Is Main Street’s late-night party scene good for Alhambra?

Late night on Main Street, Alhambra's booming strip. | Photo by Joe Soong1Late night on Main Street, Alhambra's booming strip. | Photo by Joe Soong

Blitz's dance scene. | Photo via Yelp.Driving through Main Street on a late weekend night, it’s hard not to notice how it has changed in the last few years. In what used to be a sleepy strip of vacancies, more than a half dozen bars — including Azul, Blitz, Fronteras, Boteco, Rabbit Hole, and Havana House — all radiate a musical beat into the early morning hours as their patrons spill out onto the sidewalk. Many of these bars opened with city support, receiving assistance from the now defunct Alhambra Redevelopment Agency.

The scene of the officer-involved shooting.In the early hours of last Saturday morning, a vehicle driving on the wrong side of the street led to an Alhambra police officer-involved shooting on Main Street near the clubs, highlighting an often-heard criticism that the city's party scene has triggered a crime problem.

Even before that happened, I was curious about the impact these clubs were having on the community. After several late-night visits; conversations with residents, employees, and police officers; and a review of crime data, it became clear to me that Main Street is an area with two identities.  One identity manifests itself during the day and evening as the casual hangout where you can get good food, relax, and maybe have a drink or two with friends.  The other is the late-night party, where a significant law enforcement presence and numerous nightclub bouncers are an acknowledgement of the potentially combustible mix of club goers, alcohol, and late hours. Although both identities contribute to an increasingly vibrant Main Street, there can be unintended consequences to this approach.

Ambiente party scene | photo via Yelp.I started my research walking around the strip late at night on several recent weekends to get an on-the-ground feel for the area. What immediately stood out to me was the ethnic composition of the club goers. My expectation was that it would be similar to the city’s population of approximately 50 percent Asian, 34 percent Latino, and 10 percent white.  Walking on Main Street, the reality was quite different.

According to Carlos Jara, a disc jockey at Havana House, the weekend Alhambra party crowd is 90 percent Latino.  “They come from East Los Angeles, El Sereno, Rosemead, and everywhere but here,” Jara said.  He explained that Havana House was the first club to establish itself on Main Street. Its reputation spread by word of mouth and social media, bringing in a Latino crowd that used to go to San Gabriel and Hollywood but started coming to Alhambra. Other clubs saw potential on Main Street and opened their doors. 

Cha for Tea is a popular hangout with Asian youth in Alhambra.But the Asian set has not abandoned the strip.  While the clubs and bars are the favorites of the late-night Latino partiers, there are two coffee and tea houses where a younger Asian crowd gathers until late on weekends.  If they’re not at the Hollywood clubs, which I’m told is a favorite destination, they are socializing at Honey Badger Cafe and Cha for Tea at Main Street and Garfield Avenue or a few nearby karaoke spots.

Azul nightlife | Photo from City of Alhambra website.After walking along Main Street at night, I came to appreciate the strip's revitaliation. It's lively, and people, including myself, now consider it a late-night destination. “I like the way Alhambra has changed, it lets you relax after work and it’s nice to have somewhere to go that is close for the younger demographic," Kristen Trepanier, who has worked at the Starbucks on Main and First streets for three years, told me. "We’re still young and we have to enjoy our life.”

But as Saturday’s shooting appeared to demonstrate, the potential for violence remains in Main Street’s scene.

A review I started a couple of months ago of Alhambra Police Department statistics associated with bars in the area showed mixed results. Since 2010, overall crimes and infractions reported decreased, but this was due to a particularly sharp fall in the number of noise complaints or fights reported. Other crimes appeared to be essentially holding steady, as of September.

imageTo manage the area's increased popularity, Sergeant Gerald Johnson said the Alhambra Police Department has increased its enforcement presence and utilized a “high visibility patrol” — where officers make sure you know they are there.  And on a series of late-night visits to the clubs on Main Street, it did seem like every time I turned around I saw a police car either driving by or conspicuously parked on a side street.

Police are also trying to collaborate with local business owners to make the nightlife safer.  “We’re able to come in and work together and have a partnership to make sure that the issues on Main Street with alcohol abuse and alcohol-related crimes are ultimately reported to us and we can actively go out and enforce it,” said Corporal Jasper Kim from APD’s Community Policing Section.

Pictures of Havana House drinks | Photo via Yelp.Taking into account police efforts, there is a risk in developing and maintaining a nightclub scene, where just one incident of violence such as Saturday’s shooting can not only threaten the livelihood of the clubs, but also the well being of the entire business community and the residents in the area.

Take for example the 1988 Westwood shooting.  Westwood was then a busy retail area with a thriving nightlife, fueled by college students from nearby UCLA and residents in the surrounding areas. However, a gang-related confrontation one weekend evening left an innocent bystander dead.  This tragedy played a major role in Westwood's subsequent economic decline, from which it still has not recovered after more than 20 years.

