Here's what I've been dealing with for the last few months.
The short version:
The California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control is trying to put DNA Lounge permanently out of business. They are accusing us of "running a disorderly house injurious to the public welfare and morals", and are trying to permanently revoke our liquor license.
We're fighting this, obviously. The appeals process will be lengthy, and even if everything goes wrong, we're not going anywhere any time soon. We are open, and will remain open for the foreseeable future.
The longer version:
DNA Lounge has been here since 1985. I purchased the club in April 1999, and we re-opened for business in July 2001, with a Type 48 (bar, 21+) liquor license. Over these many years, the club has operated as a combination of a dance club and a live music venue.
In April 2007, we applied to the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) to exchange or convert our Type 48 liquor license (bar / 21+) to a Type 47 (bona fide eating place / all ages). We did this to focus more on live music, and being an under-21 venue is critical to that. Despite the support of both SFPD and our neighbors, ABC rejected our application. We appealed.
As a direct result of our having filed an appeal, ABC began sending undercover agents into the club during our gay and lesbian promotions looking for dirt. As far as we can tell, undercover agents were present at Escandalo and Cream events during March, April and May of 2008.
On July 9, 2008, we had a hearing to contest ABC's denial of our license conversion, and we reached a settlement with ABC. On Aug 14, 2008, our petition to convert our Type 48 liquor license to a Type 47 was finally granted.
However, on Aug 6, 2008, we received a citation from ABC for "lewdness", "discrimination", and "running a disorderly house injurious to the public welfare and morals"!
The facts are these:
- All of the accusations relate to two particular monthly events that used to happen here: "Cream", a lesbian dance party; and "Escandalo", a gay male Latin dance party. That's two events out of the approximately eighteen nights a month that we are open. (We canceled both of those events after we learned ABC was taking action against us.)
- This is the first citation of any kind that DNA Lounge has ever received from ABC since we opened for business in 2001.
- ABC is asking for outright revocation of our liquor license. This would put us out of business permanently. This would be the end of DNA Lounge permanently because it would not even allow the option of someone else buying the business.
- The "discrimination" charge is because the Cream promoters were charging different cover charges to men and women. We weren't aware they were doing this, and made them stop as soon as we found out, but ABC is citing us for it anyway. (Typically the outside promoter runs the cashier window, not DNA Lounge staff, which is how it took us a while to notice. The discriminatory pricing wasn't advertised on their flyers or on the web site.)
- The "lewdness" charges are because there were incidents of dancers at Escandalo pulling their shorts down and exposing their buttocks, and sometimes their pubic hair or genitals. Butt-slapping: that's also not allowed. Standing behind someone, even while clothed, and doing "several" pelvic thrusts: that's not mere dirty dancing, that's a "simulated sex act". Not allowed.
- Also, at one Cream event, they held a wet t-shirt contest, in which a few female customers exposed their boobs to a room full of lesbians.
Here's an example of the kind of accusations that are in ABC's documents:
Later, S-6 and S-7 left the stage and S-1 (now wearing fluorescent green underwear), S-8, and the night's host "Lola" came on stage. S-1 and S-8 both pulled down the back of their underwear fully exposing their buttocks multiple times in violation of Rule 143.2(1). Also while on stage I observed S-8 get behind "Lola" and simulate having sexual intercourse by grabbing "Lola's" shoulders and thrusting his pelvis against "Lola's" buttocks several times in violation of Rule 143.3(1)(a). During this time S-1 was in front of "Lola" facing him/her and "Lola" was grabbing his bare buttocks in violation of 143.2(3) and 143.3(1)(b).
So that's the sort of attitude we're up against.
We have always told our outside promoters that nudity is not allowed. Our policy has always been that when our staff sees nudity, they tell the person in question to cover up, and if it happens again, that person is kicked out. It's not like these guys were running around naked. According to ABC's testimony, the exposures lasted 2-3 seconds, or "sometimes 20 seconds". So in a room full of people, the undercover ABC agents saw some brief flashing that our security happened not to notice.
ABC claims that we are responsible for these incidents, even though they didn't involve our employees, and we tried to prevent them.
In years past, ABC's standard penalty for these sorts of violations at actual strip clubs had been as little as a small fine plus one year of probation. This time, ABC is asking for the maximum allowable penalty: outright revocation of our alcohol license.
Because this is our first citation in eight years of operation, and because we clearly took steps to avoid and correct the offenses, we see only two possible reasons for ABC taking such a hard line. We believe both are probably true:
- First, this punishment is retaliatory for us having had the audacity to appeal ABC's denial of our exchange of the "bar" license for a "restaurant" license (and win);
- Second, the severity of this penalty is because the conduct involved gay and lesbian activity and a gay and lesbian crowd. There are many reported ABC cases involving heterosexual strip clubs where the penalty imposed was a fine and probation.
We will be fighting this for some time. It's going to cost me a lot of money.
Is this the kind of thing you think the State of California should be spending your tax dollars on during a recession and budget crisis?