Ill. Supreme Court Upholds Ban on Alcohol at Strip Clubs

Michael Hayes
CHICAGO — The Illinois Supreme Court ruled that a city ordinance that bars strip clubs featuring seminude dancing from serving alcohol does not violate the 1st Amendment.

The case, which dates back to 1993, involves Pooh Bah Enterprises, the only Chicago-area club to feature both seminude dancing and liquor.

In 1993 and again in 2001, city officials sought to revoke the club’s liquor license.

In 2001, a Cook County judge declared the city’s ordinance unconstitutional. After an appellate court reversed that decision, the state Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.

Writing for the majority, Justice Lloyd Karmeier conceded that nude dancing can sometimes rise to the level of speech to be protected by the 1st Amendment, but he said, the city has a right to confront and address social ills created when alcohol is served in conjunction with nude dancing.

"The ordinance goes no further than is essential to further the city's objective," Karmeier said. “The ordinance furthered the city’s undeniably important interest in combating the harmful secondary effects associated with nude dancing. It was unrelated to the suppression of free expression, and ‘any incidental impact on the expressive element of nude dancing [was] de minimus,’ leaving ‘ample capacity to convey the dancer’s erotic message.’”

In other words, Karmeier said any 1st Amendment concerns were both unintended and insignificant when weighed against the power of the city to combat the social ills of nude dancing and alcohol.

The ordinance prohibits adult entertainment businesses from allowing employees or entertainers to engage in “any live act which exposes to public view his or her genitals, pubic hair, or buttocks or any portion of the female breasts at or below the areola thereof.”

Club rules mandated that dancers wear thongs, latex and flesh-toned makeup to conceal objectionable areas of their bodies. However, "testimony from investigating police officers indicated that, in person, one could sometimes see through the makeup and latex," Karmeier said.

City officials said they were pleased with the court’s ruling.

In the past, the club has done business under names such as Thee Dollhouse and The Crazy Horse Too. It currently operates as VIP’s, A Gentlemen’s Club, according to court papers.

The case will now go to a trial judge in Cook County to resolve other issues related to Pooh Bah’s liquor license.