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They doth protest

Fighting the Goodwin fight

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Protesters gather at Caesars Palace from Poetry Nightclub.
Photo: Jacob Kepler

I attended the ballet this weekend: Giselle, a cautionary tale for naughty daughters who dance and aspire to date dukes when there’s a perfectly good gamekeeper in the village. At first I begged, please! Talk! Or sing, at least. But all they did was dance. In ballet, actions speak louder than words. I thought back to the night before, when I observed another pantomime in progress.

Friday, October 17, 11:55 p.m.

Inside the Forum Shops at Caesars, only the Cheesecake Factory and Poetry are still open, and already, Poetry is doing brisk business with a queue snaking around its stanchions. Owner Mike Goodwin shakes hands with customers loyal since the hip-hop club’s 2003 opening as OPM.

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“Our job is to promote fun and parties, and it really sucks to be part of this,” Goodwin says, matter-of-factly, of the turmoil with Caesars and Simon Properties over the Forum Shops gate, which, when closed, leads tourists to believe that Poetry is closed, too. The gate closes Fridays and Saturdays at 1 a.m., forcing Poetry’s guests through a back hallway or an exterior service corridor … if they can find it.

At 12:45 a.m., Goodwin and anyone who wants to join him will walk to the gate and watch it close. “This is a peaceful observation of racism in motion,” Poetry’s Branden Powers said in an e-mail earlier in the week. “Not a rally, but silent protest.” Behind the furor is Goodwin’s assertion that this gate is both a metaphorical and literal barrier to entry to Poetry’s mostly black audience. All over town, hip-hop of every dilution from Top 40 to mash-up is being spun without question. All except the purest variety, like that which is spun at Poetry. Hip-hop makes some people nervous.

It may not be my personal taste, but beyond being simply pro-nightlife, I’m pro-business. On the other hand, there’s something to be said for a landlord’s rights to control troublesome crowds. But according to just about everyone—including Waddell Bennett, former assistant director of security for Caesars—there really hasn’t been any trouble. Only the perception of potential trouble. And that smacks of racism. Few other media outlets have shown up, supposedly citing fear of Caesars’ wrath.

Forum shops: Access denied.

When Goodwin and Powers take off, we hundred or so observers, gawkers, employees and friends trot along behind, trying to keep up. Photogs and videogs swarm on the fringe like porpoises ushering a boat along, and almost as suddenly … we’re there.

“What do we do now?” asks one walker. “We’re just gonna hang out,” answers another. If Caesars was prepared for this, it doesn’t show. A handful of security guards lean on the walls and columns. “That’s all our concern is,” a guard says to a Poetry employee, “the safety of everybody.” The infamous sign is already up: “The Forum Shops will reopen at 8 a.m.”

At 1:02, the two-story horizontal panels slide across, cutting off access from the casino. “It’s like the Berlin wall,” sighs DJ Masterweb. A brief chorus of boos seeps out, but mostly there’s awed silence from the racially diverse crowd. It’s all over by 1:03. No applause at the end of this show.

Poetry Nightclub.

Skywriter, a staunch OPM/Poetry supporter, flew home just for this. “You have to get directed out this hall out here,” he says as we pass into the back of house, stepping over mousetraps and garbage along the way. “It’s ridiculous. This doesn’t happen nowhere else.” Charles, a contractor, adds, “I think it’s blatantly disrespectful, not just to black people but to anyone who likes this club.” And while Caesars has an interest in Pure, Poetry’s partner Chinois is just a tenant.

We exit en masse and walk along garbage docks to what was once the original VIP/local OPM entrance, painted red and black, and clean.

Re-entering the shops next to Poetry, everyone heads straight inside; it all takes less time than a trip to the bar.

At the doors to the bypass—now Poetry’s only hope—doorman Ed says he can spot locals exiting the elevators and does his best to catch tourists on the rebound, after they’ve read the sign, scratched their heads and wandered back. I wish him luck.

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