and downtown entertainment. Now it has both, but what if they aren't compatible?

It’s 5:30 p.m. on a Monday afternoon in May, and a small crowd has gathered inside Oakland City Hall’s Hearing Room 2. The attendees have already formed two balkanized territories. The first and second rows are half-filled with middle-aged people — journalists, city officials, a couple of cops, and residents of the live-work lofts that neighbor Mingles Martini & Champagne Lounge, a family-owned bar at the corner of 2nd Street and the Embarcadero. A smattering of Mingles regulars sits in the back two rows: twentysomethings with “Bay Life” slogans printed on their T-shirts; women with bejeweled sunglasses and stiletto heels; older drifters from the neighborhood. Two lawyers are conferring with Oakland Hearing Commission Officer Barbara Killey. She’s fidgety, and she has reason to be: The neighbors will later kvetch about this turning into an “us-them thing” and a “black-white thing.”

Three men in svelte designer suits — Italian shoes, wrinkle-free slacks, and pinstripe blazers — file into the second row, toting Mingles-issued business cards. These guys are the son and nephews of John Ivey, the Oakland nightclub mogul who opened Mingles in 2000, supposedly the last chapter in his long, scattered history. He and his brothers, Fred and Jay, are largely responsible for the used-to-be-really-happening nightlife in Jack London Square. The brothers launched their first club — a bang-up jazz joint called Ivey’s Ribs and Spirits — three decades ago in what is now Rolanda’s restaurant, right next door to Mingles. Since then, Ivey has run a series of profitable and not-so-profitable venues in the area, and has helped carve out a vibrant live music and dance club scene in the blocks between Old Oakland and the Embarcadero.

Now the neighborhood is putting him on trial.

The first person to get up and testify against Ivey at the hearing is Kathy Lemmon, who lives in the Portico Lofts on 4th and Harrison streets — “which leaves me about a block as the bullet or the bird flies from Mingles’ back door,” she says. Lemmon opens a garbage bag and pulls out Saturday night’s debris from an impromptu party on 3rd Street, which flanks her parking lot: a Seagram’s Gin bottle, a Hennessy bottle, a Snapple bottle, a few bottles with indistinguishable labels, and glass from a busted car window that was parked alongside what used to be a produce market. “I’ve seen my loft development peed on,” she says. “I’ve been assaulted in my driveway. I’ve had menacing gestures made to me. I have a dog; I can’t take my dog out because I can’t walk there at night. I have to be in my car if I go out at all; I’m stuck inside my own place.”

The city of Oakland called this hearing to assess these arguments against Mingles, and to consider revoking the club’s cabaret license — which could put an end to the Ivey dynasty in Jack London Square. And that’s no small thing. After all, Ivey is providing downtown Oakland with something it’s wanted for a long time: a slammin’ downtown entertainment district. But Ivey’s neighbors represent the other element that downtown Oakland has struggled to attract: a trendy residential neighborhood to generate a solid taxpayer base for the city, and a reason for retail stores to move in.

Indeed, Ivey’s detractors were lured into buying property in Jack London Square by developers who marketed the area as a baby SOMA district. Now they’re paying $6,000 in annual property taxes to live cheek-by-jowl with the unsavory elements you wouldn’t expect to find outside a half-million-dollar home: automobiles cruising around the block over and over, after-party detritus, and, occasionally, violent crime. Can Mingles coexist with the trendy residential lofts that have sprung up around it? Only, it seems, if Ivey and his neighbors agree on the right marketing message.

At first, Ivey’s vision for Jack London Square — “like being in Harlem in its heyday,” says Ralph Scott, a former Ivey’s regular — largely coincided with the city’s vision. Before the brothers signed their lease for Ivey’s Ribs and Spirits in 1976, the place had been Chucks of Hawaii Steakhouse, so its interior looked like a lodge in the Gold Country — all inlaid redwood and varnished furniture. They turned it into a class act. Ivey’s started out as a jazz club, featuring performers like Ricardo Scales and Eric Swinderman, and later on, such top kahunas as Stan Getz, Tito Puente, Freddie Hubbard, Jimmy Smith, Con Funk Shun, and Tony Toni Tone. (The most famous bit of Ivey lore is that Philippe Wynne of the Spinners died of a heart attack onstage.) The brothers served a midnight breakfast of chicken, waffles, grits, and snapper — an idea John Ivey brought over from New York (he’d spent a lot of time hanging out there while studying English literature at Rutgers). Pretty soon, as a result of a disco dance party called “Freaky Mondays,” Ivey’s had lines going around the block every week — which was phenomenal, given that Monday is traditionally a slow night in the club world. Jack London Square would never be the same.

