No such thing as bad publicity? Tell that weak sauce to Jodi Upton, owner of the hip-hop club CBNC (short for Coyote Bay Night Club) at Scottsdale's Papago Plaza, which has been hurtin' ever since former Arizona State Sun Devils football player Brandon Falkner caught a fatal bullet in the plaza parking lot, allegedly from the gun of ASU tailback Loren Wade. Since the March 26 shooting, business has been off by about 50 percent, despite the fact that Upton's long been credited for turning the club around from a seedy dive to an upscale dance club that draws superstars like 50 Cent, Britney Spears, Eve, Busta Rhymes, and Missy Elliott.
"I spend about $5,000 every Friday night to have eight off-duty Maricopa County sheriff's deputies out front from 11 at night 'til 4 in the morning," Upton explained in an interview before Jett and I hit the club for a post-shooting look-see. "This recent incident with Mr. Falkner and Mr. Wade? If I had not had my deputies there, it could've been a hell of a lot worse. As soon as shots were fired, they were on him and had him down on the ground.
"What's amazing is that the media made it seem like it happened inside my establishment. It actually happened 150 yards outside my establishment, near Wells Fargo. Wade never went in the club. He showed up to pick up his girlfriend, who I assume had been at the club. Falkner had been inside. Wade caught her talking to Falkner, and that's when it happened."
(Sam Bailey, public information officer for the Scottsdale Police Department, confirmed that the killing took place toward the Wells Fargo in the plaza's huge parking lot, and that Wade had not gone into the club. He also stated that in its current incarnation, CBNC "generally speaking, [is] not a problem area," though prior to Upton & Co. taking over in 2002, it was.)
The irony is that CBNC's positive rep as a haven for celebs was due in no small part to the overwhelming security presence (as well as to the contacts Upton's made through her luxury car dealership, Scottsdale's Exotic Auto Sales, and her friendship with rap producer Swizz Beatz, the godfather of one of her sons). 50 Cent felt so at home "in da club," he whipped off his bulletproof vest and did a two-step on the bar. Britney Spears, Beyoncé, and Alicia Keys have all gotten their groove on there. LL Cool J sat in the exclusive "Owner's Booth" and signed autographs for fans. Sports figures, too -- everyone from Suns stud Amaré Stoudemire and players for the Cardinals to Mike Tyson and Allen Iverson -- have kicked it at CBNC. But other than a party for Iverson that happened a few days after the slaying, the VIPs have lately been shunning CBNC like Ja Rule avoiding a G-Unit concert.
Upton complains that she's heard that Suns players were ordered by coaches to steer clear of the spot, although before the shooting Stoudemire was "one of my best customers," she insists. "We had his 22nd birthday here, and in the year and a half he's been coming, there's not been one problem."
Jett and I have been to CBNC before and enjoyed the vibe, and it's always been on our list of places to write up for the column. (CBNC is only open Fridays and Saturdays.) Since it sounds like folks have been trippin' since the deal went down, unfairly hanging CBNC with a shady reputation, we figured we'd stop by the spot on a recent Friday and see what's crackin'.
CBNC is big: two roped-off VIP areas; a roomy Owner's Box, which gives you the best view of the hotties on the dance floor; three bars; and more giant-screen TVs than you can count, all running music videos. The dance floor is lighted from beneath, and blue and purple lights glow through the white fog some machine is pumping out a mile a minute. Chesty dancers are up on risers bustin' moves to joints by Lil Jon, Fat Joe, R. Kelly, Ludacris, Too Short, and Ciara. When the AC/DC Trina and I step through the door, it seems like it's about 60-40, ladies to men, in the house, probably because of the fact that there's no cover on Fridays for chicks, though sausage-swingers have to pony up $10 to gain entree.
Upton's there, watching over the crowd with the help of brothers Jesse and James, whom she calls "the twins." (They're fraternal twins who happen to look a lot alike.) No weak pituitary glands in that family. All three siblings, the blond-haired Upton included, look to be more than six feet tall.
"Yeah, Kreme, but the hard part would be getting it out," she cracks.
