Save the last lap dance for me

Categories: Minneapolis

Anyone who has spent much time in Minneapolis knows that the city government can be mighty picky in matters of zoning. Commercial, industrial and residential uses are generally quarentined from one another, as if any intermingling might result in an outbreak of bubonic plague, Ebola or, worst of all, a downward spiral in property values. That's why when you travel through certain residential districts in south Minneapolis, you can cover block after block without encountering a single bar, restaurant or other commercial entity. In this regard, Minneapolis resembles the suburbs it so often seems stuck on emulating: we live under the tyranny of the homeowners.

Of course, this is not to say that there aren't some notable exceptions. And nowhere are such exceptions more striking than in the working class quarters of northeast Minneapolis, where every corner seems to have its own tavern, where ramshackle duplexes sit beside massive railroad switching yards, where enormous grain elevators cast shadows on nearby bungalows. And where, for more than two decades, a modest northeast bar called the 22nd Avenue Station has maintained its status as one of just two topless clubs located outside the city's designated downtown adult entertainment zone.

If the Minneapolis City Council has its way, those days are numbered. Last Friday, the council voted to accept a recommendation from administrative law judge Steve Mihalichcik to put an end to topless dancing at the bar. As part of the rationale for the decision, Mihalichick argued the bar's owner, Glenn Peterson, had failed to establish that his business "showed any increased revenue attributable to topless dancing"--and hence failed to justify the continuing "non-conforming use."

Of course, for regulars of the Double Deuce--as the club is affectionately known--such claims are patently laughable. That sentiment is echoed by attorney Randall Tigue. Tigue says the introduction of topless dancing at the establishment hasn't been just good business; it rescused bar owner Glenn Peterson from bankruptcy. "This is probably as outrageous a case of misuse of adult entertainment zoning powers as you're ever going to get," Tigue declares. "And if this ruling sticks, he's out of business."

Tigue is confident that he will be able to get a temporary injunction against the city in U.S. District Court. "As a matter of basic constitutional law, you don't treat one type of speech different from any other type," he explains. "In 1976 and then again in 1986, the Supreme Court made a limited exception for purpose of adult entertainment zoning. The basic reasoning was that you zone adult entertainment differently not because you object to the content of the speech but because of the adverse secondary effects caused by that speech--such as decline in property values, an increase in crime, general contribution to urban blight."

By those standards, Tigue insists, the Double Deuce ought to be spared. "No one on the city council ever bothered to ask whether the bar is in fact causing adverse secondary effects. If they had, the answer would be an overwhelmingly 'No," Tigue declares. "We are prepared to produce evidence--from the city's own police records and the city assessors records--that show that the 22nd Avenue Station has not contributed to a decline in property values and that when you compare it to other bars, it is probably produces fewer police calls than almost any other bar in the city."

In his six years as the executive director of the Holland Neighborhood Improvement Association, Kevin Reich says he has not heard a single complaint about the Double Deuce or the behavior of its patrons--a claim that cannot be made of many of the more "respectable" bars in the neighborhood. Meanwhile, according to Tigue, the only other topless club in Minneapolis located outside downtown--BJ's Lounge, on the corner of Washington Avenue and Broadway--has agreed to discontinue topless dancing by the end of the year.

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