13-Feb-2009 (Fri)
Wherein a significant unredaction occurs at last.

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?

83 Responses:

  1. unwoman says:

    Wow, thank you for unredacting that. It makes me extremely angry.

    • jwz says:

      It took a long time to convince my lawyers that there was nothing to be gained by keeping quiet about this. Secrecy is reflexive with most political people. I tend to have the opposite reflex.

      • jered says:

        Given your 2nd assertion about the ABC explicitly discriminating against gay and lesbian customers, have you considered going to the press? That sounds like it would be front page news in SF, and you could probably get pro bono legal representation instead of however much your current counsel is raping you for....

  2. kimberley66 says:

    Who do we need to write letters to on DNA's behalf?? This is fucking assinine (no pun intended).

  3. 0ntological says:

    Is there any way for us- ie the general public- to assist you? Is there anywhere we can send letters or anyone we can call? I think this is a big deal, and something other than your money being spent has to happen. Let me know, and I will do my best.

    • harryh says:

      I have the same question as 0ntological. I live in NYC, but visit SF several times a year and have enjoyed hanging out at the DNA lounge on a couple of occasions.

      Please let us know if there are any productive things we could do to help.

    • elusis says:

      Question thirded, because.

  4. sparklydevil says:

    what can we do to help, other than spending money at your bar? (which i will!) letter writing? discrimination groups? ACLU?

  5. sushispook says:

    nice! you got warren's attention. and he does make a good point - perhaps media attention would work?

  6. hafnir says:

    If this standard of "you're responsible for anything that happens here no matter how hard you try to stop it" were applied everywhere, I don't see how most businesses that attract any crowd of people (or even schools) would remain open.

  7. What the fuck is the alcohol licensing department doing adjudicating "public morals"? A quick look through the director biographies turns up the fact that while the "Deputy Division Chief, Northern Division" has "received numerous certificates", there isn't any indication anybody on staff has ever cracked a single ethics book. Ever.

    So, well-written polite adult letter to ABC director Steve Hardy: help, hinderance, or don't bother?

    • bdu says:

      It's a byproduct of the intersection of booze and "immoral acts" that occurs at strip clubs. They've been empowered to enforce certain puritanical codes to keep the strip clubs from turning into full-service dens of iniquity, but these codes are broad enough to be misused thusly.

  8. holywar says:

    Good luck; I'm glad that you're apparently contrary enough to not just throw in the towel, because I imagine most people would have just said "fuck it" by now and closed up shop. I do have two questions, though:

    The "discrimination" charge is because the Cream promoters were charging different cover charges to men and women.

    I live in GA and so don't know the CA laws, but around here it's pretty common to have "ladies get in free" nights, or "drink specials for ladies until 11". Is that really not allowed out there? For Christ's sake (sorry), we can't even buy beer here on Sundays. Of course, we're one of, if not the only, states in the Union to allow both full nudity and a full bar at strip clubs. Go Georgia!

    Second, the severity of this penalty is because the conduct involved gay and lesbian activity and a gay and lesbian crowd.

    Seriously? In SF??? I'm trying to come up with a suitably snarky analogy here, but I just...can't.

    • dr_memory says:

      Seriously? In SF??? I'm trying to come up with a suitably snarky analogy here, but I just...can't.

      Note that the ABC is a state agency, and is thus based out of that noted den of sin and depravity Sacramento.

      • lafinjack says:

        I thought LA was the den of vapidity, SF was the den of depravity, and Sack-town was the den of stupidity.

      • rodgerd says:

        That would be, "In the state which passed Prop 8", right?

        • dr_memory says:

          *ding*

          CA is pretty liberal, on average and compared to the rest of the US. That still leaves a lot of room for utter stupidity.

          And, sadly, "liberalism" in the sense of, say, being in favor of marriage equality is sadly in no way personally incompatible with the strain of perverse NIMBY busybodying that the DNA is getting shafted by.

          • jwz says:

            In this case it's probably more like outright puritanical MADD-style prohibitionism rather than nimbyism. These days, we get along with almost all of our actual neighbors just fine.

            • dr_memory says:

              Fair point. I hope they're (your neighbors) willing to say so in public; seems like it might be helpful just around now.

    • jwz says:

      I don't know what the laws are in your state, but don't assume that "common" implies "legal".

      • editer says:

        I don't recall the ultimate result, but a gay/lesbian bar in Kansas City ran afoul of authorities when they tried to only let women in on some nights and men in on others. Seems the bar was so cool, hip, etc., that straight people were going there just for the scene, and it was turning into a het singles spot. The single-sex-only nights were an effort to refocus on the original clientele. The authorities were not amused.