In the mid-’90s, Mayor Jerry Brown implemented his 10K plan, a sweeping measure to bring ten thousand new residential units into Oakland. Shortly thereafter, live-work loft developments started popping up in the Jack London Square area: There are already more than a thousand units within about a six-block radius, organized in microloft communities such as Sierra, Allegro, 428 Alice Street, and New Market Lofts — all of which are 10K projects. The idea was to transform Oakland’s sterile downtown into a compact metropolis like New York or San Francisco. The old nightclubs were suddenly faced with a crop of new neighbors who were alternately amused and terrified by hip-hop and the crowd it generated. In 1998, Julian and Clyde Griffiths Sotomey (aka “Smooth-Talkin’ Clyde,” Ivey says) took over the space that had once been Ivey’s Ribs & Spirits and renamed it the Oak Tree. Tower Lofts resident Simon Waddington characterizes the Oak Tree as a place that attracted high rollers; Raiders players and other local celebrities would go in there to floss and front like mack daddies, and you’d often see a phalanx of limousines parked outside. To Waddington, this whole “impromptu disco show” was mostly just annoying; to his neighbor Lemmon, the Oak Tree seemed like a locus for all kinds of nefarious behavior. “I think it even started getting used in rap songs and stuff,” she says. “There was one night when some famous drug dealer was in town having his party there, and people were up dancing on car hoods till four in the morning.”

By this time, the Ivey brothers had already established themselves among the downtown royalty. Although the three decided to terminate Ivey’s Ribs & Spirits when their lease was up in 1986, they stuck around the area. After the success of Freaky Mondays, John Ivey realized he’d make more cheddar from a dance-club crowd than a jazz-buff crowd (a dance crowd actually buys drinks throughout the night, whereas jazzheads are notorious for getting one cocktail and babysitting it); plus, they’d pay less overhead (a DJ is a lot cheaper than a Stan Getz). He parlayed this idea into a series of jazz, R&B, and hip-hop venues, including Du Soleil’s in 1997 and Bluesville in 1999, which were both in the same location at 131 Broadway. These clubs were nominally run by his business partner, Gary Lao, though John Ivey evidently steered most of the management and promotions. Apparently, he had to change the name and concept every three years just to keep up with trends — after three years a club loses its crowd, Ivey explains, so you have to attract a new one.

Ivey’s penultimate venture started out as a traditional nightclub. Khalil Shaheed helmed the jazz jams on Sundays. Jackie Payne hosted Tuesday’s blues night. The bartenders were virtually all female, all with college degrees. Alison Harrington says she started working for Ivey as a cocktail waitress in 1999, right after graduating from the peace and conflict studies program at UC Berkeley. She’d often use the back pool room to study while pursuing a master’s in divinity at the San Francisco Theological Seminary. When Ivey decided to add Wednesday night hip-hop to his regular jazz lineup, Harrington chafed at the idea. “I thought it would be rowdy,” she says, “and I didn’t want to deal with the police in Oakland.” But Ivey obviously knew what he was doing. He hooked up with local DJs Lash and Juice, who’d already run successful club nights throughout East Oakland, San Francisco, and Castro Valley, and were known both for being avid self-promoters and versatile waxslingers. Thus, Bluesville’s Wednesday night hip-hop was born — and, according to Harrington, it was a slam-dunk. “The thing is, young people go out every week, and old people don’t go out that often,” she says. “So the situation was that if you can tap into that younger market, you can make a lot of money.”

In fact, the hip-hop racket has been profitable for Ivey, who chalks his success up to supply-and-demand economics. Yoshi’s was fulfilling the need for a jazz club; Kimball’s Carnival was fulfilling the need for R&B; Geoffrey’s, Zazoo’s, and @Seventeenth were fulfilling the need for an upscale, hard-soled-shoe kinda club. There needed to be a hyphy hip-hop club for his son’s generation, which had seen the political-edged East Bay rap movement explode in recent years. Ivey got in where he fit in. He even kept a low profile for a while; but for one fatal shooting that occurred outside Bluesville in 2000 (the hitman allegedly had not patronized the club that night), there are no records of further police actions cited in the venue’s cabaret file.

