Presumably by default, my editor asked me if Id
be interested in going to Spiral on Wednesday to
see what all the fuss was about. Ever eager to thwart
the spread of hip hop at all costs (turns out Spiral
charges a whopping $10 cover charge), I obliged.
However, on the day of my mission, said editor left
a message on my voicemail which struck me as peculiar.
He suggested I make arrangements to rendezvous with
another Pulse staffer
for safety reasons.
(Editors note: Not so. The other staffer,
Scott Galetto, was to join him in order to get ideas
for the cover. A benefit might have been safety
in numbers if trouble arose.) Now, the last story
I did for this paper, I wound up sleeping in a homeless
shelter, but no special precautions were taken then.
So, what was I getting myself into this time?
I did as instructed albeit I secretly hoped the
chap would be a no-show. For you see, while my shaved
head and swarthy complexion may not be ethnic enough
to land me on the cover of Jet, Ive
never been mistaken for the pastry white Pillsbury
Dough Boy, either. And if I was about to dive headfirst
into a sea of racial turmoil, the last thing I wanted
was a bit of alabaster bait by my side.
by Daniel Sturm/City Pulse
patrons hang at the bar at last Wednesdays
Hip Hop Night.
arrived at the club around 10:50 p.m. All was quiet.
In fact, it was a little too quiet. The night air
was so still I could practically hear my own heart
beating. So, naturally, when I was unnerved by a
slew of security guards dressed like Black Panthers
from outer space patting me down for weapons, I
was certain they, too, heard my syncopated palpitations.
Remember that scene from Animal House
when Otter and the boys pop into an exclusive club
to see Otis Day and the Nights and wind up sticking
out like a sore white thumb on an otherwise all
black hand? Well, it was fresh in my mind. My tensions
were relieved, though, once I got inside and saw
a couple of faces paler than mine. However, my assigned
bodyguard was not one of them, and for the previously
mentioned reason, I did not mind.
For those of you whove never been to Spiral,
it bills itself as a video dance bar. The floor
plan consists of an indoor bar area which sits adjacent
to a glassed-in dance floor, and theres an
open-air patio toward the rear. In my opinion, its
swanky velvet stools, artsy shaped silver tables
and crude painting of young, shirtless men standing
arm in arm did not hide the fact this is a full-time
gay bar, and to me, it seemed like an odd choice
of venues to house a Hip Hop Night (even if on a
part-time basis). Lets face it: Its
not as if Eminem or any of hip hops other
popular practitioners are encouraging their legions
of fans to greet gays with open arms. And the way
that nights patrons juvenilely snickered after
their openly gay server took their drink order told
me they had little or no understanding of their
But then again, maybe it does make perfect sense
after all. Why wouldnt one culture (gays),
which is still not widely accepted by most Americans,
open its arms to another culture (blacks) who have
been fighting a similar battle for centuries? Nah,
I realize that after paying three bucks for a Coors
Light, its all about a different color
The night got off to a very slow start. At 11:30,
the small number of people there reminded me more
of churchgoers than the hardcore, ghetto thugs my
editor had me believing I would be seeing. Twilight
zonily, it was a lot like the junior high mixers
from my own past. Seeds of festivity planted with
good intentions wind up sprouting only wallflowers.
Nearly all, including myself, was tapping their
feet, but it was geometrically apparent nobody wanted
to be the first out on the dance floor. Finally,
after some persistent prodding by DJ whatever his
name was, a girl dressed like J Los less color-coordinated
cousin took the plunge, and others, wearing similarly
urbane fashions I did not think/hope existed outside
video-land, shimmied behind her. Most popular: NBA
wannabes draping towels over the shoulders of their
game jerseys. Most discouraging: Clothing manufacturer
Fubus wholesale bastardization of Fat Albert
and the Cosby kids. Most Huh?: NFL jerseys
worn with only one arm through the sleeve. (Only
if were lucky will this look eventually morph
its way into an NFL-style cape.)
around midnight, the crowd peaked in attendance.
Yet by no means could it have been considered raucous.
