COLUMBIA - The hip-hop event held on Wednesday nights for the past few months at the Sapphire Lounge has been canceled, the bar's owner said Thursday afternoon, the same day a fight ended with a shot fired at police near the bar.
"I canceled it this morning," said Robin Ayers, owner of the Sapphire Lounge and Tellers Gallery & Bar, both on Broadway. "That night is done. It will never happen again."
Ayers, who was at Sapphire Lounge when the fighting started outside, said A.P., a promoter, ran the hip-hop event on Wednesday nights the last few months.
"We try to do a wide range of different music," Ayers said. "It was our busiest night, so we're giving up our best moneymaker to do our part" to keep the peace downtown.
A series of fights broke out early Thursday, starting in the alley of the Sapphire Lounge, where a shot was fired at police. After the crowd brought its fighting west on Broadway, police arrested four people near the intersection of Tenth and Walnut streets, where the scuffles ended.
What happens at hip-hop events depends on the promoter, said local entertainment artist Ray Pierce, whose stage name is Steddy P. He said he's a good friend of A.P. The nights often include disk jockeys spinning music, artists doing live art and sometimes rap freestyle sessions or rap battles on stage, Pierce said.
"It's a big deal to have a night in Columbia where kids can come out and listen to hip-hop," he said. "For an incident like that to happen, one, it doesn't help, and two, it kind of taints the image of hip-hop in general."
Since a few months ago, the number of "contacts" by the Columbia Police at the Sapphire Lounge has been rising, Capt. Zim Schwartze said.
From July 1 to Dec. 31, 2007, Columbia Police had nine contacts or calls for service at the bar. Calls for service can include police-initiated contacts or even a parking violation in front of the business. Police made zero arrests and filed no reports of concern.
But from January 1 to Sept. 12, police had 61 contacts or calls. They made 16 arrests, filed 16 reports of concern and three reports of no concern. The reports of concern varied from liquor law violations to charges of assault.
"Sixty-one is a fairly high number," Schwartze said.
After a fight broke out near what was then Athena Night Club in January, Schwartze said, police started looking at incidents at bars on a monthly basis rather than quarterly. Athena Night Club closed in February after a fight there led to the suspension of five MU men's basketball players.
"We really wanted to be fair to all the bars," she said.
Disturbances at the Sapphire Lounge started to pick up about four months ago, Schwartze said, with arrests for assault and peace disturbance in May. July was even worse; police made five arrests at the bar, including three for assault, Schwartze said.
Only a few bars in Columbia have had call numbers in the 60s, she said, including Harpo's, also downtown, which had 62 calls or contacts. Schwartze said it's hard to compare bars because of their different sizes and clientele. When police notice a jump of three or four calls a month from a bar, they start working with the bar owner or owners on fixing the problem, Schwartze said.
"We don't just say ‘they're over 60, we have a problem,'" Schwartze said. "You have to look at each bar individually."
Ayers went to the police Thursday morning seeking advice on how to prevent future fights near the Sapphire Lounge.
"I'm doing whatever I can," she said.
Kasmir Lawson, general manager of the Regency Hotel, said the Wednesday night lines at the lounge often stretch past the stoop in front of the hotel, nearly spilling into its driveway.
Because of the crowds, the hotel hired a parking lot attendant to make sure the bar's guests wouldn't loiter in the hotel's lot. The attendant works from about 6 p.m. to 2 a.m., Lawson said.
"We started that whenever hip-hop night started," Lawson said. "We have to get security just to make sure that our guests feel safe."
The crowds gathered near the Regency Hotel every Wednesday night until 2:30 or 3 a.m., said Rachel Crane, the hotel's guest representative manager.
"They will stand right there and drink and smoke until the cops run them off," Crane said, pointing to the stoop in front of Regency.
Any other night of the week, though, Lawson said, the hotel has no problems with Sapphire Lounge.
She said Ayers apologized Thursday for any harm the morning's incident might have caused the Regency's business.
Pierce said now that Sapphire Lounge has canceled its hip-hop night, the genre of music will have no home in Columbia.
"I can guarantee you that there's not going to be a place for that crowd to go. I couldn't imagine any venue picking up a weekly show," Pierce said. "Paradise Lounge closed because of the same thing. Athena closed because of the same thing. So, that's a wrap."