Once Bluesville shut its doors in 2003, Ivey poured all his resources into a new club he’d purchased from his brother Fred, located next to the original Ivey’s (which had been through a series of reincarnations since 1986). Under Fred’s administration, the club had been called Maxine’s, then First Stop. Ivey gave the space a makeover and an extravagant name: Mingles Martini & Champagne Lounge. He retained some of the old Bluesville staff (including Harrington, Lash, and Juice), hired his son and nephews to manage the floor, and ratcheted up the hip-hop dance idea to draw in an even younger crowd — Ivey guesses the average patron at Mingles is between 21 and 28. (The club still hosted jazz and funk events at least through 2003, and old-school steppin’ classes in subsequent years — though by now, Ivey is convinced that live jazz is a profit-losing operation.) He admits it’s his most lucrative venture. Still, Ivey’s problems with the city increased along with his cash flow.

When Ivey’s Ribs and Spirits was still in its heyday, Jack London Square was a warehousing district. Western Pacific trains ran up and down 3rd Street, and semitrailers would arrive and do their business in the area. Now it’s completely transformed. According to Andy Read, a broker and co-owner of Caldecott Properties (which sells condominiums in Jack London Square and the urban East Bay), there are 370 new units being built in complexes like Aqua, Via, 200 2nd Street, 288 3rd Street, and 428 Alice Street, which are all within five blocks of the Jack London shopping area at the base of Broadway.

It’s pretty clear whom the developers want to attract, and whom they want to exclude. Advertisements for a new downtown residential complex called the Jade Center blaze across the walls of 12th Street and West Oakland BART stations, showing pictures of slinky white women with shopping bags or chic sunglasses, next to the slogan “Embrace the Vibe: Downtown Oakland.” To many, it’s not the most realistic image. One patron at Mingles on a recent Saturday night said he was thirty years old, grew up in North Oakland, and had never talked to a white woman before.

Rhonda Hirata, the director of marketing and public relations for Jack London Square and its affiliate, Jack London Square Partners, says the new, redesigned square will pay homage to Oakland’s agricultural and architectural traditions. So far, Jack London Square Partners have seismically upgraded the 66 Franklin building and ripped off its aluminum siding to reveal the original 1926 facades and archways. Phase II, the $300 million development plan that kicks off this year, comprises five new sites; the biggest is Harvest Hall, which Jack London Square Partners manager Jim Faluschi describes as “a combination of the Ferry Building, Napa’s COPIA, and the Los Angeles Farmers’ Market.” Jack London Square Partners is currently in discussions with the Weston hotel chain to build a 250-key four-star hotel there, which Faluschi characterizes as “an urban conference center and spa.” He emphasizes that Phase II is being funded by a private organization. There are no public subsidies whatsoever,” he says. Hirata wants to clarify that this area is most certainly not following on the heels of downtown San Francisco: “It’s not a tourist destination like Pier 39,” she says. “This is a destination for residents. We really want to be relevant to this community.”

Evidently, Mingles isn’t part of the plan. Hirata blames the club for attracting crowds that used to trash the service parking lots on the south side of Embarcadero, which are now closing at 10 p.m., causing a major loss of parking revenue for the city, and income for businesses like Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon and Rolanda’s, as well as Mingles. Joyce Washington, who manages commercial real estate for the Port of Oakland, explains that parking attendants were refusing to work at night, claiming that people were threatening them and refusing to pay the parking fee. Hirata says Jack London Square Partners and the city have incurred maintenance costs cleaning up after-party wreckage, including broken bottles and drug paraphernalia. They’ve also had to scrub the parking lots, which were damaged by “sideshow activity” (i.e., stunt driving) and public urination. It’s a big deal, Washington says: Businesses in Jack London Square generate about $29 million a year, all of which is subject to hotel occupancy tax, city sales tax, and parking tax. Moreover, she says, the benefits to the city “have rippling effects,” since the businesses create jobs and forge relationships with suppliers.

But if you expect the youth of greater Oakland to sing a happy “Kumbaya” with Jack London Square’s up-and-coming neighborhood, now that they’ve been kicked out of a long-standing downtown hangout — well, forget it.

