"Berkeley night life hasn't really ever existed," says Daniel Cukierman, the slim, curly-haired proprietor of the Shattuck Down Low lounge. A Berkeley High graduate and longtime B-town resident, he knows all too well what he's talking about. Sure, there are a few dive bars, brew pubs, and places revolving around the college scene where you can catch local bands and DJs. However, you almost have to go all the way back to the days of the Keystone to find a premium venue for live entertainment in Berkeley. Too often, getting your club on has meant venturing out on a mission to San Francisco and dealing with everything from parking to getting home afterwards (which could be risky after a few cold ones). Don't East Bay folks deserve better than that?
The dearth of viable nightclubs and entertainment lounges catering to the under-forty crowd in Berkeley was a big reason for the Down Low's birth. The story begins in 1996, when Cukierman started hosting DJ nights at the Shattuck Hotel. By his own account, that scene soon "blew up into a club." In June of 1998, the hotel changed owners and the Shattuck Lounge, as it was called, closed down. Meanwhile, Latin music legend Pete Escovedo briefly opened a venue, Mr. E's, around the corner, at the former site of the Pasand Lounge. When Mr. E's moved on to greener pastures, Cukierman saw an opportunity in the making. Enlisting the help of interior decorator Shannon Weller, the Down Low was born in June 2001. As Weller explains, the plan was to evoke an SF club atmosphere in a converted basement smack dab in the middle of downtown Berkeley. "We wanted to make it warm and sensual. Because it's an underground club" -- literally -- "we didn't want it to be too cold."
The warmth of the place is evident, as is its expansiveness. There is a long dancefloor bathed in soft red light, two full bars, a kitchen, a pool table, and several areas decorated with comfortable couches. The overall effect? Pretty damn cool. Okay, the ceiling's a little low, but that means it's easier to feel the bass shudder through your spine.
Initially, the Down Low's bookings leaned heavily toward DJs, with the occasional live act. After some memorable one-off shows with former Black Uhuru singer Don Carlos and a double bill featuring Latyrx and Mingus Amongus, Cukierman started moving more in the direction of live music. In the past few months, the Down Low has begun to attract a following, mainly twentysomething Berkeleyites who Cukierman hopes will become regulars. Currently open six nights a week, the club (2284 Shattuck Ave., 510-548-1159, www.shattuckdownlow.com) offers '80s music and drink specials on Tuesdays, salsa on Wednesdays, and DJ nights on Thursdays. Friday and Saturday tend to feature live local bands, while Sunday is reggae night. In addition, Cukierman has begun booking a monthly Brazilian night. "Being from Berkeley, I like everything," he explains.
The night the Express visited, Don Carlos was making a return appearance, with fairly spectacular results. Although the dancefloor was packed elbow-to-elbow, there was plenty of space near the sides to take a quick breather and stretch out. The Berkeley massive was in full effect: three of Carlos' band members -- Toho Sanders, Joshi Marshall, and Gavin Distasi -- are BHS alums, and at times it was hard to tell who the crowd cheered louder for -- Carlos or their local heroes.
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