        Someone said it was a sad comment on the bar scene in KC when straight men were going to a gay bar to meet women.

    • xrayspx says:

      Seriously? In SF??? I'm trying to come up with a suitably snarky analogy here, but I just...can't.

      It's not about "liberal" or "conservative", it's about authority, and the tyrannies of people with relatively small amounts of power. If they close one club in SF, is that going to turn San Fransisco into the next Billings, MT? Doubtful, but it sends the message that if you question us we will ruin what you have worked for, citizen.

  9. tjcrowley says:

    Someone is unhappy with the bribes they've gotten so far, looks like. Time to pay off more political consultants.

    • giantlaser says:

      That's one reason why I prefer to do business in the middle east. At least the crooks are honest enough to say they are, and take bribes like reasonable men.

  10. aliasrob says:

    If the ABC revoke your licence, it will negate the one incentive I have to visit the USA.

    Gay pride. Etc.

    Good luck.

  11. xrayspx says:

    of course, "Don't do anything for anyone". It sucks to see you punished like this for doing nothing more than trying to provide the most entertainment for the most people.

    I wonder if I could cross-reference the great-big list of all the liquor license holders in California with all of the violations and citations from ABC and their penalties? Just for reference and proof of how over the top your penalty seems to be.

    Actually, I think the data I have already may have the violations for the last few years.

  12. ch says:

    It is time to get Arnold involved. I'm serious.

  13. dasht says:

    I suggest contacting matier and ross and/or willy brown and/or the business desk and/or the food desk.

    Willy Brown strikes me as someone who can see this the right way given the way he's written about things like the Getty birthday party cancellation. Basically, the absolute last thing government ought to be doing at this particular time in history is thwarting the recirculation of capital in local economies. The asshats.

    -t

    • bifrosty2k says:

      Slick Willie is fairly corrupt but he likes his bars and booze.
      There's video of him with a beer in his hand at about 4am in a fairly dank establishment in SF... I'm sure he's flexed some political muscle there.

  14. cryptomail says:

    Has SF jumped the shark here?
    First you, then bay to breakers...
    What's next?
    Heart goes out to you man...give them the fight.

  15. ladyjalana says:

    They show up specifically to bust gay and lesbian events and *you're* "practicing discrimination"?

  16. flaterik says:

    I've been to DNA and enjoyed it several times, but I live in LA so can't easily give you money though the normal liquor channel.

    But I will happily donate a not-completely-useless amount of money to help you fight the asinine ABC if you have a way to do so. I spend more money on stupider things, and I really appreciate what you've tried to do with the club.

    Even though I'm a filthy hippie that likes house music.

  17. ciphergoth says:

    Holy crap. I had fondly imagined that kind of bigotry didn't go on in San Francisco any more. Insane.

  18. giantlaser says:

    I would very much like to see a post telling us what we can do to help.

  19. cnoocy says:

    I hope you're contacting the LGBT media and community there in SF to get more exposure on this.

  20. inoah says:

    Do you think your legal costs will costly enough to consider establishing a defense fund? On the one hand dnalounge is a business, but on the other hand fighting the state's discrimination of gay/lesbian events is a public service.

  21. cindymonkey says:

    i sent an email with the link to matier & ross
    if they cover it the public pressure could work in your favor

    also - letting the BAR and Bay Times know would also be a good idea. the lgbt community has some ties up in City gov't and might be able to apply pressure as well

  22. mooflyfoof says:

    Oh for fuck's sake. It really pisses me off to hear about that. I'm really sorry you're having to deal with this bullshit, Jamie!

  23. ryanlrussell says:

    How about a flickr group with pictures of people exposing their buttocks in upscale restaurants with wine cellars? The buttocks could be anonymous. That way, the ABC doesn't even need the undercover agents to shut the place down.

    Some sort of geotagging, or JPEG file comments to make things handy. Date, Restaurant X, left butt cheek. I guess "exposure time" is already used, though?

  24. At Booty last night, one of your bouncers came up to my friends and me and said we had to finish our full drinks in five seconds or he was taking them away. I'm a female of average height and weight, and I like to pace myself when drinking - having to chug the thing made me feel sick and eventually I threw up. Absolutely ridiculous, especially considering we'd just given Booty $35 for our overpriced drinks. I know you're going through liquor license problems, but treating your guests like this isn't the way to get people on your side.

    • jwz says:

      Give me a fucking break.

