October 25, 2014
Chicago is 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 City Council’s most powerful alderman declared Thursday.
With that comment by Ald. Edward Burke (14th), the City Council’s Zoning Committee did something Chicago has refused to do for decades: authorized adult entertainment clubs to sell liquor and offer seminude dancing at the same place, instead of forcing those establishments to choose between the two.
The ordinance was championed by Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), whose old ward includes VIP’s A Gentlemen’s Club, 1531 N. Kingsbury.
It also closes a legal loophole — by preventing adult bookstores, movie houses and “live entertainment cabarets” from “swapping uses” without first applying for a special use permit and adhering to zoning restrictions.
That means they can’t be located within 1,000 feet of a school, a religious assembly, another adult use or a district zoned residential. Nor can they be located within a planned manufacturing district.
Last year, 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 down the club 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 seminude dancing at the same establishment. The legal battle and a series of court orders allowed the club to skirt the local ordinance and continue serving up booze and seminude dancing.
On Thursday, Burke reminded his colleagues that he championed the zoning restrictions that reined in strip clubs while a string of court cases were going against the city.
“I passed that ordinance that some wags referred to as ‘Burke’s Law.’ It would guarantee in Chicago that you couldn’t get rubbed the wrong way,” the alderman joked.
“This was back when there was a flood of massage parlors that had opened in Chicago and one could not legislate against them based on certain Supreme Court rulings, but we could restrict them based on zoning . . . which in essence means there are very, very few places that they can open up.”
Chicago currently has “seven or eight” adult entertainment venues.
That includes the Admiral Theater, 3940 W. Lawrence, which offers nude dancing without liquor. That won’t change under the new ordinance unless dancers go seminude like their counterparts at VIP’s.
“There’ve been no police reports of any kind of misconduct. The neighbors don’t object. And frankly, a world-class city like Chicago in terms of entertainment ought to have realistic kinds of adult entertainment venues that don’t create a problem in the neighborhood,” Burke said.
Zoning Administrator Patti Scudiero made light of the sensitive debate.
“For those of you who think zoning is a conversation killer at cocktail parties, we have been dealing with marijuana, guns and now strip clubs. So it’s pretty exciting these days,” she said.
Waguespack joked that he had “no hands-on experience” when it comes to the touchy subject of strip clubs.
Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), who apologized to his West Side constituents earlier this week for holding a racy bachelor party featuring strippers in the same building that houses his ward office, did not attend Thursday’s meeting.