Strippers sought cover under First Amendment

Judge Biery pointed to a painting on the wall of his courtroom that depicts the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and wondered if George, Ben, and John could have foreseen the possibility that a federal judge would consider whether the First Amendment protects the right

A dancer works the stage at Club XTC, one of San Antonio's all-nude adult entertainment clubs. Photo by Mark Greenberg
of a woman to dance nude in a nightclub. "Did they think we would be talking about this?"

Allstars, XTC, Sugar's, and PT's sued the city after it adopted the ordinance in March. Paradise Entertainment and Nevada Inc. later joined the petition to stop the city from enforcing it.

Eric Langan of Rick's Cabaret International Inc., owner of the nude dance club XTC, said money has been tight at his club after the city banned nude dancing. "Business has dropped off dramatically. We put on g-strings and cut the cover in half. But our business has been cut by 50 to 60 percent."

Langan said XTC went nude again a few days before the hearing. "This ordinance would put us out of business. We have no liquor license, and it is a six-month process to convert from nude to topless."

He also critiqued the ordinance's no—touch rule as heavy-handed. "We ban any type of sexual touch. But a kiss on the cheek is not sexual and not harmful." XTC allows tableside dances, but not lap dances, which decreases the likelihood of touching between a dancer and a horny patron.

According to affidavits filed by numerous owners and entertainers employed at the local clubs, "This (no touch rule) is going to change our environment from a natural warm and friendly environment to a cold, uninviting atmosphere."

Biery criticized the ordinance's lopsided permitting fees, and said if the city was going to charge $750 to open a strip club, then other businesses that seek a certificate of occupancy should pay the same amount of money. Currently, a restaurant pays about $176 to obtain a permit to open for business.

"You have to think about all types of business getting treated equally," Biery said. "Denny's and the Adams Mark Hotel have to be treated equally."

He also reasoned that strip clubs are not going to disappear because a contingent in the city wants them gone. "It seems to be clear that as much as the city wants these to go away, it will not happen. It's supply and demand. As long as people out there are willing to pay exorbitant prices for watered—down drinks — or not watered down — there will be someone to provide those services."

The federal judge suggested the two sides mediate the case on their own instead of dragging it through the federal court system for the next five to 10 years - at taxpayer expense. Houston was sued over a similar ordinance about five years ago, and the case is pending before an appellate court in New Orleans. "We will have many more get-togethers like this." Other cases are pending elsewhere in the nation, including the Supreme Court.

Biery had a bit of fun with the new ordinance's requirement of increased lighting in local strip clubs. He mentioned his teen-aged years when the hot thing was to go to a local theater for a necking session. "In the theater, the teenagers would find that (lighting requirement) terrible. We could go to the Majestic and Texas. In those days we would still have segregation, but we thought upstairs was the place to be."

Langan said an increase in lighting would force patrons to wear sunglasses as they watch dancers perform.

Biery ruled against the clubs Monday after seeing evidence of illegal activities at some of the local stripper clubs. But he reiterated the pending cases in other courts could affect the local lawsuit. "We're in the dark about what the appellate courts are going to give us." •

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