From night life to married life with Carl Dash

JAD SLEIMAN / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Carl Dash takes a rare break from organizing events to relax at one of the locations of his parties, Sole Food, at 12th and Market.
JAD SLEIMAN / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Carl Dash takes a rare break from organizing events to relax at one of the locations of his parties, Sole Food, at 12th and Market.
Posted: March 19, 2013

AIN'T NO party like a Carl Dash party.

From the late 1990s until 2004, Dash made a name for himself hosting dance parties and mixers at now-closed venues, such as the Five Spot, Transit, Palmers Social Club and Savannah's.

He still does parties, but, over time, Dash's scope has broadened to include socially minded events such as the discussion series last summer at the now-closed Elena's Soul Lounge, in West Philly, on topics such as "What's the Matter With Philadelphia? A Black Professional Perspective" and "Black Philadelphia and the Republican Party."

Now, he has turned his focus from singles to married people with his newest concept: a free, couples-oriented happy hour he's calling the Black Love Cafe. Dash plans to toast recently engaged couples, such as former state Rep. Tony Payton and his fiancee, Melissa Knight, and to make introductions among partygoers. The first one starts at 5 p.m. Wednesday at SoleFood, the restaurant inside the Loews Philadelphia Hotel, at 12th and Market streets, in Center City. (Coincidentally, Sunday was the 10th annual Black Marriage Day.)

"In Philadelphia, so much of the social scene is geared toward singles," explained Dash, 43. "Sometimes, if you're a couple and you want to go out and have fun in the sense of enjoying music, it's not really geared toward you."

He ought to know. In 2011, Dash married his longtime girlfriend, Eleasa Brady, an interior designer. They met in 2001 at a pool party and have been together ever since.

"I should have done this years ago," he said of being married. "It's been smooth sailing. That's why I feel like I want to tell everybody it's cool to do this. It's an enjoyable feeling when you guys decide that this is what you're going to do. It just feels good."

Back in the day

The fifth of seven kids, Dash grew up in North Philadelphia. The son of a factory-worker father and a stay-at-home mother, he graduated from Simon Gratz High School in 1987 and went on to Temple University, where he studied political science and was active in the Black Student Union before dropping out. Over the years, he held a number of odd jobs - at travel agencies and restaurants - but nothing stuck.

"Basically, I wanted to be an entrepreneur," Dash recalled. "I started school at a time when there was a lot of conversation among African-Americans about 'How do we navigate being in America?' and doing for yourself was kind of a popular theme around that time.

"I kind of immersed myself in the debates and conversations and decided I wanted to be an entrepreneur."

He hosted his first event in 1994 at the Erie Lanes Bowling Center, in the Northeast. Although it didn't exactly flop, it wasn't much of a moneymaker. Dash teamed up with a friend and pushed on, organizing beef-and-beer nights, cabarets and fish fries in neighborhood spots such as Lou & Choo's Lounge and Roy's Comfort Zone, in Hunting Park.

By 1999, Dash was throwing parties for about 300 people on Thursday nights at the Five Spot, in Old City. Needing more space, in 2000 he moved what he dubbed his Urban Suites party to Transit, where it regularly attracted upward of 1,000 partygoers in a night on multiple floors of the nightclub. DJs included Baby DST and DJ Storm.

Dash also hosted Sunday night parties at the Eighth Street Lounge, near Spring Garden Street. Those "Ball Til You Fall" Sunday events really took off after former 76ers star Allen Iverson showed up as the guest of honor following a Sixers' win.

"It was just a lot of young energy," Dash said. "We had artsy people support us from the poetry scene. We had police officers, SEPTA types. We had lawyers. It was just a good mix.

"We had a lot of professional athletes. I got to know Donovan McNabb, Hollis Thomas, Tra Thomas, a lot of the Eagles from that time. Allen Iverson used to come a lot. We had Eric Benet, Eve, Brian McKnight, Ja Rule. I did an album-release party for Ashanti. [NBA Hall of Famer] Scottie Pippen came to one of my parties. It's almost like a blur."

As time went on, Dash expanded his reach by lending his magic to parties held in conjunction with the NBA's annual all-star weekends and the annual Essence Music Festival in New Orleans. He also started doing political consulting and helped academics to market themselves.

Celebrating black marriage

During his heyday, Dash would go out five nights a week, sometimes to multiple events on a single night. But even he couldn't keep that pace up forever - nor did he want to. He has cut way back in recent years, deciding to spend more time enjoying his home life.

But don't think for a minute that the party's finally over for Dash.

If the Black Love Cafe takes off, it may become a regular thing. And - given the fact that roughly 72 percent of black babies are born out of wedlock these days - this is a good thing he's doing.

"We do want it to seep out into the broader culture of black people that this [marriage] is healthy for us," Dash said. "It's healthy that you're monogamous. It's healthy that you're pooling your resources."

Next on Dash's agenda: a happy hour called "I Love Black Women," tentatively scheduled for next month at Ladder 15, at 15th and Sansom streets. He's also putting together a happy hour inspired, in part, by Philadelphia Magazine's controversial March cover story, "Being White in Philly." Dash wants to call that gathering "Building Bridges." It, too, will take place at Ladder 15.

With Dash, the causes may be more serious, but the party never stops.

On Twitter: @JeniceAmstrong