by Rachel Swan
Sad news is spilling in as Berkeley bids goodbye to one of it's few dance clubs — the only one within walking distance of the university. Shattuck Down Low, which just celebrated its eleventh year in Berkeley's downtown retail corridor, was actually well in the green when club owner Daniel Cukierman received word of the venue's imminent demise.
His landlord, Everest Properties — a local company owned by the infamous real estate tycoon Lakireddy Bali Reddy, who was convicted of sex-trafficking, tax fraud, and immigration fraud in 2001 — had long wanted to rent out the storefront right about Cukierman's club, which had once housed the Pasand Lounge and Indian restaurant. With that in mind, the Lakireddy family kept Cukierman on a month-to-month lease, despite his protests — the venue owner said he'd tried to negotiate a longer-term contract earlier this year when he first hatched plans for a grand remodel, which he'd hoped to undertake this month. Instead, he wound up getting the boot, after a Los Angeles-based pizzeria came along and made a bid for the upper storefront. The new tenant would only move in on the condition that it occupy both the upstairs and downstairs venues, which empowered it to nudge out the Down Low, Cukierman said. The club will host it's last spate of shows the week of October 8, and shutter soon afterward.
This closure marks a huge loss for Berkeley, as Shattuck Down Low was the veritable crown jewel of an otherwise sterile nightlife scene. It was one of the few clubs to host hip-hop, placing a premium on local acts like Crown City Rockers and Lyrics Born, but also booking national headliners — among them Method Man and Devin the Dude. It also harbored the popular long-running reggae night King of Kings, which featured live bands as well as rotating DJs. Cukierman said he envisioned an "eclectic" club when he opened the place shortly before 9/11, taking over Mr. E's Jazz Club — an old-school joint run by local salsa baron Pete Escovedo, who once hired Cukierman to tend bar.
The Down Low was a welcome addition to Berkeley's downtown scene even during periods of economic downturn. Cukierman had gotten a taste of the nightlife business running a bar and club at the Hotel Shattuck from 1997 to 1999, and, as a long-time Berkeley resident (and Berkeley High alum), he had deep ties to the local music scene. He put upwards of $60,000 into the club, mostly in the form of new sound equipment installed right before a 2003 New Years show staring Lyrics Born, but also in other accoutrements. Over its decade-long transformation, Shattuck Down Low has undergone several different interior decorating schemes, as Cukierman installed pool tables, added classier furniture, changed the lighting, and reconfigured the lounge areas. He'd been in discussions with an architect for much of this year but abandoned plans to remodel after the Lakireddy family declined to extend his lease. "It [meant] trying to decide if you just wanted to put lipstick on a pig," he said.
Shattuck Down Low will host its last salsa night and it's final installment of King of Kings during the second week of October. We'll post more updates as they come in.
Update: The original headline for this blog post said two weeks, but the Down Low's official last day is October 12th. Cukierman is also part owner of Room 389 in Oakland, which has a lot of crossover staff with the Down Low. He'll be scouting new spaces but in the interim, you can find him there.