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Strip clubs may be forced to stop selling alcohol

Athens, Georgia- Tonight could be the end of the road for two strip clubs that have remained open in spite of an Athens-Clarke County law against nudity and alcohol.
Or, it could be just another night for the clubs, which have continued to entertain and serve, while local authorities can’t or won’t enforce the local law.

As of Tuesday afternoon, a hearing had not been set to hear one strip club’s plea to remain open and selling alcohol. Without court action, alcohol licenses issued to Chelsea’s and Toppers International Showbar will expire at midnight.

County attorney Bill Berryman has maintained since September that the clubs don’t have licenses, since Superior Court Judge Lawton Stephens ruled that the 2003 licenses were only temporary. The strip clubs appealed Stephens’ ruling to the Georgia Supreme Court and filed suit in Athens-Clarke County again this month, arguing that the government should have renewed the strip clubs’ licenses – licenses that the government maintains don’t exist.

The state Supreme Court could decide whether to overturn Stephens’ ruling – essentially deciding that the clubs do have valid 2003 licenses – as early as next spring. In the meantime, Toppers attorney Jeff Rothman asked in his most recent lawsuit that a local judge prevent Athens-Clarke County from enforcing its alcohol license law until the litigation is settled.

But the judge in charge of the case wasn’t holding court Tuesday, and no other judge had agreed to consider the request for a restraining order.

Should midnight strike without a court hearing, one controversy will be settled: the strip clubs won’t have licenses to sell alcohol. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the government will shut them down.

While undercover police officers visited Chelsea’s and Toppers in November – ordering drinks and sitting for a while to watch the dancers strip naked – authorities haven’tmade a move to prosecute owners or their employees.

Athens-Clarke Solicitor-General Ralph Powell said it would be difficult to prosecute bartenders or waitresses while the controversy continues over the licenses. And Mayor Heidi Davison said Tuesday that she wasn’t aware that the licenses were set to expire on Dec. 31, hadn’t spoken to county attorneys about the issue recently and didn’t intend to stop alcohol sales at the strip clubs once the New Year rings in.



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