Ivey was born in Oakland’s Highland Hospital in 1950, just two years after his family migrated to the Bay Area from Arkansas. His wife, Cheri, is the principal of Fruitvale Elementary School. He just finished writing a cookbook, Rosia Lee Ivey’s Recipes for Life, as Shared with John A. Ivey, in which he compiles his mother’s recipes for dishes like turnip greens, oxtail stew, and old-fashioned country smothered chicken. The back pages are illustrated with photos from the Ivey family album; there’s even a picture of his mother, Rosia Lee, serving chicken to Lou Rawls.

Ivey’s sons and nephews work at Mingles seven nights a week, swapping bar, security, and clean-up duties. The decor is down-homey: A reprint of the album cover from Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On hangs over the bar, while the men’s bathroom wall is decked out with an oil painting of Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk (“It’s kind of a guy thing,” Ivey explains). There’s a collage of photographs from Ivey’s Ribs and Spirits, featuring local sports figures and music titans — even Huey P. Newton makes a cameo. Most days around happy hour you’ll see the regulars — family members, figureheads from local black organizations, and OGs from around the way — gathered here to play chess or dominoes and argue about Oakland politics. Most nights you’ll see the young hip-hop crowd, which includes hot local stars like the West Oakland rapper J-Stalin and the R&B singer Dyson, who presides over Tuesday night’s Bay Life open mic. Ivey even allowed young East Bay rapper Noize to decorate the club for Thanksgiving and serve free Cajun turkey to whoever came through. Noize calls Ivey “Uncle John.” “I was diggin’ his swagger,” the rapper says, recalling his first encounter with the club owner. “I was like, ‘You’s a hard-nosed cat.'”

Oakland has a lot of hard-nosed cats, but really, you can’t miss John Ivey. He has a shock of white hair that grew in when he was twelve — he says it’s hereditary. (“Now why would I just spray some gray shit in my head?” he says.) He wears Chanel Allure cologne and wool Italian suits that are custom-designed by Fit-Wel Clothiers of Hollywood. He has old-school manners; he holds doors, pulls out chairs, and takes the curb side of the street when he’s walking with someone. He tips well. He’s a man of a different era: Ivey recalls sneaking into West Oakland’s Continental Room at seventeen to watch the Temptations (the white streak helped in those days). He remembers the days when Oakland’s Lower Bottoms really had it going on: “It used to be the home of lawyers, nightclubs, grocery stores, restaurants, the biggest churches, and the biggest funeral parlors,” he says. “And the streetwalkers were actually really fine — not strung-out like today.” In 1979 he was listed as one of the nation’s most eligible black bachelors in Ebony magazine. On a recent Saturday night Ivey muscled his way into the VIP lounge at Sweet’s Ballroom and hijacked Dwayne Wiggins’ table. The famed lead singer of Toni Tony Tone had to concede it to him. “This is the man right here,” Wiggins said.

Still, Ivey has had a hard time fending off negative press. Two shootings occurred near his club this year — one of them fatal. In at least one case, the intended targets sought refuge at Mingles. Granted, it wasn’t Ivey’s fault that a couple of shooting victims preferred his club to the nearby police station. But it wasn’t good publicity, either.

Sergeant Kyle Thomas, who supervises patrol of the Jack London Square neighborhood, is relatively sympathetic to Mingles. As he explains at the hearing, Ivey and his staff shouldn’t be blamed for all the iniquities in Jack London Square, given that most of the people causing problems aren’t even going inside Mingles, or providing the club with any revenue. “However, I felt they had been there explicitly for the crowd that was inside Mingles, outside on the patio, and waiting in line to get into Mingles,” Thomas says. He praises the club staff for fulfilling its duties. They scrutinize all IDs. They pat down all the men. When the music shuts down at 1:45 a.m., all twelve security guards — most of them dressed in combat boots and black fatigues, with “US Forces” (United Security Forces) printed on the backs of their jackets — shuttle everyone outside and into their cars. US Forces are so good at sweeping out the area, in fact, that they’ve effectively pushed all the rowdy people beyond 2nd and Webster streets — which is already a block and a half away from the club entrance. Now, says Thomas, the troublemakers have migrated a block north and a block east, further into the residential neighborhood.

The new problem is that Mingles is doing too good a job fortressing itself. Ironically, Ivey’s bar is now one of the safest places in the neighborhood, even though it’s also being blamed for most of the neighborhood’s criminal activity.