      You can't have alcohol in your hand after 2AM. welcome to California. Your choices are, drink it or throw it away. I guess you decided to drink it. Take some personal responsibility for *your* bad decisions, ok? Thanks ever so.

      • So why'd you sell me a drink at 1:55am with no warning? Post a sign to warn people. Selling me $9 drinks and then making me throw them away 5 minutes later is ridiculous.

        • mysterc says:

          STFU.

          I have taken drinks out of JWZ's hand at 2am and he was my boss.

          Unclear on the concept. The same people who are responsible for the current spat of bullshit are the same ones that write and enforce that law.
          You must be new.

        • Because that great big huge light up LAST CALL sign on both walls can not be perceived by a soul in the club.

          • Please see below.

            • So THIS is the first bar, the first club you have EVER been to in CA (you sophisticated, WORLD-WEARY traveler, you), and you have the sack to seek out the owner's LJ and bitch to HIM (not, mind you, the one who served you, even though you're delusionally personalizing it) about your sorry state?

              I hope you puked in your own hair, you sorry, 15 year-old motherfucker. Sorry you can't hold your liquor, and THANKS FOR PLAYING. Let us know when you grow some pubic hair and join the rest of the human race.

            • Also, you're talking to someone who moved to this country from another one a decade ago, so you are SO preaching to the wrong choir here.

        • bifrosty2k says:

          you're a dumbass, there are GIANT LIT SIGNS THAT SAY LAST CALL.

          • I think you'll find that everywhere else in the world, "last call" means that the bar is closing, so it's a good time to go buy the drinks you'd like for the rest of the night. According to Wikipedia - "In a pub, a last call is an announcement made shortly before the bar closes for the night, urging the patrons to buy one last drink." I'm sorry if San Francisco is the only city you've ever been to.

            • bifrosty2k says:

              Every city+state I've been to, last call means the same thing.
              You've got 15-20 minutes to drink and get the fuck out, which matches the Wikipedia description FYI...

              • mysterc says:

                Right you are! And since Wikipedia is the absolute authority on all things...As opposed to someone who actually works or owns one in the real world.

                Get a grip, buy a clue or stay the fuck inside.

                DNA stays open past two am, unlike TGIFridays or whatever other douchebag corporate sportsbar you generally frequent.
                That is why the Last Call signs flash, the bar is closed video shows, and the bouncers make a reasonable effort to remind people to finish their drinks before they come around and "force you to chug"

                Based on the 9$ tab you are complaining about, I am inclined to believe you were ordering some mixed drink that would not look out of place with a paper umbrella. Stop drinking crap you saw on an episode of the Hills and you might not throw up on your edgy Betsy Ross dress and knock off Manolo sandals. My memory of women of average height and weight is that its not the chugging of a drink at tow that caused them to vomit, it was the 5 to 12 they drank before. Free advice, after 1am order a shot of straight liquor, no chaser. Then you won't be forced to chug and you can still get sloppy drunk and tell all of your friends what a great time you had.

                Do you not have a watch? I bet your iPhone has a clock app on it.

                • jesus_x says:

                  Oh for christ's sake, now we're being elitist based on what one drinks? Get out of the high school mentality. Bars charge a lot for EVERYTHING, that's how they stay in business. Heaven forbid someone buys something they like if it happens not to be a single pour drink. Grow the fuck up.

                  • bifrosty2k says:

                    Oh for christ's sake, now we're being elitist based on what one drinks?

                    Have you even been to California? Much less outside your own town for more than a few days? We care about everything. If you have the wrong colored undies, watch out. You vote for the wrong (IE: non-shiny ultra douchewad liberal) canidate? Bye Bye!

                    The clue, it is not strong in you.

                  • jesus_x says:

                    Indeed I've been out of my town, and state, etc. I'm not going to get into a pissing match here.

                    But that's the point, really. I'm grown up. I don't feel the need to judge myself based on what you're wearing compared to my wardrobe. And you know what else? There's millions of people like me. I highly doubt jwz measures his self worth by his shoe collection. Maybe you should upgrade to adulthood. It's nice up here.

                    Also, I tend to vote liberal, too. I guess you think I'm also non-shiny. I'll go cry now.

                  • bifrosty2k says:

                    I'm grown up.

                    Are you? The sand in your vagina is obvious to everyone on the internet.

                    And you know what else? There's millions of people like me.

                    We know, and we wish you'd go home and eat the tubs of ice cream and get fat and be home-bound so you wouldn't bother the rest of us. Any chance you'd dig into the chicken fried bacon so you can televise your demise?

                    Also, I tend to vote liberal, too.

                    Oh good, glad to find another thing to point to the fact that you're a twit.

