Neighborhood asserts right: No strip club

Friday, October 23, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Covington nixed plans this week for a new strip club. Bistro Primo Inc., owner of Diamonds, a Dayton-area club where men go to ogle scantily clad women, was denied its request to open a Northern Kentucky location in place of the old Dominique's nightclub.

City officials said it was a zoning issue.

A nightclub where fully clothed patrons once danced cannot be replaced with a place where semi-nude women dance as the primary entertainment. In zoning lingo, that would be a "change of use" at the location, meaning the city had not approved the new kind of establishment.

Bistro Primo's lawyer plans to appeal the city's decision. He and his client take the position there is no significant difference between a bar where customers dance and a bar where customers watch almost-nude women dance.

"This is a nightclub with exotic dancers doing choreographed floor shows," attorney Louis Sirkin told me. "The use is not going to change. It's still going to be a nightclub."

"This," he added, "is a free-speech issue."

I hadn't heard the dancers might give speeches, too. But no doubt about it, everyone has free-speech rights. Dancers in bikini bottoms and pasties have their rights. As do the people who pay to see them.

But I'd like to speak up for the rights of the people who live on Covington Avenue, a narrow, brick-paved lane just across Johnson Street from the disputed location. The last thing these people want is another nightclub at the end of their little dead-end street of well-maintained Victorian houses.

Bad memories

"The noise from the drunks yelling, screaming and carrying on as they came out of Dominique's at closing time drove me nuts," said Lloyd Sexton as he leaned on an ornate iron fence in front of a restored brick house built in 1876.

Lloyd believes he has the right to keep his front porch free of drunks emptying their bladders as well as the right to be safe from the demolition derby at closing time.

"At night," he said, "the people who went to that club would do their business by our porch and then get into their cars and back into our bumpers and break off side-view mirrors. I'd come out and see a pile of broken glass and shattered plastic. Or a puddle of something worse."

The Covington native heard the pitch that the strip club would draw a better clientele than Dominique's.

"We've heard that before," Lloyd sniffed. "Clubs like this draw riff-raff. They may not be in the club. But they hang around outside."

Four doors down, Lloyd's daughter, Marcella Hatton, was leaving her house with her 2-year-old granddaughter, Danielle, in tow. Marcella worries for her granddaughter's safety and about Covington's image.

"Strip clubs are open night and day. Who knows who will be walking up and down this street where my little grandchild plays?"

Marcella says in recent years Covington's image has gone "way, way up. We used to be known for booze, drugs and strip joints. Now, we've got that new convention center going up along with a bunch of other new buildings. We need a new strip club like a hole in the head."

Buff Mitchusson pulled up and parked his truck. The carpenter was home from another day of installing replacement windows.

"Why can't they put a nice restaurant at the end of the street?" he asked as he opened the front gate to his 140-year-old house. "Why does it have to be a gentlemen's club where women take their clothes off?"

Buff has seen enough discarded articles of clothing in his neighborhood to last him a lifetime.

"I can't tell you how many mornings I went out to my back yard when Dominique's was open and found various items of underwear in the bushes," he told me. "I'd take a long stick, pick up the underwear and drop it in a garbage can."

I can't speak to the nuances of zoning laws. But I think the people on Covington Avenue have a right to their nice neighborhood. And I hope that is not lost in all the legal wrangling between the bureaucrats and the strip club owners.

Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.