Late-night magic at MJQ: An oral history, Part II 

Growing old gracefully with hip-hop, hipsters and a little nip/tuck

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THE MAD HATTER: D.R.E.S. tha Beatnik lights up the stage for Fantastic Friday. - SHANNON MCCOLLUM
  • Shannon Mccollum
  • THE MAD HATTER: D.R.E.S. tha Beatnik lights up the stage for Fantastic Friday.

Over the years, Deep Saturdays house night had become an institution in its own right. DeNiro, Kai Alce and Cullen Cole regularly hosted internationally renowned guest DJs, such as Peanut Butter Wolf, Rich Medina and many more. But as house music started losing a bit of the sway it held over MJQ's crowds, the club put an end to Deep Saturdays in 2006. Times were changing and a new, irreverent hipster era was on the horizon. Once again, MJQ needed new blood. It would soon materialize in a young, hedonistic scene fueled by parties with suggestive names such as Sloppy Seconds and Fuck Yesss.

Kai Alce, co-founder of Deep Saturdays, MJQ's house night from 1997-2006: [MJQ] was just trying to stay ahead of the curve and felt like house music wasn't getting bigger or bringing the amount of people that they wanted in there.

DJ Cozy Shawn: House music people don't spend money on booze. They're medicated before they get there.

Alce: Deep Saturdays brought MJQ international acclaim. [hip hop, funk and jazz fusion artist] Peven Everett, [New York-based DJ/producer] Joe Claussell, [Philadelphia-based DJ/producer] King Britt, all these people came through and they were the ones who went back and told. When Deep Saturdays went away, it was definitely a big loss, for the city and the scene.

At that time, the whole hipster thing and electro music were coming up strong so they started doing Sloppy Seconds instead of our Saturdays. They probably haven't had a night stay there for more than two years since we left. Everything has changed — from three months to five months, it always changes.

John Robinson, aka DJ Gnosis: I like to joke that MJQ's transition over the years can be traced as weed versus coke. You could make a line graph where you start with weed at the top and then it slopes down over the years while coke just keeps going up. The music went from a blunted-out, backpacker rap, dub and lounge vibe to a more excitable live-for-the-moment party vibe.

Constantina "Tina" Psomas, MJQ bartender for more than 13 years: There was an increase in the amount of vomit we had to clean up at the new club over the years. That could be added to John's line graph as well.

Ben Rhoades, owner: You can't have couches in there. When the club opened there were nice sofas, but over time we've had to shove like six burning couches out the door in the middle of the night. It's such a bare place because people kept destroying it.

We don't suffer from a lot of that anymore. There's less graffiti in there, and it doesn't get nearly as destroyed as it used to.

DJ Cozy Shawn: I don't play "Doing it to Death" by the JBs to this day because while it was playing one of the couches caught on fire. That thing almost ruined my night!

click to enlarge Dallas Austin (left) foregoes the VIP treatment at MJQ. - CLAYTON HAUCK
  • Clayton Hauck
  • Dallas Austin (left) foregoes the VIP treatment at MJQ.

Sloppy Seconds' resident DJ for the first three years was former DMC World DJ champ and party DJ Klever, who established the party's mashup of what one flier described as "electroclashpunkcrunkbmoregutter."

That kind of dedication to emerging trends is what has continually set the club apart. As Atlanta's mainstream club culture went Hollywood in the last decade with velvet ropes, bottle popping and exclusive VIP-seating, celebrities found refuge in MJQ from time to time. For years it was a regular haunt for Andre 3000 of OutKast and Big Gipp and Cee Lo of Goodie Mob. And it's still frequented by the likes of Ludacris and Dallas Austin on occasion.

