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Hip-Hop's Ups, Downs : The music is popular, but the Valley can't sustain a dance club for its devotees. The most recent to go under is Juice.

August 20, 1993|CHERIE SAUNDERS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Cherie Saunders is a Los Angeles free-lance writer.

Juice had all the essentials of a successful hip-hop club--the raB music, dance floor, bar, lounge and even a pool table for those too cool to work up a good sweat. It took over Club Hola in Encino every Tuesday night and averaged 300 to 500 patrons since first opening in mid-June.

"But those were mostly people from L. A., not the Valley," said Howard Lynch, one of the club's promoters. "We could get them to make that drive once or twice, but not every week."

So with attendance falling to an average of 150 per night, Juice became the latest hip-hop club north of Mulholland Drive to go under, closing July 22. Although rap songs dominate the San Fernando Valley's weekly pop singles charts, the Valley has become Death Valley to a good number of hip-hop clubs.

Paradise Bar & Grill, in the Sherman Oaks Galleria, went bankrupt in November after only five months. It was unable to draw consistent crowds, a Galleria spokeswoman said.

Hip-hop promoters have a tendency to come and go from Club Hola, said George Maklous, who owned the club until recently.

These and other hip-hop promoters tend to operate in existing clubs. Most often, the promoter pockets the cover charge while the club owner receives profits from the bar. When attendance drops, the club owners don't make enough money.

Teen-agers drowning in oversized versions of the latest hip-hop gear populate the malls--but they aren't old enough to boost attendance at the hip-hop clubs that serve alcohol and must have a 21-year-old age minimum.

"Junior high and high school kids are the ones buying most of the rap music," said Phil Pickens, assistant manager of Tower Records in Northridge. "The kids are too young to go to clubs."

For a hip-hop club to thrive in this area saturated by coffeehouses, jazz and rock clubs, Pickens suggests lowering the age limit as well as the cover charge. Some clubs that have an 18-year age minimum still serve alcohol and require minors to wear a wristband.

One of the main reasons for Juice's demise, according to Lynch, was trouble getting the word out to hip-hop fans in the Valley, who are forced to journey to such clubs as Safe Sex in downtown Los Angeles or Dragonfly in Santa Monica.

Juice was being promoted through flyers handed out on the street and mailings sent to guest lists from other Los Angeles hip-hop clubs. The club played music Lynch described as a "hip-hop, ragamuffin, funk collaboration."

Lynch also attributed the failure of past hip-hop venues to lack of promotion rather than a shortage of rap fans.

"There are tons of people out here that like a lot of this music but don't want to drive way out to L. A.," Lynch said. "That's the whole point of us starting this club."

Yvette Shelton visited Juice a week before it closed. "There is definitely a hip-hop following out here," the 27-year-old Los Angeles resident said. "I used to live in Sherman Oaks and I know there are black people out here that drive to L. A. all the time to party. My friends used to jump in my van, and we would caravan to L. A."

Juice promoters also say Valley club owners are hesitant to allow hip-hop into their clubs based on the assumption that rap fans, who have historically been black and Latino, will incite violence. Such fears were cited by a spokesman for Cineplex Odeon Corp. for its decision not to show John Singleton's "Poetic Justice," an African-American romantic film, at its Universal City complex on the movie's opening weekend in July.

"It's really hard to keep an African-American crowd out here," said Tony Dean, a street promoter for Juice. "I've gone throughout the Valley and L. A. as a promoter and have noticed the clubs out here may play some R & B music, but they won't play everything because they try to keep certain crowds away. I think they feel threatened by a big hip-hop crowd."

The Los Angeles City Council sought to impose a curfew at the Palladium in Hollywood after a violent rampage occurred at an oversold hip-hop dance party on Christmas Day. After hours of waiting in line, patrons were turned away at the door. Los Angeles police said the crowd had grown impatient, and pelted officers with rocks and bottles.

"A feeling of safety" was a recurring reason about a dozen non-Valley residents gave for making the drive to Juice. The promoters' challenge is to keep them coming--and get the word out to others.

"You can't promote a club by word of mouth out here," Shelton said. "In L. A., it's easy because you can pass the word while at other clubs, but out here, you've got to tell your friends, do radio, billboards . . . everything."

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