Kathy Lemmon was stretching the truth when she said she was assaulted in her driveway. The real story is that she was ambushed and lectured. It was 2:30 a.m. on a Saturday or Sunday morning, some time in 2002, she thinks — though the actual date eludes her. Lemmon had just driven home from a night out in San Francisco. “I just wanted to get into my parking lot, and I couldn’t, because there were several gentlemen blocking the way,” she says. “They had their cars and they were just hanging out and talking. I pulled up. I didn’t honk, I just kinda waited a little bit. I thought, ‘Okay, I just have to say something.’ So I got outta my car and said, ‘Can you just move your cars? I just wanna get in my parking lot and go home.’ And they go ‘Well, you can’t live here, you’re white,’ and they said, ‘Oakland’s a black town, you can’t live here.’ And I said, ‘I’ve lived here a long time, I like Oakland, I just wanna go home.’ I wasn’t in the mood for getting a lecture. There was a pause in the conversation and [one guy] goes, ‘Are you gay?’ I said, ‘Yes, I am,’ and he moved aside and let me in. So I said, ‘Oh, okay, I guess I had to be an oppressed minority.’ It’s like, that’s all it took. That seemed to be the magic word. The gates opened and they moved their cars.”

Lemmon moved to Portico Lofts in 1998 from a house in the hills. At that time, the development looked really promising. It was within walking distance of Yoshi’s, Chinatown, and the waterfront — so if Lemmon wanted a more beefed-up entertainment district, she could always take a ferry out to San Francisco, then come back for a glass of wine on the patio at Scott’s Seafood. While not exactly a booming retail district, the Jack London Square neighborhood has several dive bars, five coffee shops, a dry cleaners, a little French restaurant with a decent wine list, and a Sunday farmers’ market — all it really needs is a Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, and Lemmon would happily do all her shopping there.

The building Lemmon lives in used to be a plumbing warehouse, so it still has industrial pipes running across the ceiling. In fact, the idea behind many of these loft developments is “warehouse-chic”: metallic, primary-colored paint jobs, apartments with tall ceilings, and industrial facades. The interior walls of Portico are decked out with vintage French advertising posters. Lemmon’s apartment is tastefully decorated and equipped with all the stereotypical loft yuppie accoutrements: a West Elm coffee table, stacks of The New Yorker, black-and-white diptych photographs and large-scale screenprints on the walls, a flat-screen TV, stainless-steel kitchenware, a packed bookshelf, and an IKEA lamp. “It’s true,” she says. “Loft-style furniture. Guilty as charged.”

Around 10:30 p.m. on a recent Friday, Lemmon is standing outside Portico with her dog, Eddie. Three hoopty cars speed by, and appear to be cutting each other off; Lemmon says people sometimes drag race around Jack London Square, even though the streets seem too narrow to accommodate such activities. An hour later, several motorbikes zoom by on the other side of the street. From her window, Lemmon points out some of the favorite neighborhood pee spots: “There’s a PG&E substation generator that’s kind of hidden, so people like to go back there,” she says, indicating a giant box at the far end of her parking lot.

Lemmon says she knew not to expect complete peace and tranquillity living in Jack London Square. But in the last few years — particularly with the influx of Harleys — the noise level has gotten really bad. Throughout the night, you’ll hear the sound of car tires grinding in the asphalt, glass breaking, and people shouting at each other.

Lemmon acknowledges that, yes, she risks being perceived as the stereotypical bitchy loft yuppie. But she’s gotta call ’em as she sees ’em. “Gentrify, my ass,” she says. “The truth was nobody lived here before. There was nobody to push out. What were we pushing out? Toilet seats and whatever else plumbing supplies there are, for godsakes. Plungers?” (Portico, after all, was a plumbing warehouse.) “I feel like going up to them and saying, ‘What’s your address? I’m gonna pee in your yard and throw bottles.'” She and another neighbor got prescriptions for Ambien so they could make it through the night, but Lemmon is still thinking of selling her home. “I would like to see this neighborhood take off in a way that’s not cheesy,” she explains. “But I don’t trust Oakland to pull it off.”

Outside, the weather in Jack London Square is idyllic. It’s just past midnight. The air is balmy; a few streetlights are oiling the asphalt. There’s a police car idling at the southwest end of 2nd Street and the Embarcadero, where OPD Sergeant Coleman has just pulled over a white Suburban. He’s writing the driver a ticket while two other officers stand by. By this time the crowd around Mingles has thickened; about a dozen people are waiting in line to get in. A group of guys are posted up at the corner of 2nd Street and the Embarcadero with no apparent purpose. Glimpsing the police car, they begin shuffling up the block toward Webster Street.

