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Lawyer insists “gay lifestyle movie club” Tokyo Valentino has a legal right to operate

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Miami, Florida- from – The poster of a fetching blonde woman in a red dress advertising “Videoplex” and “24/7” covers the windows of Tokyo Valentino. The name of the establishment, which has been open for barely a month, was conceived during a night of partying, reveals Atlanta-based entrepreneur Michael Morrison.

“A friend of ours, his nickname was Valentino,” Morrison recalls.

As the story goes, Valentino spent a lot of time overseas, including in Tokyo. After a few rounds of drinks, combining the two names seemed like a “cool” idea.

Apparently the moniker continued to sound cool even after the buzz wore off, because that was the name picked for the 5800-square-foot business located at 8830 Biscayne Blvd. in Miami’s Upper Eastside.

Morrison, Tokyo Valentino’s managing partner, describes it as a “gay lifestyle movie club,” where, for an admission price of ten dollars, a customer can walk through a turnstile and enjoy DVDs with friends or strangers in private booths or while lounging on beds in private rooms for up to eight hours at a time.

Available for sale at the front register are condoms, personal lubricants, and other sexual enhancements. A pool table, video arcade games, and a dance floor round out the entertainment opportunities. Once he obtains a recreational license from the City of Miami, Morrison says he’ll have DJs (advertisements already claim to feature them on the weekends).

Morrison does confess that his emporium is not always open “24/7,” as the window art professes. Instead Tokyo Valentino is open nonstop just Thursday through Saturday. During the rest of the week, the operating hours are scaled back by half.

Whether it’s 24/7 or not is immaterial to some people living nearby the Shorecrest neighborhood. They contend that Tokyo Valentino is more than a gay lifestyle club. It’s an adult club that encourages sexual activities, they charge.

Following complaints from Shorecrest homeowners, city officials now say that Tokyo Valentino is operating illegally and is already under investigation by the Miami Police Department. “From my understanding, they are operating an adult entertainment club,” says Miami’s zoning director, Barnaby Min. “Adult entertainment is not allowed.”

Two strip clubs featuring nude female dancers operate within a mile of Tokyo Valentino: Take One Lounge at 333 NE 79th St. and Wonderland at the Boulevard Theater at 7770 Biscayne Blvd. Both were opened in the 1970s and are therefore immune from revisions to Miami’s zoning code, which forbids “adult entertainment establishments” from being within 1000 feet of residential properties, schools, or parks.

Shorecrest, a cozy community of single-family homes, is less than 330 feet from Tokyo Valentino. Adult entertainment venues are limited to areas zoned “D2 Industrial.” Tokyo Valentino is located within a T-6 “urban core” zone.

Morrison says he’s already been cited by city code enforcement officers for running an adult-oriented business, having live entertainment, and other alleged infractions. He vows to fight the charges in court if necessary, and is adamant that Tokyo Valentino is not an adult club, but merely a retail operation. “We are not a strip club,” he says. “We don’t sell pornos. We don’t have live entertainment. We don’t serve alcohol.”

During a recent visit, the BT observed only mainstream movies on display at the front entrance. As for the condoms, Morrison says they are also sold in supermarkets and drug stores, yet they are not considered adult clubs by the authorities. “The reality is that in the gay community, condoms are sold in a lot of bars,” he says. “They encourage safe sex, and safe sex saves lives.”

Patrons are free to bring their own movies and Morrison admits his staff does not discourage sex on the premises. But Morrison, who is straight, says gay sex cruising occurs in many public places. “If you go on the gay cruising websites, you’ll find that the bathroom in Home Depot is a popular spot for gays having encounters,” he says.

Jack Spirk, a civic activist and former president of the Shorecrest Homeowners Association (and who is gay), says an establishment that allows sex between patrons does not belong near two churches, a school, and a residential neighborhood that is striving to clean up the Boulevard’s past seedy image.

