Chicago Strip Clubs Could Serve Liquor, And Help Fund Anti-Sexual Assault Programs

By Mae Rice in News on Apr 7, 2016 6:14PM

StripClub.jpg
Photo via brh_images on Flickr

Here’s a fun fact about strip clubs in Chicago: Currently, if a local strip club has dancers who perform topless, it can’t obtain a liquor license, though patrons can still BYOB. (Why? We have no idea.)

A new ordinance spearheaded by Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) could change that, though, and allow topless dancing and liquor service in the same venue. The ordinance passed the Chicago City Council's zoning committee this past Tuesday, and goes up for a final vote in City Council on Wednesday.

“Other states already have these type of… regulations of their clubs,” Mitts told Chicagoist. “Chicago just needs to be a world-class city where [we] have the same regulations.”

The ordinance would make Chicago a more enticing place to visit, but it would also "help regulate these clubs,” Mitts said. The current BYOB option in Chicago strip clubs means “there’s no regulation in terms of the intake of one’s drinking,” she said. “If they were [serving liquor] inside… it could be regulated.”

In other words, if strip clubs had liquor licenses, bartenders and waitresses could cut off excessively intoxicated patrons. This would solve a lot of problems, especially for Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), whose ward is home to strip club The Factory.

“I do not support the concept of a strip club,” Beale told Chicagoist. “I actually fought the opening of my strip club.” It opened in spite of his best efforts, though, and of late it’s caused “huge” problems, he said, because people have brought in “large amounts of hard alcohol.”

In fact, the city recently shut down The Factory, Beale said, due to a shooting on the premises, “numerous fights” inside, and parking congestion Beale called “totally out of control.”

“It was just very poorly managed and operated,” he summarized. The club recently reopened under new ownership, but Beale wants to ensure it's not another "crazy" incarnation of the club, and "it's easier to shut down a business with a liquor license if you’re having problems,” he said. So, although he opposes strip clubs from “a moral standpoint,” he supports Mitts’ ordinance.

This isn’t the first time such an ordinance has reached City Council. A very similar one went up for a vote two years ago, and didn’t pass due to concerns it would encourage prostitution and human trafficking, according to the Sun-Times.

“I don’t agree that’s what this ordinance will do,” Mitts said.

Beale agreed. Though he’s received “numerous” complaints about The Factory over the years, he said, none have been allegations of prostitution. (His top concern was actually drunk driving.)

Even so, Mitts said even she didn't support the previous incarnation of this ordinance. She’s changed her stance because "I was able to attach a community benefit agreement” this time around, she explained. “I was able to secure $400,000 for a domestic violence shelter and sexual assault prevention program.” That funding would come from strip club owners, Mitts said.

Ald. Carrie Austin critiqued the ordinance (and its sponsor) from a religious standpoint, but Mitts said she isn't taking the comments to heart. “I’m just surprised that Emma would do this,” Austin told the Sun-Times. “She’s a Christian woman.”

"I'm still a Christian woman,” Mitts told Chicagoist. “As lawmakers, we have to put our Christianity aside for our public and whatever people are doing." She didn't want her Christian values to deter her from doing "something I knew... was right."

"It's not my position to judge what folks do,” she added.

Strip clubs aren’t totally out of keeping with Mitts’ values, either. She went to one in Wisconsin once, in her late teens or early twenties. “That was my first one and it was my last one,” she said. Still, she enjoyed it. “Sure we had fun! We hadn’t seen that before.”

So she’s moving ahead with this ordinance, even though there are no strip clubs in her ward. "If there's a problem, and you can help to prevent the problem, whether it's in the ward or out of the ward... then why not do that?” she said, adding, "I do believe [this ordinance] will be successful in passing.”

If the ordinance passes Wednesday, it will go into effect 30 days from Wednesday, on May 13, according to Mitts.