Friday, May 05, 2006

Family Friendly Strip Club Update

One gunshot victim was down on the ground and four or five more shots rang out just as he was rolling up on the scene. Laurel Police Lt. Phil Pollock testified that it was nothing short of chaos when he arrived on the scene in the wee hours of Saturday April 22. Four or five hundred people were running around and there were not enough police officers on the scene to maintain order or preserve evidence. The Amazon Club in South Laurel was open once again for business.

My son Stosh and I attended the Prince Georges County Board of License hearing regarding Club Amazon’s liquor license transfer. Stosh is 16 years old and he normally avoids any form of civic activism, especially if it includes his boring dad, boring meetings or airless, boring court rooms. But on the hormonal hope that at least some of the club’s exotic dancers might be working the room, he agreed to tag along with me to Hyattsville to watch local government in action.

Stosh told me later that--even without the strippers--the meeting was pretty cool. The Amazon Strip Club liquor license saga is a long tale of profound woe and greedy intrigue. Let me start at the beginning and try to explain what Stosh found so interesting.

There is a strip club called the Stardust located at intersection routes 450 & 410 in Hyattsville. The patrons of this club have caused a ton of trouble in that community. The final straw was a shooting a couple of years ago. The owners of the Stardust lost their liquor license based on the shooting and a number of liquor license violations committed by the owners.

The owners appealed the license revocation. Before a judge could rule on the appeal, the owners struck a deal with the liquor board. The owners asked the board that, if they found a more appropriate location for the strip club, would they be allowed to have a liquor license. The board agreed, but with restrictions, and unfortunately the new location turned out to be the former Dinosaur/Amazon night club at the corner of Contee Road and Rt1, just outside the Laurel City limits.

As part of the transfer deal, the new Amazon club owners were only provided a class B liquor license. A class B license is intended to permit a restaurant to sell liquor as an incidental part of their business. It is not a license to operate a bar or a night club. The other restrictions included; no live entertainment, no more than 175 patrons, and plenty of security in and around the facility.

A hearing to permit the owners to change their license from a class B to something more appropriate for a night club with exotic dancing was scheduled for March 1st. The owners then asked for a continuance until May 3rd.

This is what brought my son Stosh, Delegates Barbara Frush, Brian Moe, Laurel Mayor Craig Moe, Laurel City Council Members Smalls, Leszcz, Robison, Sarich, Snyder, Laurel City’s Ace Solicitor Bob Manzi, Deputy Chief Rich McLaughlin, City Administrator Kristie Mills, City Clerk Kim Rau, PG County Council Member Tom Dernoga, Oldtown’s own Susie Marucci, at least two local Pastors and about 75 concerned citizens to Hyattsville on Wednesday night.

Shamefully, there were no State Senators in the court room, although the liquor board members are appointed by the State Senate.

When the hearing started, the Deputy Chief Liquor Inspector stood up and under oath described the violations that were found after the shooting on the 22nd of April. Lt. Pollock and a PG County detective also testified under oath about the chaos and number of people in the area. Lt. Pollock described how Laurel’s Volunteer Rescue Squad and Fire Fighters were on the scene and trying to provide aid. Five Laurel police cars responded to assist the county police, even though the problem was officially outside of the city. The call “shots fired” demands that everyone responds. One police unit was left to patrol Laurel.

My hat is off to all of Laurel’s public safety officers. It takes a special kind of person to courageously wade into that kind of dangerous confusion.

The Deputy Chief Liquor Inspector then asked the Board to hold a show-cause hearing to consider revoking the Amazon’s license based on the stated violations.

The next person to testify was the manager of Amazon. He was asked under oath what kind of place he was running. He said a restaurant. He was asked how much food he sold. He said that he did not sell food. His kitchen was not finished because they ran out of money. But they had catered a buffet for the patrons.

Class B liquor licensees must keep receipts showing the ratio of food to liquor sales. The manager could not remember the current ratios. The manager said that he was planning a big event for this coming weekend and he was anticipating 250 people. He was targeting a patron age group from 25 to 40 years old.

At this point the Amazon’s lawyer mercifully stepped in to say that the owners were willing to close after this weekend aftger the 7th. They wanted to wait until that time because they had a contract with a popular Latino DJ for a big Cinco De Mayo party.

Then the owner of the Amazon testified, also under oath. She said that they were indeed running a restaurant because she offered food. When asked what kind of food, she said chips, popcorn and wings. She then explained that they have been closed for six months and simply did not have the money to fix the kitchen.

The board voted unanimously in favor of conducting a show-cause hearing on June 14th. The original hearing to consider changing the license from a class B to exotic dancing, was postponed until after the hearing on the 14th of June.

Many of the officials in the room asked the board to shut the Amazon down immediately based on the testimony of the manager and owner; since they said they were already violating the liquor license restrictions. The board said that they could not do that without due process. But that they intended to be watching closely.

Here is a copy of the advertising poster for the Cinco De Mayo party, courtesy of Councilman Sarich. It brings a whole new flavor to Family Friendly.

I heard this morning that the Amazon has voluntarily closed beginning immediately. I guess there will not be a party tonight.

Stosh and I will be returning to Hyattsville on June 14th to see how that revocation hearing turns out. You might want to do the same. Stosh is still hoping that we might have some family-friendly exotic entertainers in the court room.

Please correct my errors, add your opinions or questions in the comments section: