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Women lead mass boycott of Spin nightclub on grounds of sexism, racism

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Katherine Winfrey-King

a Chicago-based lesbian searching for her dignity

After what many would call the final nail in the coffin, a group of women has ignited a grassroots movement to boycott Spin.

On Saturday, February 20th Kid Sister drew a packed house to Spin for a show she hosted featuring Somilia Rabee and Earth Tone DJs.  The event was put on by A&C Productions.

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For many in attendance, the night was a success.  It fulfilled its goal to bring together women from all over the city and suburbs who wanted to hear live hip-hop in what they perceived to be a safe and welcoming venue.

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What the overcrowded downstairs area hid was the fact that this venue is perhaps not accommodating of women at all.  Spin is largely considered a mixed bar.  The General Manager of the bar, Robert Hoffman, told a fellow ChicagoNow blogger (CNB), "We're the only bar that does not market itself specifically to one group."  While not the only bar not marketing specifically to one group, Spin is certainly a bar that women have long claimed as a shared space for themselves in Boystown.

What you be may be interested to hear, then, is that of the four women on staff at Spin as of Saturday, three have quit working there since the fall-out from Saturday night.  In the few days since the Saturday night show, there has been a great deal of noise and rumblings about what may have led to this stand-off that has sent ripples through the lesbian and queer communities.

Last night I sat down with the two women behind A&C Productions (CW and Andi Cruzatti), former assistant manager-in-training, Melissa Benge, and former barback, Felicia Cunningham.  Cruzatti, a promoter of the event, was also a bartender at Spin and had been for over a year.

A&C Productions contacted Mariah Hanson of Club Skirts and the Dinah to assist in promoting a show which would target the Chicago lesbian community.  Once selected to be a partner promoter for Club Skirts, A&C Productions was free to choose a bar in Chicago to host the event.  Being that Cruzatti was a bartender at Spin, the two thought it only logical to have the event there.

Robert Hoffman and owner, David Gassman, were excited to host the women's event which Cruzatti and CW decided would feature the artist, Kid Sister.  As Hoffman said to CNB, "Spin sponsors more lesbian sports teams than any other club, and we have supported the lesbian community with events like the Fish Tank for 15 years."

In the initial discussions with Hoffman and Gassman, Cruzatti and CW stressed the importance of integrating women of different backgrounds for the night and the desire to have an eclectic sound base.  They lined up the Earth Tone DJs and local performer, Somilia Rabee.  Recognizing that Kid Sister would be the big draw, Hoffman expressed reluctance about Rabee, stating in an email to CW and Cruzatti, "We can speak more about this, but David already voiced the opinion that he doesn't want people latching on to our success."  Similarly, Earth Tone DJs had once before played at Spin and received criticism from the management for playing too much hip-hop, despite being asked to DJ on what was promoted as a hip-hop night.

In the weeks leading up to the event, as the promotional materials were proofed and approved by Spin, A&C Productions, Club Skirts, and Kid Sister's agency, Hoffman began verbally expressing concern to employees about the event and the clientele that it would attract.  He at one point said to Cruzatti, "Those West Side lesbians can keep their money."

Cruzatti and Benge traveled down to Wicker Park to promote the event at the weekly Dollhouse party at the Wicker Well, which attracts a predominantly Latina crowd.  When Benge relayed word of their promoting there to Hoffman, he responded saying, "We don't want those kinds of lesbians in our club."

Earth Tone DJs (two women) were told the Friday night before the show that their DJ set would be cut and moved to after Kid Sister's performance.  They offered to come to the sound check Saturday afternoon and were declined by the management.  Instead, a male DJ who was not advertised as part of the event spun until Somilia took the stage around 10pm.

The event was packed, bringing in over 1000 people.  Benge, who was overseeing the door, says that the final count of non pre-sale attendees was 802.  She estimates that the tickets bought through the pre-sale totaled around 250.  CW and Cruzatti had formalized an agreement over email stipulating that Spin would take 100% of the cover charge ($10) for the first 300 guests who paid at the door.  CW and Cruzatti would receive half the cover ($5) for all guests paying at the door over and above the 300 guest threshold.  Per the agreement, Cruzatti and CW should have received $2,510.  Instead, they received $175 a piece.  Furthermore, Benge estimates that the bar made over $20,000 Saturday night.

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photo courtesy of Joyce Sweetheart-Fabregas

Women claim this to be a recurring issue with Spin.  Fish Tank, which Spin proudly touts as its longstanding women's party was given an operating budget of $400 a night which was intended to finance the DJs and any other entertainment the women wished to have. 

