Monday, November 13, 2006

Killings prompt Mingles closure; Owner John Ivey talks

By Rachel Swan
Mon, Nov 13, 2006 at 3:24 PM

Haunted by the death of club regular Shirley Deanna Smith (aka Dee), the Oakland mother of two who was fatally shot at 1:30 a.m. Saturday, November 11, on the 200 block of Webster St., nightclub mogul John Ivey decided to shut the doors of Mingles Martini & Champagne Lounge earlier today. Dee, who'd been a faithful customer at Mingles since the club opened in 2000, was walking to her car when she got caught in what was apparently a shoot-out between two rivals, as Harry Harris reported Sunday morning on InsideBayArea.com. Dee was rushed to Highland Hospital where she and her sixteen-week-old fetus died within an hour.

"I knew Dee," Ivey said in a phone interview Monday. "She's been coming there since we opened in 2000. She always greeted me with a hug and a kiss on the cheek. ... It just hurts me. I don't wanna go forward anymore with this because people have no respect for me. I have too much respect for life to do business with people who don't have respect for life."

Ivey said the night had been positive up until the shooting. Rapper Mos Def had come to the club to help celebrate the birthday of DJ Krypto, who's gained some notoriety as a cohost of Mingles' famed Bay Life open mic, which happened every Tuesday. "He [Mos Def] loved it," Ivey says. "He said, 'I want to be with my people.' He didn't want to go to @17th. He didn't want to go to Geoffrey's, he didn't want to go to Maxwell's. He said, 'Where my people at?'"

Ivey reports that police were stationed outside the club from 11:30 p.m. until 1:15 a.m., a few minutes before the shooting. "At 1:30, shit happened," he says. "Where was the police between 1 a.m. and 2? They were there from 11:30 til 1:15. Then I put people out. Then they leave, instead of blocking off the streets like they do for every other club." He continues: "I'm outraged. I'm pissed off that the police left at 1:15. Maybe Dee could still be living if they'd blocked off the street."

Today, Ivey announced plans to take down the sign for Mingles and paint over the club's facade. He said he'd come to this decision over the weekend and announced it to Oakland's hearing commission officer Barbara Killey shortly before calling the Express this afternoon. "Mingles is dead. I can't win if the police don't support me. I decided to close today. I'm closed now, no more Mingles. No Friday, no Saturday, today I'm through with this," he said, adding that he's "as outraged as the community is."

Ivey, who's operated a series of clubs in the Jack London Square area since opening Ivey's Ribs & Spirits in 1976 says this is not the end of his legacy as "the king of downtown." "In a month it's gonna be different," he explains. "I'm gonna talk to the city. I don't quit, I stopped."

The club owner has a turbulent history in Jack London Square, where he's been alternately maligned by media reports of shootings -- including the fatal shooting of eighteen-year-old basketball star Roland Hall Jr. on April 17 -- and other crimes on nearby Webster Street, and celebrated as a locus of the Bay Area's burgeoning hyphy movement. The Oakland-raised rapper Too $hort shot the video for his hit single "Blow the Whistle" at Mingles this past March.

After a May hearing to revoke the club's cabaret license, Ivey instituted a more stringent dress code, hired several new DJs, and refurnished the venue to attract a more upscale clientele. However, he was unable to stave off crime in the blocks surrounding Mingles -- much of it perpetrated by people who never entered the club and didn't generate any revenue for the business, according to Sergeant Kyle Thomas, who spoke at the May hearing.

Ivey said he shut Mingles' doors out of respect for Smith and her family and that he made the decision voluntarily, without having read or watched any news reports. He adds that at this point it's difficult to physically enter the club. "There's many more things I can do with my life than do this. ... I tried to do the right thing. And obviously the thing is not right, I got to let it go."

Link to the SF Chronicle's coverage of the shooting and the Tribune's.

Link to the Express cover story about crime and commerce on Mingles' block

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