By Drew Olson Special to Published Jul 20, 2006 at 5:42 AM
Face it, we all have things we love and hate about Milwaukee. But, complaining and focusing on the negative leads nowhere. So, in this regular This Sucks"  column we highlight an issue that we think needs to be addressed, discussed and solved. Every "This Sucks" feature tells you why we think something is bad (sucks), offers commentary, opinions, solutions and, of course, gives you the chance to weigh in through our exclusive talkback feature.

What sucks: Milwaukee seems unable to support a peaceful, prosperous hip-hop club. Case in point: Two men were killed and a third man was injured in a shooting early Sunday outside Visions, 1013 N. Old World 3rd St. The incident -- and reaction to it -- prompted bar owner Gary Cash to surrender his liquor license, adding Visions to a long list of failed clubs -- Pure, City Club, Emerald City, Parkbar, Shangrila Lounge and Da Jungle (pending) -- that catered to younger fans of hip-hop music, many of them African-American.

Why it sucks: In the grand scheme, the closing of a nightclub or two in a large city is not a big deal. This specific case, however, has once again picked off a scab and perpetuated a seemingly eternal chicken-and-egg argument in which young African-Americans (and hip-hop fans of all races) complain about a lack of entertainment venues in Milwaukee -- particularly Downtown -- while politicians, talk-show hosts and other business owners counter by saying that the venues close because of the violence, mismanagement and other problems that are prevalent and seemingly inevitable when they open.

What we get is a lot of finger-pointing, blame assigning and saber rattling, none of which is conducive to constructive dialogue.

Club owners often blame the Common Council or Milwaukee Police Department, either for hassling them too much or not reacting quickly enough to problems. The Common Council and Police Department often respond by blaming the club owners for security and capacity and other issues. The editorial writers and assorted other navel-gazers will condemn the fall of "family values," the erosion of the black middle class and the emphasis on violence and bravado that permeates the hip-hop culture.

Law-abiding fans of hip-hop, however, will squawk about being lumped in with a few thugs.

Milwaukee TV personality and activist Troy Shaw says the city simply doesn't cater to its young African-Americans.

"You wonder why there is an increase and crime in certain areas of the city," says Shaw, who hosts the television show "Focus on Diversity."  "We have an issue in this community with race. It transcends entertainment, it transcends politics, and it transcends business. Unless we are willing to address this in realistic terms, we'll always have these problems with race, and Milwaukee will steadily lose because of it. We'll lose economically and in terms of education and health care."

As with many issues in Milwaukee, race casts a large shadow over the debate. White politicians, radio hosts and citizens who raise the issue are often dismissed as "racists." African-Americans, particularly those toward the younger end of the club-going demographic, feel persecuted, picked on and excluded from the cultural activity that makes downtown vibrant.

Shaw says the troublemakers make up a vast minority of the patrons at a club like Visions.

"Those individuals are basically helping to align themselves with shutting down African-American-oriented business. Those types of people exist in every realm," says Eugene Kane, columnist at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

What you can do to make it not suck: Dialogue and an open exchange of ideas.

According to Kane, there are ways to curb club violence.

"(One way to fix the problem) is to get all the guns off the street, but nobody wants to hear that one," says Kane.

As for Visions, Kane and many others questioned the police response.

"I'm hearing different things about the security of the place. It's amazing when you get a sense of how long this altercation -- after it had spread out into the street -- was going on. It seems to me, how the hell was there not a single cop car in that particular part of Downtown on Saturday night? A lot of people have problems with the way the bar's security handled it, but there was a whole big melee in the street and you have to wonder, where are the cops? But, if you say that, people will say, 'Don't blame the cops. They can't be everywhere.' They can't be everywhere, but they should be in some of the real hot spots on Saturday night," he says.

But Anne E. Schwartz, spokesperson for the Milwaukee Police Department, says it's entirely possible to have a hip-hop club without violence, though personal responsibility plays a role, too.

Says Schwartz,  "Violence at any licensed premise is an issue of personal responsibility on the part of the patrons and responsibility on the part of the establishment to keep those patrons safe by obeying the city's ordinances. Any club can be a violence-free zone. There just has to be a commitment to make it that way by those who go there for enjoyment and by those who provide it."

Shaw says that city government can play a role in supporting successful black-owned businesses.

"To have a successful hip-hop club, you're going to need the help of the aldermen and the strength of the Common Council that will recognize an African-American entrepreneur trying to create a venue that many African-Americans do not have in this city," said Shaw.

According to Shaw, all parties need to work together on this issue.

"You have to have a strong relationship with the Common Council, with the police and the community. I would say the bar owners should talk to their patrons to exercise more restraint. Have individuals within the bar speak to one another and say, 'We're being watched. We need to adhere to certain rules.'"

Neighboring club owners also say that the answer lies in a combination of better laws and running a responsible business.

Mike Kozak is the proprietor of Martini Mike's, a lounge that opens this weekend in the space previously occupied by his former club, The Velvet Room, 730 N. Old World 3rd St.

"Anyone can go in this business and make a quick buck, but there are people that want to complement the city and be a destination for people who live here and for travelers. I think that it's all in how you run your operation," says Kozak.

But there's no magic formula to keeping a club safe, he says.

"Part of it is dress code, part of it's security, part of it's how the staff treats the customers, part of it's your marketing and promotion. I think you can have a bar on the South Side, North Side, East or West Side, but if you don't run it the right way, it's going to go sour."

Kozak says the city can be more strict in its liquor licensing process, too.

"What's happening is that bar, after bar, after bar is opening up and it kind of takes a little away from everybody, so maybe the people that have been here a long time are now fighting and struggling to get by. You get a new guy coming in, he's open for two weeks and there's a shooting," says Kozak. "I think it has to cost more money to get into it. If you go to Chicago -- I'm not positive on this -- the liquor licensing is built into the price when you buy a place, whereas here you play $685 and get granted by the Common Council and you can put $2,000 into your bar and be in business. That's the difference between us and other cities; it's definitely harder to get a liquor license other places. And I think here the Common Council is starting to change that and I think you'll start to see fewer licenses."

Kane says he agrees that the business owners must be part of the solution, as well.

"You have to have a good business plan. This guy (Cash) was claiming that he wanted it to be a smooth mellow place catering to older people, 25 or 30 years old, but what happens is that place Da Jungle shut down and the young folks don't have any place to go, so they just gravitate to whatever the new black club is," says Kane.

What's your take on the situation?  How can Milwaukee keep its hip-hop clubs peaceful and prosperous? Add your comments below using the Talkback feature at the bottom of this article.

- Julie Lawrence contributed to this report.
Drew Olson Special to

Host of “The Drew Olson Show,” which airs 1-3 p.m. weekdays on The Big 902. Sidekick on “The Mike Heller Show,” airing weekdays on The Big 920 and a statewide network including stations in Madison, Appleton and Wausau. Co-author of Bill Schroeder’s “If These Walls Could Talk: Milwaukee Brewers” on Triumph Books. Co-host of “Big 12 Sports Saturday,” which airs Saturdays during football season on WISN-12. Former senior editor at Former reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.