Also in the email correspondence between Hoffman, Gassman, Cruzatti, and CW was this assertion by Hoffman, "We have currently been averaging closer to 400 guests on Saturday nights without major promotions."  Accounting for Spin's standard $5 cover charge, this means the club would make $2,000 on an average Saturday in cover alone, while only ponying up $400 of that to the women who run the monthly event.  Cruzatti, who effectively inherited Fish Tank, said that none of the organizers were paid for putting the event on.  The $400 had to be divvied up between DJs and performers, while the club kept the roughly $1600 left over.

"They took from me and my community," Cruzatti said, shaking her head.  The three former employees that I spoke to truly felt that Spin exploited its female population, taking advantage of their naivete as to how the women's events operated and how their money was being spent.

Felicia Cunningham was a barback who had been demoted to security after telling the management she had taken a second job at Berlin to help offset some of her costs as a student.  Cunningham can recall an instance where Hoffman said to her, "We would really prefer not to bring in the urban lesbian."  Last night after her shift, Cunningham submitted her letter of resignation, citing discrimination as one of her reasons for leaving.  She felt discriminated against by the club as a "black, queer woman."

In the wake of Spin's female employee exodus, women have organized through word of mouth and Facebook.  A group, "BOYCOTT SPIN!!!" emerged on Monday that has solicited all sorts of feedback from men and women alike, commiserating over the mistreatment of lesbians and black people specifically.  

Also present to discuss the boycott was Julie Mosier, who has been promoting events at Circuit for over 10 years.  She and the three girls who have left Spin claim that they were empowered to do so because Circuit's owners, Michael and Patrick, have graciously agreed to pick up everyone who has left Spin.  Many of the female employees were afraid to rock the boat and jeopardize the economic viability of themselves and their coworkers, whom they care about very much.  It's now that Circuit has offered an almost refuge for them that several of the employees feel supported to finally put a foot down.

Mosier claims that Circuit was the first bar on Halsted St. to ever host an exclusively women's night.  In the recent past, Spin's monthly Fish Tank party on Saturdays was marketed towards women.  While not explicitly intended for women, the weekly "What the F*ck Wednesdays" drew many women, as did routine, non Fish Tank Saturdays.  Cruzatti wants to take that clientele elsewhere.  "Spin was just a venue.  We can bring that anywhere."  She is excited to resurrect her women's events at Circuit, which is a more welcoming environment.  "Everyone is coming," she said, referring to her two female coworkers who had quit, as well as at least one male employee at this time who will be coming to Circuit too.

Last night, those who would typically go to Spin and had received the word in time, rerouted themselves over to Scarlet, which "welcomes and appreciates" its female clientele.  What is possibly the most telling is the fact that the organizers of the boycott wanted to call Scarlet to make sure it was ok that a gaggle of women would be relocating there.  It just points to what has become glaringly obvious since Stargaze's New Year's closing-- there is simply nowhere that lesbian and queer-identified women feel comfortable calling their own anymore.

When asked by CNB to comment on the events from the weekend, Robert Hoffman claimed to be "absolutely, 100% baffled" by the boycott.  He further added, "We have a popular, disgruntled employee.  They have decided to do a smear campaign."

I'm afraid it's a bit more serious than that, Mr. Hoffman.

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20 Comments

Michael Lehet said:

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It's amazing the things that go on in this city!

Marc Felion said:

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Some of the drag queens aren't very happy with the place either.

Teri Yaki also spills the beans on the unhappy birthday party of a bar manager at Spin on this show-

http://www.feastoffun.com/podcast/2009/08/25/fof-1044-teri-yakis-tangy-taste-082509/

Katherine Winfrey-King said:

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oh wow. That was almost sad. Still, no excuse for treating people the way he does. Maybe this will be a wake-up call to him.

Also, I want to ride dirty in a u-haul.

raven said:

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I just want to make one small correction. Temptations out in Franklin Park is in it's third month of being open again after a small hiatus and it is a club that has always made ALL people feel welcome but more so it's mainly lesbian clientele by providing a safe, comfortable, welcoming environment. To say "there is simply nowhere that lesbian and queer-identified women feel comfortable calling their own anymore" is not true. It is a bit of a drive but worth it. Free unlimited parking right outside the club and the drink specials alone would knock your socks off. $5 Patron shots ... where in the city are you going to find THAT? This weekend they are hosting a Red Party Weekend where part of the night's proceeds will go to Going Red for Women, a part of the American Heart Association. You can find details on Temptations on facebook or myspace by looking up Temptations Night Club or go to www.temptationsnightclub.net

Katherine Winfrey-King said:

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I stand corrected! Funny you mention it because a group of my friends and I are heading out there tomorrow for a birthday party. I think y'all should get some shuttle buses and ship us out and back like they do for the riverboats!

