The Pink Pony wants to return to later hours and is willing to pay extra to do so pending the resolution of a federal lawsuit challenging the city of Brookhaven’s new alcohol ordinance.
Aubrey Villines, attorney for the Pink Pony strip club, spoke to the City Council during public comment at its Aug. 14 meeting. He asked the council to return to its previous alcohol ordinance and hold off enforcing the regulations of the new ordinance that went into effect this year.
The Pink Pony’s request follows a federal judge’s recent ruling to allow a civil rights lawsuit filed by Josephine, XS Restaurant & Lounge and Medusa Restaurant & Lounge to move forward. The three venues claim the city is discriminating against the black-owned clubs. Their argument in part states the new ordinance violates the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause because it allowed the white-owned Pink Pony to stay open until 4 a.m. seven days a week.
After that ruling, however, the city decided Aug. 1 it would enforce its 2 a.m. last call at the Pink Pony and only allow the strip club to serve alcohol on Sundays until midnight so that it is treated the same as other nightlife venues.
“If you look at the judge’s order it is very limited,” Villines said in an interview. “[The ruling] doesn’t say the Pink Pony’s hours have to come back. If the city goes back to the way it was before until this is straightened out, no one gets hurt.”
The city’s new regulations include the rolling back of hours to 2 a.m. and the creation of a new “entertainment venue” category requiring establishments with a DJ, dance floor or stage pay a $100,000 alcohol license fee and not sell alcohol on Sundays.
The Pink Pony was at first considered exempt from the new ordinance because of a settlement agreement it reached with the city in 2014. Under the terms of that agreement, which expires in 2019, the Pink Pony pays the city of Brookhaven $225,000 annually and could remain open until 4 a.m. and sell alcohol on Sundays.
Villines is hoping the council will seriously consider going back to the old alcohol ordinance because, he said, the Pink Pony is essentially being caught in the “backwash” of the federal lawsuit.
“If you took the Pink Pony out of out of Brookhaven, the equal protection argument still exists,” he said in an interview, of the Josephine and others lawsuit. He added the Pink Pony was asked to be a third party in a lawsuit against the city but declined because the club likes being in Brookhaven.
“We’re part of the team here,” he said.
“We were low-hanging fruit, to make an analogy,” Villines added. “The city, the residents, the council have decided the Pony can be here. How the city can address equal protection … is to go back to the way it was and work on the alcohol code.”
Villines said the Pink Pony is also recommending the city levy a $50,000 alcohol license fee for extra serving hours. He said he wants the city to return to its former pouring times of Monday through Friday of 9 a.m. to 4 a.m., Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 a.m. and Sunday from 12:30 p.m. to 3 a.m.
The extra money from the $50,000 fees could go specifically toward police services, he said.
“If we pay more so the equal protection argument is addressed, so be it. We’ll do it,” he said.
He notes the first sentence of the federal lawsuit against the city of Brookhaven, filed by attorney Cary Wiggins, states, “This is a civil rights case.”
Eliminating the definition of an entertainment venue in the alcohol ordinance addresses one of the equal protection issues, he said. And eliminating the $100,000 alcohol license fee rather than the former $5,000 alcohol license fee also addresses the equal protection issue, he said.
“If the Pink Pony did not exist and we were taken out of the argument and the equation, the plaintiffs’ argument of equal protection regarding hours, make up of venues, clientele, fees and maximum license fees still exist,” he said.