Hardly anyone smoked (which was nice), and when
I saw a heavyset guy stuff five lemon wedges into
his Corona, this was obviously not the hard drinking
set, either. Just speculation here, but I highly
doubt trouble or disrespect was on any of their
minds. The love of hip hop was what brought them
there. Too bad it was so painfully repetitive and
uninspired. I tried to get into the mix, but by
the end of the night, I had tallied the number of
songs I either knew or liked on three fingers. Surely,
white people werent the only ones listening
to Whodini and Cool J back in the day. On the flip
slide, I did have the good fortune to hear possibly
the filthiest song of all time. A seemingly never-ending
femme sung chorus of suck and lick my neck,
my back, my p*ssy, and my cr*ck. is probably
more than you need to know.
The club shut down a little before 2, but as expected,
no one was in any hurry to leave. Though, never
did I get the sense that an Attica-style situation
was going to develop once the masses were herded
into the streets. In fact, the lone police officer
patrolling the street did not even have to roll
down his window let alone get out of his car. Truth
be told, the only preventable noise came from car
stereos competing for parking lot supremacy. Every
other disturbance could be chalked up to science
and math. After a long night of bass thumping in
your ears, how can 200 people simultaneously be
expected to revert to what their mommies referred
to as their inside voice. Furthermore, all of this
was escorted off the premises by security in less
than 25 minutes.
Dont get me wrong. Residents complaints
are valid, but theyre far from original. What
young person, after leaving a dance club, does think
about anything else but keeping the party going?
And what adult living near such a club hasnt
Ever since Ive moved here, Ive heard
a lot of rhetoric regarding the citys efforts
to revitalize Old Town, and from what Ive
seen, Spiral seems to be one of the few places thats
actually succeeding at doing so. I know everyone
would like to find some sort of middle ground, but
just from what Ive read in this very paper,
I can already tell you what the mayors going
to do about this problem. Nothing. Spiral would
be out of its fiscal mind to change a thing.
Residents of Old Town, I dont know what to
tell you. Sorry.
Its 11 at night at the Spiral Video Dance Bar.
The crowds havent arrived yet, so two security
guards dressed in slick black outfits take to the
floor and begin dancing. Spiral is one of the hippest
places in Michigan so its no surprise even the
Ultimate Protection Group feels inspired by its disco
lights and the rhythm of hip hop.
In the Old Town neighborhood where Spirals located,
though, people have mixed feelings about the club,
because of the loud noise when the bar empties out
at 2 a.m. More than half a dozen residents City Pulse
spoke with share the feelings of David and Anne Martin,
who moved into one of the On The Grand condominium
townhouses at 1343 Turner St. in November. I
want to see Old Town flourish, but on some Wednesday
nights, Spiral attracts crowds that just raise hell.
On numerous occasions he saw people urinate in front
of his house, throw beer bottles into the front yard
and blast their car stereos at topnotch. My
wife and I just had our first baby. She wakes up very
easy anyway. It certainly doesnt help when you
have a 120-decibel stereo outside your window at 2
oclock in the morning.
owner of the club, Tom Donall, admits to initial problems
after he introduced Hip Hop Night six months ago.
But now everything is fine again, he insists. We
have people outside to keep the crowd quieter. If
somebody has the music loud, were asking him
or her to turn it down. Naturally we cant put
a piece of tape on somebodys face. Donall
is angry about some neighbors (Its basically
only three of them) who constantly tried to
override me, go to the (Lansing City) Council and
then actually start stirring everything up.
He fears a bad image for his nightclub, which opened
in 1998 and in which he invested almost $1 million.
Photos by Daniel Sturm/City Pulse
Tom Donall renovated an Old Town warehouse in
North Lansing and opened as a gay bar in 1998.
the neighbors complaints against Spiral, which
is primarily a gay bar, were thought to be the result
of homophobia. However, when Jules Vander Galien,
a lesbian living near the club, complained, this theory
lost weight. Last summer, she combated the noise with
earplugs and an industrial-strength fan. This summer,
however, she had opted to throw in the towel and no
longer stay at her apartment on Hip Hop Nights on
Wednesdays or on Friday and Saturday nights, when
the clubs clientele can party on Spirals
patio till 2 or later. She said the noise was pretty
much continuous throughout the night as people came
and went, but when the club closes at 2 a.m., it became
really, really bad.
dont think it has to do with the gay image of
the club. People are phobic of everything, says
Donall of the neighbors complaints.
first impression, Mary Morgan she asked that
her real name not be used doesnt seem
like someone with a phobic personality. She lives
across from Spiral and has to go to work at 7 a.m.