raven said:

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Sorry I didn't see this until now. I hope you enjoyed yourself Friday night. Next time you plan on coming out please notify us. We have great perks for parties. And unlike other bars, we do not host a "lesbian night" or two a week. We are a lesbian bar. Hopefully you're a fan of our facebook fan page so you can keep informed of all our upcoming events. Next time you are planning on outing out there (this weekend, March 5 we have a live salsa band and March 6 is Old Skool Sat) let me know. I hope you enjoyed yourself last Friday to make it back out again. Like I said, the drink specials alone are unbeatable. You can reach me personally at http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/mavenraven

abughazi said:

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Trashy people talking trash about trashy people.

luna02 said:

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NICE!:)

womynofzm said:

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you can really tell where management is coming from when they say those people can keep their money...that statement alone stems from racism.

Sophia Petrillo said:

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That's a damn shame. For those fired or having left because of discrimination I hope they seek advice from the Illinois Dept. of Employment Security or other legal entities. As for the promoters, if all the $$$ details are written via email isn't that proof of fraud against the owner?

motherdough said:

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a comment on the side note re: the origins of Fish Tank...it was started in 1996 at Spin by 2 lesbian employees at the time. It was every Tuesday. The same 2 lesbian employees also did a night called The Powder Room in 1998. Dummy Corp. had nothing to do with either event.

T-Funk said:

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Spin was a fun when it was a small, modest club. The crowd was truly mixed (gay/lesbian/trans/straight) and there was a positive vibe.

Since it's expanded it's become a loud, obnoxious place full of trash. I haven't been there in quite some time.

uuuknowww said:

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I would strongly suggest that any ladies looking for a comfortable environment check out The Velvet Rope Ultra Lounge in Oak Park. They have a really open and relaxed atmosphere and they have dancing Fridays and Saturdays as well as house music parties every second and fourth Saturday. They cater to all kinds of crowds and for MArch MAdness are having a bunch of different deals every day.

Also Kimi Hayes is going to be performing their Thursday March 18th!

Not to mention the food is great. They're in the burbs but it's perfect if you're not up for doing the whole boystown thing. Believe me it's worth checking out. Check out their website. www.velvetropeultralounge.com.

:D

Ryan Justice said:

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That's really too bad. Spin is one of the bars I really claim as my own personal "watering hole," though I admit I haven't been in a while. I'd be curious to know their standard percentage of what other events get from the door. If this is truly discriminatory, that's where the evidence will be.

Ms. Bea Haven said:

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You know, there's also a lesbian-owned bar in Andersonville that everyone always forgets about: Joie De Vine. To self-disclose, I host events there and it is small, but it is a viable option for lesbians who are looking to support women-owned and operated spaces. No offense to Temps, but a straight guy owns that place.

Ms. Bea Haven said:

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(www.joiedevine.com, btw.) Also, it's sad that the new management of Spin isd behaving that way. I heard rumblings of that last year when I tried to host an event there with a well-known lesbian health org. It seemed shady, so we went to wicker park (to a straight club, Subterranean) instead.

ken said:

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Robert is a meth head plain and simple. He has destroyed a bar that everyone was welcome in.
Gay, lesbian, black, hispanic, bear, whatever. He has made everyone feel unwelcome including patrons who have been going there for years. He also has ruined one of the best staffs in the city by firing everyone. BOYCOTT SPIN until he is gone!

Bill Pritchard said:

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Here’s the deal. . .We must all be welcome. Isn’t that what we want for one another?

I can’t speak to the allegations about Spin Nightclub. I can however urge all in the queer community to lead by example; the importance of acceptance.

If Spin is in error, then show them with your time and treasure. Offer to speak with the management and help.

If we as a community are not open to allowing Lesbians into our environment; what does that say about us?

Red, bi, yellow, transgender, black, straight, white, gay, woman, man, tall, fat, old, short, thin, young. Can’t we all get a long?

LizzyP said:

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So......this country is having a hard time getting jobs and some people work at night clubs now to pay bills.....what I am getting at is lesbians, minority's, gays, bi's, etc. work at Spin still. So why does the Spin staff that works hard there and has nothing to do with this have to get harassed? I am hearing a lot about equal rights and blah but this is coming from a group of females who harass fellow lesbian females. Just look on the Boycott Spin site, it is hard for females to find a place and to throw parties so why harass a club or workers trying to make a difference and fixing the problems? Just saying

Sophia Petrillo said:

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Your use of the word 'harass' seems far from the actual definition. People are boycotting a business because of supposed prejudicial behavior ('equal rights and blah'), that does not amount to harassment of lesbian females or clubs.

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