On the 500 block of 5th Street in the Jack London district, there's a decrepit building with its windows boarded up and covered in graffiti. Garbage collects in the doorway. But it's the property next door — with the attractive brick façade, black trim, and gold fixtures — that's at the center of a white-collar squatting dispute, with seasoned nightclub purveyors squabbling for the right to throw parties.
Indeed, the gold handles on the exterior of 581 5th Street are brand new, because competing occupants for the address have changed the locks several times in the past few months, sometimes with a police escort. Two clubs — Adam Afuvai's recently launched Brix 581, and its predecessor, Isaac Anthony's Riddim — claim legal entitlement to the keys.
Afuvai, who opened Brix 581 with his wife at 581 5th Street, explained in a message that Anthony was Riddim's "manager of some sort at some time before my involvement." Afuvai pegged Riddim as a regrettable failure. He said that Anthony is just having a hard time letting go.
But Anthony is more than some sort of jilted former manager. He is a minority member of Resneck Ventures, the LLC attached to Riddim and the address, who's vested with the power of executive officer. Anthony's former in-law and Resneck Ventures' majority member, David Resneck-Sannes, extended a lease-to-own agreement to Afuvai for 581 5th Street. According to Anthony, such unilateral action puts Resneck-Sannes in breach of their venture's operating agreement. Anthony said Resneck-Sannes, a physician in Scotts Valley, is an investor overstepping his bounds. Resneck-Sannes said his majority ownership gives him sway.
Afuvai likened Anthony to a kid in a sandbox. For his part, Anthony wants a restraining order.
It wasn't always like this. About two years ago, Anthony was a married man, frustrated by the lack of legitimate nightclubs in Oakland compared to the West Bay. A sound engineer, Anthony said that the sound systems at existing East Bay clubs weren't optimized for dance music. "There were all of these places with subpar sound and I thought I could change that," he recalled.
581 5th Street, which formerly housed Breks, presented an opportunity. He acquired the building with the help of his wife and then-partner, dubbing it Riddim in homage to the Jamaican musicians who'd pioneered mixing techniques and dance culture decades earlier. He brought in Oakland street artists like GATS to help decorate and initiated the notoriously arduous process of bringing a building up to code.
To start, the city said he needed an elevator.
Denied small business loans, Anthony and his wife reached out to Resneck-Sannes, then his father-in-law. "I was close with her family, talked to them all the time," Anthony remembered. "[Resneck-Sannes] thought it was a good investment." He continued, "We signed him on as a member of the LLC so that for his money, he had a percentage of the company." At the time, the agreement seemed unambiguous. "He was an investor. He wasn't given a vote in the company, or any responsibilities," Anthony said.
Riddim hosted events on an almost weekly basis, but construction lagged. Without the fire department's final approval, Anthony wasn't able to secure a cabaret license, instead filing repeatedly for special events permits.
When Anthony and his wife separated, she resigned from the LLC, leaving Anthony in business solely with a former in-law. Resneck-Sannes, who said he invested over a half-million dollars in the business, wanted out. So Anthony approached Afuvai, a longtime promoter of dance music in the Bay Area, about partnering to buy out Resneck-Sannes.
After Anthony and Afuvai threw a few shows together, Resneck-Sannes informed Anthony that Afuvai was taking over. As Anthony tells it, the two conspired to force him out. He alleged that Afuvai threatened him with physical violence and legal action.
In an interview, Resneck-Sannes declined to speak to the details of their legal arrangement, instead emphasizing Afuvai's superior business acumen. "Anthony wanted to make the decisions and I don't think any of his decisions historically had been good for the business," he explained. "[Afuvai] is historically a good manager of his business." Resneck-Sannes said that Anthony is welcome to come into the building — if he schedules it with Afuvai.
Afuvai changed the locks. Anthony, clutching the deed to the property, returned with a locksmith to change them back. Afuvai stood by arguing with Anthony's police escort. Soon after, he changed them back, posting a sign in the window that read, "This property is NOT owned by Isaac Anthony."
"They have more money," Anthony explained, "So I decided the lock thing was a losing strategy."
Instead, Anthony started attempting to derail the newly-minted club Brix 581. In detailed emails to the city, which he shared with the Express, Anthony alleged that Afuvai and Resneck-Sannes were using an illegitimate liquor license without his permission, among other things. In response, the city issued a cease-and-desist to Brix 581. Afuvai and Resneck-Sannes maintain that the operation is permitted and legal — and events are ongoing.
Meanwhile, Anthony said that he and an attorney are preparing a case against Afuvai and Resneck-Sannes. Their violations are so flagrant, Anthony claimed, that his lawyer has agreed to be paid only after a judge rules in his favor.
Afuvai expressed his regret about the feud. "[Anthony] just was not very successful with the business," Afuvai said. "The Riddim concept wasn't working, and in my experience, if you can't get a venue open in three months, that's a problem.
"He chose to walk away, be upset, and cause a lot of chaos," Afuvai continued, referring to Anthony. Afuvai then returned to a sympathetic sentiment. "I wish we could work together."
It's not Afuvai's first acrimonious nightlife fray.
In 2007, Afuvai, his wife, and another partner joined forces with Page Hodel, a revered party promoter in the lesbian community, to open a women's club called Velvet at 3411 MacArthur Boulevard. As the Express reported (See "Breaching the Velvet Rope," 8/22/07), within two weeks, Hodel "entered the club in the wee hours, retrieved her sound system, and left behind a searing 'letter of resignation.'" She went on to allege that her former partners were egregiously insensitive to the community — a community with which she alone had clout.
Afuvai, in language notably reminiscent of his recent feud with Anthony, explained to the Bay Area Reporter how sorry he was that it didn't work out. "I think that if there was more time ... we would still be a foursome," he lamented. "It was a very good combination."
Velvet quickly shed its lesbian identity, rebranding as Lounge 3411.