A federal judge refused July 26 to throw out a lawsuit alleging the city of Brookhaven is discriminating against several black-owned nightlife venues through its alcohol ordinance that now requires certain venues to pay more than a $100,000 alcohol license fee and not sell alcohol on Sunday.
The ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Thomas W. Thrash means the federal lawsuit filed against the city by Josephine, Medusa Restaurant & Lounge and XS Restaurant & Lounge, all located in Northeast Plaza on Buford Highway, moves forward. The venues are represented by attorney Cary Wiggins.
Thrash granted the plaintiffs their request for a preliminary injunction to allow the venues to continue operating until 3 a.m. and on Sundays. The judge also denied the motion to dismiss the lawsuit requested by the city.
The City Council late last year approved a new alcohol ordinance that went into effect creating a new “entertainment venue” category. Entertainment venues are defined as businesses with a stage, disc jockey or dance floor. These businesses must now also pay approximately $100,000 to sell beer and liquor by the drink on premises.
The city did not renew the alcohol licenses earlier this year for the businesses named in the lawsuit because they are operating with either a disc jockey or stage or dance floor but did not pay the $100,000 fee. Instead, the venues paid the approximate $5,000 annual alcohol license fees as they have done in years past.
The city said the new ordinance is intended to thwart what it says are rising crime statistics on Buford Highway while also forcing the venues to cover police costs through the new, much higher fees. The city in April rolled back last call from 3 a.m. to 2 a.m.
The plaintiffs argued they would suffer significant financial losses if the city enforced its new hours and no alcohol sales on Sundays. And while the city argued the businesses are allowed to continue operating while the legal battle is underway, the city could decide to enforce its new rules without warning, according to the judge.
“The city’s argument is somewhat like telling a lobster not to worry about the pot of boiling water nearby because the cook has not put it in yet,” Thrash stated in his ruling. “Such a statement would bring little comfort to the lobster.”
Judge Thrash also noted the Pink Pony, a renowned strip club off Buford Highway on Corporate Boulevard, continues to operate and sell alcohol until 4 a.m. and on Sundays even though it employs a disc jockey and has a stage.
“There is really no rational reason for this selective enforcement,” Thrash wrote in his ruling.
Due to an agreement between the Pink Pony in 2014, the club can stay open until 4 a.m. seven days a week while also employing a disc jockey and having a stage despite the new alcohol ordinance. It also is not required to pay the new $100,000 alcohol license fee.
As part of the agreement with the city, the Pink Pony does pay the city $225,000 a year to cover public safety expenses. The agreement also states the Pink Pony must shut down in 2020.
The city did not immediately respond to a request for comment.