Bon Voyage

Spinout: Zach Ariah of Bon Appétit's Headspin
Daniel Corrigan

It's the oldest story in a relatively young Twin Cities hip-hop scene. Local music venue starts hosting under-21 rap shows. Young people, many of them black, proceed to show up by the hundreds. Neighboring businesses find reasons to complain about the influx of teens. And soon, an incident (read: a fight, or an arrest) shuts down the event.

The case of Bon Appétit represents a change in the script: No such violent incident occurred at the sandwich and beer shop, whose back room, "The Bone," had turned into a sometime music venue. Yet, after hosting a Sunday-night hip-hop showcase, Headspin, for about a year, the Dinkytown joint nonetheless discontinued it under duress last week. Since May of 1998, the police were called to the location (at 421 14th Ave. SE) a total of five times (once on a Sunday, for theft). Bon Appétit owner Samir Elkhoury, who has been scheduling both amplified rock and hip-hop shows since last summer, says Headspin had been surprisingly incident-free. "Except that so many people show up," he adds. "They block other businesses from doing business. I had to stop it for that reason."

More specifically, on Sunday, May 16, Elkhoury's 77-year-old landlady, who identified herself as "Ms. S. Peterson," showed up at Headspin around 10:45 p.m. holding the latest issue of the national hip-hop magazine The Source and demanded that the show be shut down immediately. "She came in and started screaming, and people were like, 'Who is this lady?'" says Headspin co-organizer Zach Ariah (a.k.a. Zachariah Combs of the rap crew Kanser).

For her part, Peterson says she had just returned from a six-month stay in Florida two weeks previously, and knew nothing about the rock and rap fare at the deli until an acquaintance--she won't specify who--showed her page 113 of The Source's June issue. There, in the first detailed national article about Twin Cities rap culture, she found an accurate description of Bon Appétit as "a magnet for the grassroots hip-hop scene." Peterson says she then received a noise complaint from an irate area resident on the night in question. When she stopped by the property, she was alarmed by the size of the crowd, which numbered close to 200.

"Dinkytown needs a revival, but not this sort of thing," says Peterson, a longtime resident of the neighborhood. "I was so shocked that night that I suppose I caused a little disturbance. The lease reads that this is a sandwich/salad bar, and I didn't realize that kind of music was going on."

Elkhoury does admit to straining the limits of his entertainment license. One condition of its approval, insisted upon by the Dinkytown Business Association last year, states that the featured music be limited to "minimally amplified solo or small combo jazz, folk, or ethnic style music." Bon Appétit would seem ideally situated for live music, tucked between a record-player shop that is closed during concert hours and a laundromat that closes after 11:00 p.m. Yet owners of both businesses complained to Elkhoury about noise as shows grew louder. Laurel Bauer, Peterson's cousin and manager of the nearby House of Hanson grocery store, has also complained to Headspin's Ariah about graffiti on the back of her building.

Still, Headspin supporters say the hostility of the wider Dinkytown business establishment to both live hip hop and punk rock runs deeper than specific concerns about noise or vandalism. "The businesses there don't like the fact that kids of color and kids with colored hair are coming into Dinkytown," says musician Aaron Zilch, a former employee at Bon Appétit.

Jeremy Stomberg, a three-year employee of neighboring Dreamhaven Books, agrees. "Personally, I have a lot fewer problems with Bon Appétit than I do with the sports bars in Dinkytown," Stomberg says. "On Friday and Saturday nights there are jocks just hanging out and having screamfests in front of the bars."

Certainly the specificity of the musical conditions handed to Elkhoury by neighborhood businesses would seem slanted. Elkhoury says he got his license under the stated condition that he not allow "hip-hop and hardcore punk" shows. "The community here had bad experiences with bars before," he says, referring to the early-'90s termination of hip-hop nights at the Varsity Theater, where "Peace Parties" aroused similar ire. "I agreed to those conditions. But after the insistence of many customers, we gave that music a chance."

Elkhoury says he'll now restrict the live offerings to softer music that draws smaller crowds (though when I stopped by on Saturday, posters of booked rock acts still lined his window). In any case, the most successful night of the week has been suspended.

"Samir gave us three weeks to test it out, and we didn't know if we'd make it past one week without a fight," says Ariah. "Then week after week went by, and it kept going."

And now, as is repeatedly the case for live hip hop, it's gone.

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