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Chicago strip clubs freed to offer booze and topless dancers

The VIP's club had previously challenged a city ordinance that prevented sem-nude dancing and alcohol sales in the same establishment. | Google Streetview image

Chicago strip clubs would be free to serve up two things their customers desire — alcohol and topless dancers — without choosing between the two, under new rules advanced Tuesday amid concern about the “exploitation of women.”

“I’m never gonna support nudity. Period. I don’t believe in women being exploited that way. If they want to have that kind of nudity, take it outside of Chicago,” Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) said minutes before the City Council’s Zoning Committee approved the ordinance.

“Do we have to be totally naked and just cover our private parts in order for it to be entertainment? Why? Why do we have to expose our busts? I mean—why can’t we have the tabs on there? How come that’s not good enough?”

Austin said she finds it hard to believe that her female colleague, License Committee Chairman Emma Mitts (37th), would resurrect an ordinance buried two years ago amid concerns about prostitution.

“I’m just surprised that Emma would do this. She’s a Christian woman as well,” Austin said.

“If she has the votes, she’s got the ordinance. I just can’t support it. I don’t want us to be exploited.”

Mitts did indeed have the votes, even after Aldermen Deb Mell (33rd), Brendan Reilly (42nd) and James Cappleman (46th) voted against the ordinance.

Austin reluctantly agreed to go along with the idea after Mitts made her pitch, and Finance Committee Chairman Edward Burke (14th) moved “do pass.”

“It provides an entertainment option for tourists that every other major city has and allows Chicago to further compete for convention dollars,” Mitts told her colleagues.

“We’re just making Chicago a more world-class city. It’s been exploitive all the time, but people go there. It’s not like it’s not happening.”

Mitts said she’s simply trying to “clarify ambiguous language” that has triggered “two decades of litigation that cost the city millions.” The archaic language has inadvertently made those adult entertainment clubs more difficult to police, she said.

“Most of the crime occurs because of the BYOB policy, which makes it harder to regulate and control customers’ alcoholic intake. This will give the owner more control over their customers,” she said.

Two years ago, the Zoning Committee did something Chicago had refused to do for decades: authorize adult entertainment clubs to sell liquor and offer semi-nude dancing at the same place, instead of forcing those establishments to choose between the two.

Burke argued on that day — as Mitts did Tuesday — that Chicago was a “world-class city” that should allow “realistic kinds of adult entertainment venues” — including strips clubs that sell liquor — so long as they don’t “create a problem in the neighborhood.”

The ordinance was championed by Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), whose old ward includes VIP’s A Gentlemen’s Club, 1531 N. Kingsbury.

Waguespack subsequently withdrew his support for his own ordinance arguing that his plan to prevent adult bookstores, movie houses and bars from converting into strip joints had been hijacked for nefarious purposes.

Waguespack’s original intent was to prevent “stores and bars from turning into adult cabarets overnight.” His mistake, he said, was in “not realizing that there was a deal made separately” to let Chicago’s adult entertainment clubs sell liquor and offer semi-nude dancing at the same place.

Then-Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) subsequently derailed the strip club ordinance, forcing it to die with the old City Council, even though Burke tried to revive it. Fioretti argued then that the new rules would exacerbate a prostitution problem that already involved as many as 25,000 women a day.

“We are the global center for human trafficking,” Fioretti said then.

“This is a multimillion dollar business and now they want alcohol? They survived for all of these years without it.”

In 2013, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration allowed VIP’s, a clout-heavy joint that bills itself as “Chicago’s only full liquor and topless bar,” to stay open in exchange for $2.5 million in disputed back taxes and legal fees.

The mayor softened the blow of a settlement that resolved a 19-year legal battle by using the money to establish a new shelter for victims of domestic violence.

The city had tried since 1993 to shut the club down on grounds its dancers exposed too much of the female anatomy. VIP’s had countered by challenging the constitutionality of a city ordinance that makes it illegal to sell liquor and offer semi-nude dancing at the same establishment.

On Tuesday, Mitts told her colleagues that the new ordinance would “generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in funds for domestic violence services and sexual assault programs.” In a follow-up news release, Mitts touted a $400,000 “community benefits agreement” with funding from “adult cabaret establishments” earmarked for the Heartland Alliance of Chicago.

Mitts acknowledged that she agreed to wear the jacket for the strip club ordinance, even though she has none of the establishments in her ward.

“But it ain’t like I haven’t been to a nudie club,” she candidly acknowledged. “I was in another state when I went to one at a younger age.”