As I looked around Main Street at the end of another busy late weekend night, I saw an area that was developing, but still fragile, as evidenced by the vacancies in many of the stores, coupled with a persistent, uncertain economy. I remembered Westwood, and  hoped the same thing would not happen in Alhambra.

About the author: Joe Soong

Joe has been an Alhambra resident for more than 15 years and appreciates the city's diversity. He feels Alhambra is unique and would like learn more of its stories and share it with Alhambra Source readers. He works in local government in labor relations.

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The clubs running on Main Street cater to the Latino crowd, but they are also owned by Latinos too. AFAIK, Asians don't have anything like that, except a few drinking spots here and there around the SGV, but not as prominent as Main Street.

As said, younger Asians still go to Hollywood because the Asian promotion companies rent out venues there still for "Asian night" and what not. Also, an increasing amount of Asians (and even non-Asians) prefer to head to Koreatown and enjoy the nightlife that was known only to Koreans before. Though nowadays, non-Chinese establishments like Korean BBQ restaurants and Japanese ramen places are opening locations away from their enclaves into places like Alhambra because the clientele resides here.

Charles B

It has nothing to do with the East LA crowd, there are plenty of idiots here in Alhambra who are responsible for most of the stuff that goes on! This doesn't just happening in Alhambra, this happens in every city that has a club, a bar, a backyard party or any type of social gathering where alcohol is being served and where the number of males in an environment overwhelmingly exceeds the amount of females present, .....and when your hanging out with your friends, buddies, bro's, homeboys, homies, partners, associates, crew, gang, club, organization, outfit, tribe, unit, alumni, team, and/or co-workers having a few drinks the idiot is bound to come out in a few of us and before you know, there is tension in the air, some words are exchanged, some girl with an annoying scream and yelling "Stop it"..."Stop it" and it's on!

richard severson

This kind of late night partying in what was once a very quiet city at night could get out of hand but if there is good patrolling and warnings, fines whatever to keep it under control then it`s not all bad,In all things in life there is risk but risk managed is good like driving on the freeway that is risky too, it could take your life in a second, but managed it works alright, I was born in alhambra and like all the new changes, new buildings, clubs, restaurants etc... and I think the city council and mayor has done a beautiful job and should be credited.

www.welovealhambra.com

Ghetto is ghetto, no matter the race.

Keep the ghetto out of Alhambra, bottom line.

Based on the comments to the article, it seems easy to interpret the underlying tones of a racial divide, especially the commenter's statement of Latinos going for alcohol.
Any problems associated with Main St. should only to be attributed to alcohol consumption and the poor choices which subsequently ensue, not to race or ethnicity.
Aside from the officer involved shooting, have there been other serious offenses over the years which can be attributed to the bar scene? Perhaps posting the actual stats in the article can give the reader a better insight as to the perceived or actual problem.

Dan Bednarski

My apologies. I didn't intend to insinuate in any way that Latinos are bad people. Just as with other ethnic groups, the vast majority of Latinos are good people and a proportionate share of them visit Main Street. Most of the club goers who are Latino (and other ethnicities) also aren't trouble makers. I also don't mean to insinuate that Asians don't drink alcohol or have alcohol-related disputes and issues. I have since removed that portion of my comment.

I agree that the problem is alcohol. The question remains whether the city benefits by having nightclubs and other establishments where the primary focus is on selling alcohol and inviting people to overconsume those beverages.

Dan Bednarski

Excellent well-rounded story that provides multiple perspectives and highlights an analogous situation.

I wonder whether the bars are bringing in sufficient tax revenue for the City to accept the risk to the safety and welfare of the community that the nightclubs bring.

Personally, I'd prefer to see the night clubs replaced with businesses that don't require such a police presence to operate. The extra revenue potential from having this kind of nightlife just isn't worth the risk of luring hooligans, filling them with alcohol, and releasing them intoxicated onto our streets.

Yes, it's important to attract/target a higher income population group, no matter the ethnicity, especially to late night businesses such as clubs. Generally, the higher level income you have, the less trouble you will cause. Or, the type of trouble that is caused is more "white collar" and less like that of the past weekend, with someone under the influence at the wheel of a lower to middle class type of vehicle, and an older model one at that.

So if people with higher disposable incomes from other surrounding communities, such as South Pasadena, San Marino, and Arcadia can be attracted/targeted to Alhambra's Main Street late night businesses, then perhaps fewer lower-income, but higher visibility, crimes will occur. Now it's up to the owners of these late night businesses to dissuade those with less disposable income from showing up within the city boundries of Alhambra.

There are pros and cons but overall it's probably like 60% bad. Not a huge detriment by any means but I doubt any other cities are chomping at the bit to have the same environment in their city.

Anytime you're bringing in the East LA crowd - that is generally NOT GOOD.

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