Killings leave Cobalt Lounge feeling blue

The party goes on, but post-Super Bowl murders have put the Atlanta club in an unflattering light.

February 27, 2000|By Scott Huler | Scott Huler,Special to the Sun

ATLANTA -- Suggested new slogan: "The Cobalt Lounge -- Where we almost completely guarantee that you will not be stabbed or shot or roughed up by NFL players or anyone else either."

OK, maybe that doesn't quite get the job done, but it brings up a point. What do you do when you're a relatively new nightclub and you achieve sudden national renown -- for all the wrong reasons? Say, if someone, probably one of your patrons, kills two other patrons in the street, and right after that a star NFL linebacker and part of the still-roiling crowd bundle into a stretch limousine the size of a missile silo that screeches off in a hail of gunfire?

How do you make that sound like a fun night on the town?

Charles Cook, the Cobalt's operating partner, spends a lot of time thinking about that these days.

Since the post-Super Bowl double-murder, in which Ravens All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis has been charged, the Cobalt Lounge is on everyone's lips, but not for reasons Cook and his partners would choose. "It's the most well-known club in the country," says Cook, a 33-year-old wearing a black turtleneck and a hoop earring. "And that's just one more hurdle to overcome."

And you thought there was no such thing as bad publicity.

Late on a recent Saturday night, Cook ducked out of the blue neon glow of his club, sat down in "the V.V.V.I.P. room" and discussed his new problem.

"February is the slowest month of the year anyway," he said, speaking of his notably quieter club. Add in the fact that the usually dull month of January was busy because of so many Super Bowl events, and you would have expected a pretty severe party crash come February -- even without blood in the streets.

Cook points out that the murders took place several blocks from his club, and that nobody knows exactly what happened. Still, news reports have consistently linked the fatal struggle with partying at the Cobalt; when the incident took place on a late Sunday night, it was just about the only place open in the city's famed Buckhead entertainment district.

So, fairly or not, the club is connected to the murder. Just as it was to another murder, a shooting, that occurred two weeks before, also near but not inside the Cobalt.

"We don't let things like that happen in this club," Cook said. "We take too many precautions," including having three uniformed off-duty police officers and a dozen beefy bouncers on duty.

Still, that's two seriously bad ends to nights out in just a couple of weeks. And the Cobalt and Buckhead are feeling the effects.

Curiosity, concern

Of course, there is the possibility that the same ghoulish curiosity that has caused Baltimoreans to rent the bullet-riddled limousine Lewis used during his ill-fated Atlanta trip has brought out some new customers. It was hardly chance that film director Oliver Stone -- someone with a known fascination for unsatisfactorily explained deaths, bullets of uncertain trajectory and NFL players -- stopped by the Cobalt on Feb. 15.

But the club's new reputation seems to be affecting many people in the opposite way. On this Saturday night, several club-goers approached the Cobalt, then walked on by. "Better duck," said one. "Yeah," said another. "This is where all those people got killed."

Inside the darkened club, the smoky upstairs dance floor slowly filled. Downstairs, in a black-lacquer lounge area, people talked. Patrons said attendance was definitely down.

"I was just saying -- only two [men] have approached us," said Cheryl Nahas, a 30-year-old relocation consultant who has lived in Atlanta just three months. "And one said, 'Do you think anyone's gonna get shot?' " Charming, but no dice -- Nahas stuck with her friend. Just one friend, she noted. "My girlfriends all skated out on us," afraid to come down, she said.

But Nahas wasn't scared. "I think it could happen anywhere," she said. "You got to remember, we're from Detroit."

Still, the Cobalt was far from empty. By midnight, bodies tangled and booties shook on the dance floor upstairs; stairwells and sofas filled with groping and oblivious partyers. It was a club, like any other, on a Saturday night.

Think neck chains. Think too-tight clothes. Think grown-up frat boys in khakis and open shirts, young professional types who'll tell you "I'm here because you meet a higher caliber of person," then admit the truth: "I'm here for the hot chicks."

Some Cobalt regulars described the post-Super Bowl unpleasantness as an isolated incident, one that's gotten blown out of proportion. Partially, they say, that's due to the fact that it occurred on a Sunday night: "Urban Night" at the Cobalt.

A theme night the club inherited from its predecessor at the same spot, Otto's, Urban Nights featured hip-hop music and attracted almost entirely African-American crowds, a different clientele from the one on most weeknights. People flew in from all over the country for Urban Nights, some at the Cobalt said. "It was a great party," one said. "It was a sophisticated crowd."

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