What happens in downtown Jefferson City after the bars close?
Whether out of curiosity or because you were looking for nightlife, you may have wondered at some point.
Golden Smoke Hookah Lounge opened in May, seeking to provide the after-hours nightlife bars serving alcohol can't. But the business has ended up in the middle of recent controversy concerning the downtown culture after 1:30 a.m.
The hookah lounge, located at 633 E. High St. on the corner of High and Lafayette streets, offers customers flavored hookah tobacco and a social atmosphere to enjoy it in. By law, it does not serve alcohol, meaning it can stay open later than a bar. As for food, the lounge offers only prepackaged snacks and sodas.
But that doesn't stop people from taking the party outside, where they're more inclined to set the rules themselves, according to the observations of Larinda McRaven, a Jefferson City resident who posted a widely circulated account on Facebook of what she's witnessed on the city block surrounding Golden Smoke.
"Come 2 a.m. the corner of Lafayette and High Street becomes a ticking time bomb. And our police officers are doing their best to keep everybody safe," McRaven wrote. "But by 3 a.m. the entire block descends into chaos."
After several Saturday night ride-alongs in a police vehicle, she said, she's witnessed everything from alcohol and marijuana use on the sidewalks to women urinating in the street.
She describes the typical crowd as "a tight horde of 200 loud, rowdy loiterers hanging out on the front steps of local businesses, people's homes, on the sidewalk, in the street, littering, fighting, cooking and illegally selling food out of a garage nearby."
Corey Hykes, one of Golden Smoke Hookah Lounge's owners, said while he does his best to contain the crowd immediately outside the lounge's front door, he's never witnessed the havoc McRaven described.
"Honestly, I haven't seen any problems. When you break up a crowd that's having a good time, they still like to congregate," Hykes said. "What other people may deem as a problem we don't deem as a problem, but we can only speak to what we're doing. The crowd in front of our lounge is not rowdy; we make sure of it. They're not disrespectful; we make sure of it."
His description of the atmosphere inside the business itself is a far cry from what's been attributed to the atmosphere around it.
"We've never had a problem inside the lounge," he said. "We control our customers as far as our establishment. We're good; we're positive. People come out to have a good time, listen to good music and smoke good hookah."
What happens down the street isn't his concern, he said.
"We can only police what's in our establishment or in the immediate area," Hykes said. "There are people outside past where we are. They're on the sidewalks, where they pay their taxes and where the Jefferson City Police Department can control and assist those citizens."
That's precisely what the Jefferson City Police Department has done.
"We understand the volatile environment outside the hookah lounge and extending west on High Street. The conduct of the crowd is not, however, the legal responsibility of the hookah lounge," Police Chief Roger Schroeder said. "To enforce misdemeanor violations, officers must observe those violations. The violations about which neighbors complain include a variety of offending conduct, all of which require officer observation to enforce."
The JCPD initiated an enforcement detail in the area on weekends throughout August to enable that officer observation.
"We have a long list of criminal and traffic charges stemming from those special assignments," Schroeder said. "We've adjusted duty schedules, so our zones remained fully staffed throughout the city."
McRaven's post also voiced concerns about the crowd's attitude toward the police.
"Complaints are called into the department by the loiterers because they demand they are being singled out and harassed solely on their skin color. I have heard these callers. They are drunk and belligerent," she wrote. "The air of tension each time the police approach the crowd is volatile and dangerous. The police are swarmed and outnumbered."
Again, Hykes said Golden Smoke Hookah Lounge does not condone such behavior inside its walls.
"I make sure that none of our police are disrespected in front of my lounge," he said, noting the ongoing racially charged issues facing Americans. "Probably about 85 percent of my clientele are minorities, but that's nothing I can help. We treat everybody the same."
Hykes said he and his business partners have worked with the police and city officials in trying to alleviate the problems, and Schroeder agreed.
"We've been working with the neighborhood and the business owner for several months. Various strategies have been employed, but the concerns continue. Yes, one has the right to earn a living, and the owner has been more cooperative than not," the police chief said. "We've asked for and generally have witnessed a good-faith effort to comply from the business owner."
Nearly since the business' opening, Hykes said, they have been picking up trash from the street every morning after the lounge has been open. They've added clearer signage to designate the Golden Smoke Hookah Lounge area. They narrowed their weekend hours from 8 p.m.-4 a.m. to 8 p.m.-3 a.m. They check the lounge's noise levels hourly to ensure they're below the legal requirement, and they remind customers inside over the speakers to be respectful of the neighborhood, he said.
"In some ways there have been improvements. Conversely, we still have a ways to go," Schroeder said. "We will continue to listen, observe, moderate, enforce the law when it is appropriate to do so, and search for a final and fair resolution."
For Hykes' part, he encourages anyone unsure about the culture of Golden Smoke Hookah Lounge to try it before judging it. The hookah lounge, usually open Thursday through Sunday, will be open specifically for that reason from 7-10 p.m. Wednesday.
"We're being as cooperative as possible with any and everybody that wants to come check us out," Hykes said. "It's ironic that the people who are complaining have never stepped foot in this hookah lounge."