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October 11-17, 2006

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Aging Process

Club Raw takes a chance on 18-and-up shows downtown

By Ryan Osterbeck

JOHNNY ESCOBAR looks relieved, but he can't hide the energy in his eyes. "This is going to be exciting," he says. Escobar is the manager of Score's Sports Bar and Grill and the newly minted Club Raw in downtown San Jose, 417 S. First St., which made a bit of history Saturday (Sept. 30) by hosting an 18-and-over night—something that hasn't happened here in nearly five years. It's ironic that Score's and Club Raw occupy an expanded version of the site of the Cactus Club, the last nightclub outlet for the "able to vote but unable to drink" set in San Jose.

Indeed, downtown San Jose really isn't that accommodating to the drinking-age crowd—and to those under 21 it can be downright hostile. Escobar muses on their plight: "There's nothing for them to do; where can they go? They cruise up and down Santa Clara. Now we've given them a place where they can actually go inside." Escobar states that the legal hoops they had to jump through to open Club Raw seemed endless. "We had meetings with the planning commission, the City Council, Police Department, ABC [state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control]..." All in all, it took them nearly six months.

Judging by what a regular bar or nightclub has to go through to obtain and keep a liquor license, especially in the wake of the night-life crackdown that started nearly a year ago with the shooting outside the Ambassador's Nightclub on North San Pedro Street, the achievement of everyone involved should be commended. That unfortunate incident and another a few short weeks later in the SoFA district sparked a lockdown of downtown San Jose by the police and the ABC.

The San Jose Police have always tried to maintain the peace at the tolling of the last call bells. However, their tactics were often questioned by the nightclub community and met with open hostility by nightclub patrons. An April 2006 press release by the San Jose Downtown Association strove to delineate the state of the San Jose night culture. Summarily, it said that San Jose's late-night consumer experience has deteriorated dramatically. Three key factors were noted: teenagers cause disproportionate trouble that requires significant police attention; there are not enough options for young adults ages 18-20; and certain police tactics are a turn-off to many customers. The press release went on to present some solutions, but the most notable aspect was to adopt a proactive stance in attempts to move the night-life culture in a more positive direction. Club Raw has become a collaborative and integral part of that new solution.

One could only imagine the scrutiny Club Raw was under Saturday night, but according to Escobar, everything went very smoothly. "We did everything by the book; we did everything in accordance with our contract with the city. We cooperated with everything we had to do; the cops took notice of that fact and, in turn, they did the same." Creating a viable option for the under-21 crowds is the first step to ensuring the continuous improvement of downtown San Jose night culture, and Escobar said that the police, ABC and vice all spent time inside Club Raw, checking permits, checking to see if there was any alcohol available and scoping out the crowd. But they pretty much left as quietly as they came, which is an encouraging sign for Club Raw and the 18-and-over Bounce party.

"We had a line at 9pm and pretty much sold out the club tonight. No fights, no problems," Escobar says, which has prompted Score's and Club Raw to go for the younger crowd again. "We have no competition in San Jose, none." So with one major success under its belt, Club Raw will go for the 18-and-over crowds again on Fridays and Saturdays, with Tuesdays or Thursdays to come, ultimately creating a night-life destination for the under-21 set three nights a week—and, if they can keep the chill atmosphere, become the police and City Council darling for a renewed San Jose.

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