|Written by Francisco Alvarado, BT Contributor|
NFL legend Edgerrin James keeps mum about his plans for the Take One Cocktail Lounge
The Take One Cocktail Lounge, a popular urban strip club in the Little River neighborhood with a notorious reputation for violence and mayhem, is showing signs of life nearly 12 months after closing its doors.
The new owner, former NFL superstar Edgerrin James, has installed a metal fence around the property and erected a neon sign emblazoned with the joint’s new name, One. He’s also obtained building permits to install a walk-in freezer and do other interior work.
That has put on edge his neighbors in Palm Grove, a community west of Biscayne Boulevard in Miami’s Upper Eastside. They worry that James’s new venue, once it officially opens for business, will be a magnet for trouble, like its predecessor.
“I’m all for strip clubs,” says Palm Grove resident Courtney Mills. “But [Take One] has been so much of a nuisance for residents and the City of Miami, you’ve got to wonder if it should be allowed to reopen.”
Mills is not alone. Another Palm Grove resident, who requested anonymity, complained about Take One on December 10 to Sharie Blanton, administrator of the Upper Eastside’s Neighborhood Enhancement Team (NET) office. In an e-mail, the resident wrote: “This has been a terrible nuisance in the past. It is believed [it will] remain a ‘strip place’ and so this type of establishment will most likely continue to bring down the neighborhood as well as continue to be a nuisance property.”
James, a running back who starred at the University of Miami and enjoyed a highly successful 11-year pro football career with the Indianapolis Colts, Arizona Cardinals, and Seattle Seahawks, tells the BT he’s not ready to divulge his plans for Take One. “In due time,” he says, “we can set something up and do it the right way.”
Over four decades, Take One gained infamy as a “gentlemen’s establishment” where violence reigned, according to a 2011 Miami New Times cover story by then staff writer Gus Garcia-Roberts. “Take One Cocktail Lounge is a raucous joint,” Garcia-Roberts wrote. “Located at 333 NE 79th St. in Little River, the gritty light-industrial neighborhood just north of Little Haiti, it’s the kind of place where dancers brawl onstage and spaghetti Western shootouts go down in the parking lot.”
The strip club’s first brush with notoriety occurred in 1977, three years after it opened. Miami police raided Take One and arrested owner Bob Raley, a former lighting director for Jackie Gleason’s Miami Beach 1960s TV show, for violating the city’s anti-nude dancing ordinance. An investigation revealed that Raley was allowing exotic dancers onstage “wearing only clear Scotch tape on their nipples and transparent panties,” according to the New Times article.
But Raley eventually prevailed in court, convincing a judge that the city’s draconian law violated the performers’ rights to freely express themselves.
Over the next 30-plus years, criminals cooling their heels at Take One became part of the strip club’s lore. In 1995, for instance, fugitive Adrian Kinkhead, wanted for the murder of three people, including his two sisters, became a regular after his girlfriend got a gig dancing there, according to Garcia-Roberts’s story.
Three years later, a drug dealer named Luckner Joseph was enjoying a drink at Take One when he received word that rivals were claiming his turf, according to a Miami Herald report. He disguised himself with a skullcap outfitted with fake dreads and shot to death a low-level dealer posted at a drug corner controlled by his enemies.
In 2004, Take One added another significant notch to its violent history when Raley himself was murdered one morning as he was opening the door to his club. He struggled with three would-be robbers and one of them shot and killed him with his own revolver. The case was profiled on an episode of The First 48, the A&E show that follows cops working quickly to solve murders. After the three hoods who committed the homicide were captured, they told detectives they’d been tipped off to an easy score by Raley’s janitor, Marc Placide. He subsequently confessed but copped a plea deal that allowed him to be charged as an accessory after the fact, and only served four years in prison.
Yet Take One soldiered on, as did the chaos that enveloped the strip club. Raley’s wife, Karen, kept the place open at the behest of the establishment’s longtime manager, James Wright, whom her husband regarded as a surrogate son, according to New Times. The paper also reported that between 2005 and 2011, Take One was the scene of 31 assaults, 105 disputes that required police intervention, and at least 13 reported shootings, including two homicides.
Also in 2011, Take One, Karen Raley, and Wright faced a smorgasbord of federal charges, including racketeering, money laundering, and tax evasion. They were accused of concealing more than $7 million in income, and they owed more than $600,000 in taxes. To avoid prison, both accepted pretrial diversion deals that required them to pay restitution.
Meanwhile, the bloodshed at Take One continued. On February 3, 2014, during a Super Bowl watch party, Alvin Jason Givens got into an altercation in the parking lot and shot three people, who sustained non-life threatening injuries. One of the victims, Lenroy James, sued Givens and Take One a year later. According to his lawsuit, James claimed Take One’s managers knew Givens was a “violent antagonist, wrongdoer, and convicted felon” and “was still allowed to enter and be present -- and to pose a physical threat to others at the premises.”
James’s complaint, along with federal lawsuits by former employees alleging that Karen Raley didn’t pay them minimum wage, plus mounting debts, forced her to shut Take One sometime in early January 2016. A month later she filed a petition in Miami-Dade Circuit Court to sell Take One and all its assets in order to pay off the strip club’s creditors.
According to an exhibit attached to the petition, the property, everything in it, and the liquor license was worth $3.7 million. (Karen Raley did not respond to three BT voicemail messages left on two phone numbers listed in her name.)
In June she found a buyer in Edgerrin James, whose company, The Edge Real Estate Group, is now listed as the owner of the property. The City of Miami’s building department online database shows that James pulled a permit to install a new metal fence around the property in September, erect a new sign in October, and to add a walk-in freezer in November.
Sharie Blanton, the NET administrator, tells the BT that there isn’t much the city can do to prevent James from reopening Take One as a strip club. “According to our system, they have all the correct licenses to operate,” Blanton says. “They have a current certificate of occupancy and are current on their tax receipts.”
She adds that the property has no code violations and the new owner is not seeking any zoning changes that would require a hearing before city boards, where residents would have an opportunity to voice objections. “It never officially closed,” Blanton notes. “It seems everything is kosher.”
Nevertheless, Mills says a strip club on NE 79th Street doesn’t make sense anymore, given the gentrification taking place in Little River. For instance, developer Avra Jain, her business partner Matthew Vander Werff, and their financial backers own or are contracted to buy more than 20 city blocks roughly between NW 71st Street and NW 75th Street, and N. Miami Avenue and NW 2nd Avenue.
In a Biscayne Times article this past February, Jain and Vander Werff said they plan to saturate Little River with galleries, tech startups, restaurants, bars, art studios, and other unique businesses.
In addition, a group of developers led by Thomas Conway have converted a MiMo-style, 26,000-square-foot building into a co-working space called MADE at the Citadel, at 8325 NE 2nd Ave. And the owner of New York City’s Sullivan Street Bakery is teaming up with Miami restaurateur Steven Perricone to open a 4000-square-foot space at 5550 NE 4th Ave.
NE 79th Street itself is undergoing something of a renaissance, with new retail businesses and restaurants popping up regularly, especially east of Biscayne Boulevard.
“There is momentum for gentrification in that area, and a strip club would hinder that,” Mills says. “There is no middle ground between a place where shootings take place and a gentrifying neighborhood.”
Volume 15, Issue 2, April 2017
Sales, special events, and more from the people who make Biscayne Times possible