flipped all the way across my floor,” Brown said.
The crowd exploded with shouts and applause and security raced to see what was happening, Brown said. “And it made it in Peach Buzz [in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution] the next day,” Brown said.
Plenty of other celebrities came to Backstreet and witnessed the showstopper that was Charlie Brown and his cabaret, including Elton John and even Janet Jackson, he said. They would come in incognito, with no fanfare, and enjoy the show and dancing just like everyone else.
“[Backstreet] was the grandmother club of Atlanta’s nightlife,” Brown said.
Politicians and the beginning of the end
The club also was a popular stop for politicians stumping for votes and seeking the gay vote. Former U.S. Rep. Barney Frank made a stop one night, Brown said. Atlanta politicians including U.S. Rep. John Lewis, Cathy Woolard, Bill Campbell, Shirley Franklin and Vincent Fort also made speeches to the crowd.
Eventually, some of those politicians who came to the club in the middle of the night and sought out the support of Backstreet voters decided it was time to do away with 24-hour nightlife in Atlanta and supported closing down such clubs.
Backstreet’s last call was New Year’s Eve 2004 after the club lost a protracted legal battle to keep pouring at all hours. Members of the Midtown Ponce Security Alliance flooded the City Council with complaints, alleging there was rampant drug use and prostitution taking place at the club.
“Developers were coming in and they wanted our property. They [MPSA] hired Peggy Denby to be a thorn in our side, and boy, was she,” Vara said, referring to the notorious member who is credited with being a main force leading to Backstreet’s closure.
Backstreet tried to stay open after Jan. 1, 2004 by not serving booze and remaining open as an all-night dancehall. In July 2004 the club was cited for not having a dancehall license and Vara said she knew the war to stay open was over.
The club closed down forever in August 2004 and Vara sold off the club’s memorabilia a month later. The building was torn down and in its place now stands the 36-floor condo high-rise Viewpoint.
“It was very, very sad,” Brown said. “We were pushed out by the neighborhood association, which put 120 employees out of work. The old Buckhead Bettys got liquor out of Buckhead and then came to Midtown and came straight after us,” Brown said.
Brown now performs weekly at Lips Atlanta on Buford Highway and said young people regularly attend the show with their parents who met at Backstreet.
“I could never ever begin to thank Lips Atlanta and Backstreet and the people that love and support me … thank you, Atlanta, I’m still your bitch.”