Afterward, Upton leaves us to do our thing. So we snag a couple of vodka-Red Bulls and ease up on these two pretty Filipinas, Cecilia and Mang, who're hangin' near the big main bar, bumpin' their heads to the beat, and studying the dance floor. Cecilia's the talkative one. Says it's only her second time at CBNC, and they came from Gilbert to get their swerve on.
"Were you two worried about the Loren Wade thing at all?" I wonder.
"The what?" asks Cecilia.
"Uh, you know, the shooting in the parking lot a few weeks back," states the Jettster.
"No, I didn't even know about it," she says, shaking her head.
"I reckon ignorance is bliss on that one," I mumble. "So what do you like about the club?"
"I can't say, really, since this is only my second time," she replies. "I do like this kind of music, though."
At the moment, it's raining dimes, 'cause nearby Cecilia and Mang, two more hella-fine females have taken their place at the bar. The Jettster and I slide their way and learn their names are Mana and Sherri.
"You two chicas calientes come here a lot?" inquires the Masuimi Max of the PHX.
"Yup, the last time was for the Allen Iverson party," Mana tells her. "The guys here are hot."
"Ever make a love connection here?" I query, hopefully.
"I met some guy at the Iverson thing," she says, laughing.
"And what about tonight? You lookin'?" I raise an eyebrow.
"Nah, 'cause he's supposed to be here -- the dude I met at the Iverson party!"
Dang, shorties move fast these days. We wish Mana and Sherri happy hunting, cop another beverage from our man Refugio at the bar, and head over to the other side of the room, where we spot the booful Athena, an ebony-skinned goddess in a turquoise top, shimmying to Petey Pablo's earthy growl. She's in the club tonight to dance, drink and unwind from a long week of work.
"I'm a fine-art model at the Scottsdale Artist School," she divulges. "And I teach a dance class called Jungle Belly at Bodyworks Studios on Thursdays."
"Jungle Belly? That sounds so . . . sinful," pants the Jettster, undressing the poor gal with her eyes.
"It's very sexy!" she says, nodding her head, oblivious to the fact the J-dawg's in heat. "It's Caribbean, with a Middle Eastern and African feel."
"Did you have qualms about coming here, because of what happened a few weeks back?" I interject, in hopes of deflecting the Jettster's canine-like lust.
"Well, I have noticed a decline in the number of people here, and it must be because of the shooting. It's not good when you get bad press, especially when it's over a murder. The place has become kind of taboo. But as long as we create a positive energy here at CBNC, everything should be okay."
"You feel CBNC's getting a bad rap?"
"I do because it wasn't CBNC that shot the young man," she contends. "It was another human being who had a choice."
"One more question, baby," interrupts Jett. "You say you're a model. Ever pose au naturel?"
"I have to plead the fifth on that one," says the beauty, a tad embarrassed.
"Forgive my assistant," I apologize, shoving the Jettster behind me. "I'm still looking for one with an IQ higher than room temp."
We cruise around a while until we spot this fly cat named Sonny Long, in a sharp black shirt and white fedora with a black band. Long explains that he's a recording artist reppin' 602, and that his new album, The Resume, featuring a combo of jazz, R&B and hip-hop he calls "gumbo music," will be out in September. I ask him how he'd describe CBNC, as he says he pops in from time to time.
"Laid-back," he states emphatically. "Me, I'm an entertainer. I've got money, and I feel safe in here."
"Interesting you say that. Were you here the night of the shooting?"
"I was," says Long. "They were both my friends. The guy who got killed, and the one who did it. But it happened so quick that night [that] the cops couldn't stop it."
"It's just a sad situation all around," I tell him.
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Shortly after our confab with Long, last call is announced, and we file out into Papago Plaza, where there's some serious parkin' lot pimpin' going on. But like in the club, everyone's very sociable and pleasant. Well, almost everyone. One dorky white boy, reeking of well-vodka and wieners, holds a hot dog he's purchased from a nearby stall up to his fly as Jett's snapping his pic.
"You know who I am?" asks Mr. Mustard-Breath. "That's okay, you don't need to know."
"Oh, we know," says Jett. "Every club has at least one asshole, and you're it!"