Around 1 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, the OPD usually cones off 2nd Street; 45 minutes later, US Forces shoo all the clubgoers to their cars. This is the peak time for noise and chaos. Coleman says a lot of it is just normal postclub bonhomie — people exchanging phone numbers and stuff. But the loft residents get to hear all of it. Most of the windows in their buildings aren’t insulated, Waddington points out. “It only takes one car with a booming bass to go by, and if you haven’t heard all the traffic and shouting, you will then,” he says.

By 2 a.m., the two blocks that bookend Mingles are swept clean. Timothy Wiley, who manages US Forces, paces in front of the club like an army lieutenant. The Embarcadero seems virtually empty; the night is dark and complete.

Meanwhile, that whole crowd of loiterers has shifted about a block north and a block east, just as Thomas said in his testimony. By now, many of them are spitting distance from Lemmon’s back window.

Between 2003 and 2006, Mingles was ground zero for the hyphy movement. Every Saturday night, DJs Lash and Juice would spin a wall-to-wall soundtrack of club bangers, B-sides, and local street hits, and the club would get so crowded after 10 p.m. that you could practically see sweat vaporizing on the drink tumblers. Too $hort even shot the video for his hit song, “Blow the Whistle,” at the club. It seemed apropos, since everyone who worked there was a fixture in the scene, including Ivey. He wasn’t concerned with who the individual rappers were or how many albums they’d dropped (he listens to the Bay Area jazz station KCSM 91.1 FM, or smooth-jazz station KKSF 103.7 FM on his car radio), but on the whole, he’d situate hyphy in the same lineage as the civil rights and black power movements. And he was profiting from it.

A few days after the hearing, however, Ivey announces the end of the hyphy era at Mingles. He buys the club a new tricked-out sound system. He paints the women’s bathroom a garish sky-blue. He hires two hella fine-ass ladies to join his bar staff. He puts the brakes on Lash’s “Chocolate City Thursdays” and “Bounceback Sundays” (but declares that the perennially popular “Moonlight Saturdays” will stay). He hires a new South San Francisco-based, KMEL-affiliated act, comprising DJ J-Pro, Chuy Gomez, and Rommel B, to take over Lash’s former gigs — now renamed “The Spot” and “Sunday Crush.” Ivey hopes they’ll promote to a San Francisco crowd, displacing some of the clientele from Richmond and Vallejo. Indeed, he’s seeing results. “The women are looking better,” he says. “I’m seeing more manicured toes and more Chanel purses. And more credit card sales versus all cash is always a good indication.” Ivey claims he wants Mingles to have a more “international San Francisco” crowd, and probably look more like a SOMA hip-hop joint, in the vein of Club NV or Whisper.

Thus, the mantra for Operation: Save Mingles has aligned with the marketing credos that are currently reshaping Jack London Square. Meet downtown Oakland, the new San Francisco.

Ivey now seems ambivalent about hyphy culture. He still likes the idea of Bay Area rappers reinventing themselves as populist crusaders. But, apparently, he’s now questioning whether sideshows and thizz faces are really gonna set a brother free. (“In my era, if you wanted to go around grown folks, you tried to act older,” he explains. “People now think they’re only gonna live to be 25.”)

Watching Too $hort’s “Blow the Whistle” video for the first time, the club owner’s face is a study. He smiles when the camera pans over Mingles’ famed “No One Under 21 Allowed” sign, but otherwise seems bemused. Ivey respects Too $hort as a matter of principle, because he appreciates any good businessman. Especially someone who came up from nothing; after all, Ivey remembers watching $hort and MC Hammer hustle CDs from the trunks of their cars in front of Ivey’s Ribs & Spirits. (“I didn’t like hip-hop then,” he confesses. “I’m a Luther Vandross fan.”) On the other hand, he points out that the video exacerbated some of the problems he’s had with publicity. “I got unwelcome support, too,” he says, “because after the video a lot of young people came to the club. It was known as the place where Too $hort shot the video.”

Which isn’t how Ivey wants to go down in history. He wants to keep Mingles going until his lease is up in 2009. When it’s gone, he might leave the game forever. Then, he says, “They can market it the way they want to.”

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