Ryan Murphy: One night, this guy with an earphone came in and said in a low voice, "I got Janet Jackson and she wants to get the VIP room ready." I said, "Look dude, just drop your entourage to a couple of security guys, let her come in and have a good time. Nobody will know who she is. She's just another cute girl in a nightclub dancing." She came in and went to the back corner and hung out for a while. It was literally about an hour-and-a-half before anyone thought, "That bitch looks like Janet Jackson!" And that turned into "Holy shit, that's Janet Jackson!" Other than that she was just dancing and chilling because that's what MJQ is. Any other place would have roped off an area and made it a big thing.

You go in there and there's nothing to distract you but music, drinking and some hookups. It's what you go to a nightclub for. People like that feel comfortable at MJQ because there's no velvet rope and no production. We had Flava Flav down there for [DJ] Lord's birthday, and he was behind the bar serving drinks and it was no big deal. So he was able to just chill out, talk to people and have fun. I don't know anywhere else where someone who had their own reality-TV show, let alone Flava Flav, could just wander in and hang out without it being a big production.

More change looms on the horizon for MJQ, as much of the club's long-standing management is currently preparing to move on to new business ventures together. Ben Rhoades, Donald Durant and Armando Celentano are in the process of opening a new, and as yet unnamed gastro pub in the East Atlanta Village. Ryan Murphy will be spending more of his time at the Book House Pub, which he co-owns with Rhoades.

Since moving back to Atlanta after living in Los Angeles and Denver for six years, Michael Payne has embarked on a mission to reinvent the club and revive a bit of the old flair he brought to the place 13 years ago. In the past year, the café has been repainted, the main room has been fitted with a new DJ booth and new cosmetic touch-ups are being made every day.

click to enlarge The writing's on the wall at MJQ. - COURTESY BEN RHOADES

Armando Celentano: We built the new bathroom sinks 5 feet high so people can't piss in them anymore.

The Iconoclast, head of security: We have ceilings now, that's exciting. For years, if it rained outside, it rained inside. The club has basically been renovated since Michael Payne came back from Denver. The café has a nice new bar and, my goodness, we have ceilings!

Celentano: It's like we're going bald gracefully. She's an old girl, and we're all in our 30s now, so we put some nicer clothes on her. Also, we're trying to get the club to a workable level because we're opening our new place in East Atlanta. It will be an end of an era as me, Donald and Ben will be concentrating our attention on the new place, and Murphy's focusing on the Book House.

Alce: MJQ has lost some teaching power, but it still has the alluring energy to bring individuals together. The image that was laid in there from all those years of Wednesdays and Saturdays still exists, but the music isn't as engaging as it once was.

Wonder: On some of the nights the music is a little questionable. What's missing is someone like Gnosis in there doing an experimental drum 'n' bass night, or any kind of weird shit that makes you think, "This is good, but it's really weird."

DJ Jamal: When I was younger, DJing at MJQ was like sitting at the grown-up table. Everyone talked about how the heyday had passed: "You should have been here two years ago; this place is played out now." Then I became that person. After a while you realize that the quality changes, just like the people, but it was still a lot of fun.

Robinson: MJQ has always been a safe house for all kinds of musically creative people. At best it was a place where people who were genuinely into music could meet. It wasn't always about famous names being involved, but the various musical genres living together, in a place where you can trace the thread of a kind of music's history and all of the various intersections it made.

Wonder: Once you throw something out there, creatively speaking, it's not yours anymore. It belongs to other people. But MJQ, and Ponce de Leon in general, have a family vibe, and that's what makes MJQ what it is. The original spirit is there. Donald still works there, Tina still works there, and no one can fuck with that kind of loyalty. Even Michael Payne is there again. It just shows how far a strong foundation will go.

Ed Rawls, bartender since 1998: I started working the door there in February of '98, and it hasn't changed a whole hell of a lot since then. For the average 21-year-old Georgia Tech student walking down the ramp for the first time, I'm sure it's still pretty wild and there's no place like it. It doesn't matter if you're gay, straight, black, white, hipster, b-boy or whatever. Pretty much everybody gets along here. It's a goddamned institution.

Additional reporting by Chanté LaGon.

More: MJQ through the years in photos

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