                  • jesus_x says:

                    I'm so glad you said all that. Now I know I was wasting my time arguing with a moron. I'll be sure not to do it again. I'm glad you people decided not to hide the dumb anymore. It saves time. Thanks!

              • jesus_x says:

                Then you need to get out more. In PA a bar can't SELL after 2, so last call (usually a couple) is you buying your last drinks. Then the bar shuts down, and people trickle out usually by 2:30. Some clubs, pubs, and bars will close the doors at 2am, but not all.

                Also, I'd like to take this moment to thank all the assholes who jumped all over a patron and tossed insults rather than explaining stuff. Hey, is it REALLY so crazy to think that this was someone's first time in a bar in Cali? Do we really have to have noobs so harshly these days? Repeat offenders, sure, but man, try to think back to when you were 21. You weren't exactly the know it all you thought you were.

                • bifrosty2k says:

                  Hey, is it REALLY so crazy to think that this was someone's first time in a bar in Cali?

                  Do some research, she'd been in Cali at least a few times before.

                  Do we really have to have noobs so harshly these days?

                  Uhh, its the Internet, get a clue.

                  • jesus_x says:

                    Hey, guess what, I don't need to do research, I KNOW HER!

                    As for "it's the internet", go back to 4chan. You're dragging down the collective IQ out here in grownup land.

                  • bifrosty2k says:

                    Hey, guess what, I don't need to do research, I KNOW HER!

                    Then you instantly fail, done/done. Seriously, get a clue.

                    go back to 4chan

                    Please, 20bucket for the win.

                  • bifrosty2k says:

                    4chan is too good for you, thats why you're banned among the trollz.

                • bifrosty2k says:

                  Then you need to get out more. In PA a bar can't SELL after 2

                  Why should we care about your home state? This is the real world out here in the Peoples Republic of Kalifornia, we don't give a shit about what happens in your redneck inbred part of the world. We have a Pittsburgh out here too, its better than yours.

    • ARE YOU FUCKING *KIDDING* ME?

      What are you, like 12 years old? Or have you just never been to a Big Person Club before?

      The big bad bouncer FORCED you to chug your drink?

      ......stunning. You are absolutely stunning that you would come here to complain about THAT.

    • If you're so interested in pacing yourself, why are you buying a drink during last call in the first place?

      And really, there's a huge LAST CALL projected onto two walls. If you didn't see it, you must have a vision problem as well as a "pacing" problem.

      • httf says:

        I see you have an asshat icon. I admire that.

      • (pasted from above)

        I think you'll find that everywhere else in the world, "last call" means that the bar is closing, so it's a good time to go buy the drinks you'd like for the rest of the night. According to Wikipedia - "In a pub, a last call is an announcement made shortly before the bar closes for the night, urging the patrons to buy one last drink." I'm sorry if San Francisco is the only city you've ever been to.

        • ALSO, Miss "I think you'll find everywhere else in the world," (which I discovered ON WIKI), the sign starts fucking flashing at 1:30, and continues until they finish serving.

          So perhaps you were too smashed to notice. TAKE SOME RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR PUKEY DUMB.

        • elusis says:

          Are you serious, you puling jackass? I have been to clubs in pretty much every major city in the US, and when "LAST CALL" goes up, you have 15-30 minutes to buy and finish your final drinks, which may or may NOT be contiguous with the time the bar closes depending on the laws about club let-out versus last call.

          But no matter where, after whatever time the local liquor license board designates, you'd better not have any more drinks in your hand or on the table or you are no longer risking your personal definition of "fun," you are risking the club's liquor license. So when last call ends, it is time to SACK UP and either drink the fucking drink or realize "damn, I made a stupid choice about when to make this liquor purchase; I guess I'll do better next time."

          What, precisely, would be your brilliant solution to this terrible, terrible situation you found yourself in? Because I'm curious: Just what do you think the DNA Lounge should have done, when they are ALREADY AWARE OF BEING HOUNDED BY THE LOCAL LICENSING BOARD FOR THE SMALLEST INFRACTION? Since I don't think the ABC gives out "special snowflake" exception clause, maybe you should have worn a t-shirt saying "I am too stupid to adequatly manage my alcohol purchasing" so everyone would know you couldn't be trusted to make your own choices and live with them.

  25. bonniegrrl says:

    Just in case you didn't already see this:
    http://www.warrenellis.com/?p=7014

  26. heliocide says:

    Beware the level 25 drunk bitch. Thankfully, RPS is our social Tank. Watch out...

    http://www.penny-arcade.com/images/2004/20040514h.gif