“Usually you find businesses like that in areas where there is no residential neighborhood around it,” Spirk says. “I have nothing against that kind of business. I’m not a prude. But I don’t believe this is the place to have them.” (The Shorecrest Homeowners Association officially has not taken a position on Tokyo Valentino, notes the group’s vice president, Keith Meinhold.)

Morrison’s lawyer insists Tokyo Valentino has a legal right to operate at its current location. “If this store is considered an adult entertainment establishment, then any drug store should be considered adult and any bar should be considered adult,” says Danny Aaronson, a Fort Lauderdale-based attorney who specializes in adult-entertainment law.

Although Morrison denies Tokyo Valentino is an adult venue, he does have a history of challenging codes banning X-rated businesses. He opened an adult toy store called 9 1/2 Weeks in Atlanta in 1994, near the site of a future children’s museum. In less than a year, he was arrested for obscenity.

“The resulting torrent of community complaints and angry letters spurred then-Mayor Bill Campbell to make a public display of cracking down on the sex shop, accompanying police in a photo-op raid in which they confiscated blow dolls, dildos, and day-glow condoms,” according to a 2003 Creative Loafing article headlined “Porn Wars,” which chronicled the proliferation of adult-themed stores in Atlanta.

That pattern repeated itself several times, every time he opened a new store in the Atlanta area, but after every raid, Morrison reopened. Eventually he developed a “live-and-let live relationship with most local governments,” the Creative Loafing piece stated.

Morrison says he once owned as many as 21 video booth and adult toy stores in the Southeast, as well as various bars and clubs that were “conventional and adult.” He has dabbled in a variety of themes for his adult venues. “We have done everything — hetero-brand, gay-brand,” he says.

Then in February 2005, Morrison was convicted on two counts of filing false tax returns and one count of lying to the federal Securities and Exchange Commission. According to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Morrison never reported $2.3 million in “booth revenue,” thereby cheating the federal government of $1.4 million in taxes.

He was released in February 2008 after serving 30 months of a 46-month prison sentence in a Miami federal lockup. Among his fellow inmates, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, was his former adversary, Mayor Bill Campbell, who was also serving time for tax evasion.

Morrison says he now has only four video booth shops, including Inserection, an adult video store in Atlanta, and two gay-oriented videoplexes called Stardust in Tennessee and North Carolina, which, like Tokyo Valentino, offer only mainstream movies for customers’ booth-viewing pleasure.

Morrison says he picked Miami’s Upper Eastside for his latest venture for two reasons. Reason one was that the “gay lifestyle in Miami is very prevalent.” Reason two was the Jamboree Lounge, a gay bar located at 7005 Biscayne Blvd., near the gated community of Belle Meade.

“Ever been to Jamboree’s patio?” Morrison asks the BT.

BT: Do sexual activities occur there?

Morrison: “They do.”

Indeed five reviews on describe or allude to sexual activity occurring “behind the curtain.” As reviewer “Christopher D.” puts it: “Make no mistake, the Jamboree Lounge is a gay man’s ‘sex’ bar.” (Jamboree Lounge could not be reached by phone and did not reply by deadline to an e-mail message requesting comment.)

Sexual activity, if it is in fact taking place at the Jamboree Lounge, should stop as well, says Shorecrest’s Jack Spirk. However, his unease about Tokyo Valentino is not just based on the booths, but also in the sneaky way he feels Morrison opened his business.

Spirk notes that the owners of the gay-oriented Eros Lounge, located at 8201 Biscayne Blvd., were upfront with city officials about their desire to serve drinks, set up several plasma televisions, and attract DJs and other live entertainment. As a result, it took the owners “forever to get a certificate of use,” Spirk says.

By contrast, Tokyo Valentino received its permits in a mere four months because it claimed to be a “commercial/retail establishment.”

For his part, Michael Morrison remains optimistic that the area will eventually accept his new business. He claims that the complaints filed against Tokyo Valentino have been made by a “vocal minority” of Upper Eastside residents.

Insists Morrison: “We are not doing anything wrong.


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