However, almost every Thursday morning she wakes up
when people start pouring out of the nightclub. She
hears them screaming, yelling, laughing, honking horns
and listening to loud music in their vehicles
the kind that vibrates your house. One
night she heard a car smashing into her parking lot.
A girl drove right in the back of my landlords
truck. Pieces of a clubgoers car had flown
off. I ran out to catch her, but she was already
half way down the street. Morgan reported the
incident to the police. Another time she went to the
police again, because her old car was vandalized.
A huge X was carved into the metal, each bar of the
cross about one foot long.
Lt. Steve Mitchell of Lansings Police Department
didnt want to comment on individual cases, but
he said that if these things are reported We
take care of it. In May, NBA star Jason Richardsons
Cadillac was shot at least three times at Kalamazoo
and Larch streets after he and five friends - four
of whom are MSU athletes - left Spiral. Not any one
was shot. Both Donall and the police believe the shooting
was an isolated event and was not related to events
at the club.
Cagor and Brian Werwecki of the Ultimate Protection
Group remember that there were some problems with
gang members in the beginning. These problems
no longer exist. Two guards are supposed to
cover the parking lot and streets around the club
all night, directing traffic with flashlights. Another
10 security guys move people out at closing time and
watch the area as people head to their cars. When
people start fighting, they escort them out to their
cars. Donall spends $1,000 every Wednesday just to
monitor the crowds.
Werwecki (left) and Ryan Cagor look like Village
People but are actually security guards with
the Ultimate Protection Group, for which Spiral
owner Tom Donall pays $1,000 weekly for Hip
Neighbors complain that although only resident parking
is allowed along their sidewalks, dozens of visitors
park right in front of their houses, often with their
windows wide open and stereos turned high up. Some
residents have tried to figure out individual solutions.
Residents at 1238 Turner put up a chain barrier at
the entrance of the driveway. The rope they used to
have before was cut on a Wednesday night.
dont read signs, says Beverly Miller,
who lives across from Spiral on Center Street. Shes
protested against the club since it opened in 1998.
Although the street signs clearly said residents
parking only, visitors often wouldnt care.
Instead, theyd park right in front of her house
and quite frequently leave liquor bottles on the streets
(a lot of them seem to like cognac), she
says. Donall doesnt think such things happen
too often. And if so, people should tell him and he
would take care of it. Old Town resident
Miller points out that she doesnt have anything
against people parking in front of her house if
they dont upset us. She mentions the gay
pride weekend, when hundreds of people going to Spiral
and Esquire, another neighborhood gay bar, parked
in forbidden places but didnt leave bottles
or cause unbearable noise. That weekend the city put
signs Local traffic only to keep visitors
out of the residential area. That didnt
Even a Spiral fan page on the Internet points out
that parking is a bit of a problem there.
At least the bar supplies visitors with maps of were
they should park. The Spiral parking lot provides
space for only 30 cars. As a consequence 250 guests
try to park in immediate walking distance to the nightclub,
causing stress and sleepless nights for the nearby
not many residents share this opinion. David Martin
thinks a bigger parking lot could solve some of the
problem. He observed that a large parking lot at the
corner of Grand River and Turner offers space for
about 400 vehicles. The spot is almost always
empty at night times, and its just two minutes
walking distance, adds Morgan. She suggests
valet parking. But Spiral has tried this before, says
manager Ken Pace, and that didnt work
out. Obviously nightclub visitors try hard to
park right in front of the location they want to visit.
And Donall says, If we have a parking problem,
the city needs to help us out and build a parking
lot. He says so far he never asked the city
for anything but support letters. I did it all
out of my own pocket.
Meanwhile, other residents who feel bothered by the
noisy nightclub continue to think of unconventional
solutions. Wes Moniaci, of 1419 Center St., suggests
the club owner could give some kind of a pedagogical
speech at a crowded Hip Hop Night. Hey people,
make sure youre not trashing the neighborhood.
And Shirley Reed, who lives at 1418 Center, hopes
the weather will get cooler soon, because in cold
weather there were fewer people, and theyre
On Hip Hop Night last week (June 19), the neighborhood
outside of the club was quiet, and some Turner Street
residents were sleeping with windows open. Mary Morgan
didnt wake up at 1.30 in the morning as usual.
If they can keep it like that, Ill be
fine, she said.