Steinberg: Block the booze and bosoms bill

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A confession: I never quite got strip clubs. They seem so dreary and beside-the-point. (“You just haven’t gone to the right strip clubs,” growled a colleague, when I aired this theory in the newsroom, praising Indiana strip clubs with a gleam in his eye that made me want to rush out and investigate the situation. …)

Sorry, where were we? Yes, strip clubs. Kinda like paying to go to a restaurant where they wheel the meal out, let you look at it a bit, and then return the food to the kitchen untouched. What’s the purpose of that?

The Chicago City Council is threatening to change the city’s long-standing separation of booze and bosoms. Right now, if one of Chicago’s four strip clubs wants to have topless dancers, it can’t sell beer. Except for one club, VIP’s A Gentleman’s Club on Kingsbury, which has somehow skirted the law by paying millions of dollars in back tax in 2012. (Well, four clubs and numerous steampunk “neo-burlesque” special events that pop up at midnight shows all over town, but they dwell in the shadows, in ephemeral, quasi-legality and aldermen seem not to know about them).

Ald. Emma Mitts (37th), chairman of the licensing committee, was sponsoring an ordinance that would allow alcohol in strip clubs. Underline “was.” In the kind of Keystone Kops confusion typical of the council, she said Tuesday she was shocked, shocked to find that her law allows full nudity. The law appears to have been written by VIP’s owner, Mitts suggested, and the alderman only glancingly acquainted herself with it before adding her support. So rather than the law being voted on Wednesday, she has clawed it back for airbrushing.


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Expect the law to bob to the surface as early as next month, after those who stand to make money slap G-strings over certain parts of its anatomy.

“To me, that makes no difference,” says Kristie Paskvan, a financial services executive who last year founded Chicago Says No More, a group campaigning against domestic violence and sexual assault. “The introduction of alcohol into this already sexually charged venue is just going to create more exploitation, possible stalking and additional crime against these women.”

And men. Emma Mitts never returned my call, so I couldn’t ask her if she knew why Chicago pried alcohol away from stripping in the first place. It had nothing to do with specific anatomy being displayed. It had to do with booze. Back in the day, when strippers weren’t on stage, they were hustling drinks among the clientele, who, drunk themselves, had the tendency to spend big, thinking they were getting on great with the gal sitting next to them and not just pouring money into the bar’s till. Then the jaw-dropping check arrived, which the dupe could either meekly pay, sadder but wiser, or raise a stink and risk ending up being beaten in the alley until the wisdom of paying up became clear.

The restrictions aren’t about stripping, they’re about safety, for both performers and customers.

“You can’t have open liquor in a car,” Paskvan said. “It’s no different; there are reasons for these rules.”

Generally, I’m a Milton Friedman, live-and-let-live kind of guy. Who am I to question the validity of a someone’s preferred method of entertainment? The strippers I’ve spoken with, while performing my own professional gyrations over the years, seem to believe they are dancers. And if that rings true to them, why pop their bubbles? Besides, with Chicago’s financial future looking bleaker and bleaker, the Road to Pottersville is tempting: a big casino, with scores of liquor-fueled strip clubs clustered around it ….

Still. Not quite the world-class city Mayor Watch Me Succeed was talking about back in 2011, is it? More tax revenue, sure, but more conventioneers beaten in alleys after booze-fueled disputes over four-figure tabs. Doesn’t sound like the city we were promised.

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