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Rodney Ho

Stevie J and Benzino (‘Love & Hip Hop Atlanta’) open a restaurant lounge

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Benzino and Stevie J tout their new restaurant Feb. 5, 2014. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Benzino and Stevie J tout their new restaurant Feb. 5, 2014. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

My wife and I attended a “Love and Hip Hop Atlanta” taping at a new downtown restaurant lounge opened by two members of the cast Stevie J and Benzino.

Dubbed “Sleazy and Zino Bistro and Bar,” this celebrity-themed lounge is across the street on Courtland from Harlem Nights, which used to be Uptown Restaurant and Lounge run by Peter Thomas of “Real Housewives of Atlanta” fame.

On Wednesday night, the place was packed with friends and fans of the show, along with much of the cast. The fact the VH1 production company was there with cameras galore and release forms and such meant this was not your typical restaurant opening.

There was even a fight that ended up on TMZ. I wasn’t close enough to the fight to see much though I caught Erica Dixon in the scrum. We were standing by the bar and kitchen entrance and Joseline Hernandez and Stevie J, along with Benzino, walked past me into a backroom for a bit to cool down. The video shows Momma Dee and Shay exiting the bar.

Food, drink and ambience took a back seat to turning the place into a TV set piece for the third season of the popular VH1 reality program, which is set to return in May. (I’m told they have been shooting since November.)

The classy name of the bar and bistro. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

The classy name of the bar and bistro. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

I have no clue what the story lines are. I saw the likes of cast members Momma Dee, Lil Scrappy, Shay Johnson, Kirk Frost, and Karlie Redd in the house. (Derek J, who is an occasional guest on “Real Housewives of Atlanta” and co host of “Fashion Queens” was floating around, too.)  There was no sign of Mimi Faust or Rasheeda, Kirk’s wife.

I didn’t talk to any of the cast, nor could I hear them when cameras were pointed at them. The hard-working publicists there tried to get me time with Stevie J and Benzino but the production company kept them busy taping the show. Promoting the restaurant with press like me that night wasn’t a priority, which is understandable.

Most lounges of this sort play thumping music and keep the lights flatteringly dim. But TV production requirements meant there were plenty of extra-bright lights installed on the ceiling, some clumsily covered up by Chinese lanterns. The lights were set in two areas where the cast were told to congregate. Given how antiseptic the hue was in person, it’s impressive how the post-production folks can make the show look so lush and cinematic after the fact.

V-103 jock Big Tigger was the DJ/host on stage but had to turn down the music every time the cast was taping. Three times, he uttered “Uh oh” when there were verbal/physical conflagrations. I was too far away to see what was happening in any of these situations but they usually involved a flurry of arms flailing, voices raised and security guards intervening. We all knew these confrontations are part and parcel of “Love and Hip Hop Atlanta.” The producers encourage them. The cast surely girds for them. The audience there was jaded enough to know that this was mostly for show and that any real element of danger was minimal.

At one point, the guards/producers made rather halfhearted attempts to stop people from taking pictures and videos from their smartphones. Good luck with that.

Another blogger pieced together some details of the fights that broke out if you care.

David Mays, Benzino’s long-time business partner going back to their days running Source magazine, was gracious and invited us to return on a day when the place was not a TV set.  He stays assiduously outside camera’s range.

And surprise, surprise, some folks were smoking weed.

Here are some photos I took while I was there. I have a new camera and I took a lot of bad photos. Here are some of the better ones:

Benzino (left) prepping before a shoot.

Benzino (left) prepping before a shoot.

V-103 afternoon host Big Tigger kept the crowd in line in between takes.

V-103 afternoon host Big Tigger kept the crowd in line in between takes.

Lights! Camera! Action! Mimi Faust and Karlie Redd stroll into the lounge.

Lights! Camera! Action! Erica Dixon and Karlie Redd stroll into the lounge.

Shooting a scene that may or may not end up on the show.

Shooting a scene that may or may not end up on the show.

Some of the extra lighting masquerading as Chinese lanterns.

Some of the extra lighting masquerading as Chinese lanterns.

***

And showing that I hadn’t been paying much attention to the show’s cast of characters of late, I just noticed that nearly four months ago, V-103 DJ Traci Steele was cut from the show after just one season. Despite some crying and jealousy fits, she was apparently not drama-filled enough for creator Mona Scott Young’s taste.

But if she was cut, why hasn’t Karlie Redd? She had far less of a storyline season two than Steele and her ex Babey Drew.

K. Michelle left town months ago and popped up on the latest season of the original “Love & Hip Hop” in New York.

There will be new cast members. I’ll write more about them as the May debut approaches. The key ones: rapper Waka Flocka Flame and his girlfriend Tammy Rivera. StraightfromtheA broke that news six months ago. I did not see them at the event Wednesday night.

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