The city of Brookhaven has eliminated the $100,000 alcohol license fee it was charging certain nightlife venues as part of a controversial alcohol ordinance. The council’s decision comes after a federal judge recently ruled a civil rights lawsuit challenging the ordinance could move forward.
Without discussion of eliminating the $100,000 fee during its Aug. 28 regular meeting, the City Council voted to revise the alcohol ordinance. The $100,000 alcohol fee was for “entertainment venues” — venues with a DJ, stage or dance floor.
The only public discussion before the vote was about some amendments to the ordinance, such as the decision to eliminate the five-member Alcohol Board and replace it with a single “hearing officer” to be appointed by the mayor and approved by the council. The revised ordinance was not included online as part of the agenda.
The council did hold a 20-minute closed door executive session during the meeting and before the vote after some confusion about the sell of alcohol at sexually oriented businesses. As part of the revised alcohol ordinance, the council agreed to postpone prohibiting sexually oriented businesses from selling alcohol until Jan. 1, 2021.
The council’s decision to eliminate the exorbitant fee — that nightlife venues previously only paid about $5,000 annually for — follows a federal judge ruling against the city in a lawsuit by Josephine, XS Restaurant & Lounge and Medusa Restaurant & Lounge. The judge issued a preliminary injunction in favor of the nightclubs and the case is still pending in federal court.
In part, the three venues claim the city is discriminating against the black-owned clubs by rolling back last call from 3 a.m. to 2 a.m.. 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.
Due to an agreement between the city and Pink Pony in 2014, the club was able to stay open until 4 a.m. seven days a week while also employing a disc jockey and having a stage. As part of the agreement with the city, the Pink Pony pays the city $225,000 a year to cover public safety expenses. The agreement also states the Pink Pony must shut down in 2020.
After the ruling, though, the city started enforcing the 2 a.m. last call at the Pink Pony. The Pink Pony has urged the city to revert back to its former alcohol code and 3 a.m. closing time until the federal lawsuit is decided.
As part of eliminating the “entertainment venue” definition in the alcohol ordinance, the council replaced it with “late-night establishment.”
Late-night establishments are defined as “an establishment holding a consumption-on-the-premises license that is open after 1 a.m. on any day (except Sunday which is 11:59 p.m.), but does not include a hotel or a motel with a restaurant holding a consumption-on-the-premises license.”
When the city instituted its “entertainment venue” ordinance and the $100,000 new alcohol license fee, it slapped eight minority-owned clubs with suspensions unless they got rid of the DJ, dance floor or stage.
Several businesses agreed to do so and signed agreements with the city stating the would do so at an April Alcohol Board meeting. The city did not immediately respond to a request for comment on what will happen to the agreements.
Arif Lounge, a popular hookah lounge, did not sign the agreement and successfully appealed their suspension to the Alcohol Board.
City officials said the $100,000 fee was necessary to cover police costs due to rising crime rates specifically along Buford Highway where most of the targeted venues are located.