Hot and bothered

The city's ordinance governing topless clubs is a joke. But Bachman Lake-area residents are determined to get rid of the clubs by any means necessary.

And while angry activists charge that the city has abandoned them, officials dispute that characterization. They point out that they have battled in court to uphold the 1997 SOB ordinance. The case went to trial in September 1998, but Judge Buchmeyer has yet to issue a ruling. The lengthy holdup has angered residents and spawned rumors that Buchmeyer is delaying his ruling in anticipation of alleged city plans to settle the costly lawsuit. The gist of the rumors is that city leaders want to prevent the spread of skin-gazing clubs to other parts of the city by containing them in Bachman Lake.

The hearsay caught fire last month when the lawsuit appeared on a list of legal cases to be discussed during closed-door executive sessions of the city council. Activists smelled betrayal, but Blumer insists the council never discussed cutting a deal. And City Attorney Madeleine Johnson says there is "no settlement proposal out there," although as a matter of lawyerly principle she will not rule out "ongoing discussions on how [the lawsuit] can be resolved."

The clubs scoff at the idea of settlement, since it would require the approval of the council. "It's hard to get eight people on the city council to be in favor of a topless bar," Albright says. Off-base or not, the din of rumormongering among activists underscores the fury that has built up during years of unsuccessful protesting.

Mark Graham
The bright lights of Déjà Vu on Northwest Highway, one of four clubs in a compound that has long drawn ire from neighbors
Mark Graham
The bright lights of Déjà Vu on Northwest Highway, one of four clubs in a compound that has long drawn ire from neighbors

"This is why we are all such radical assholes," Dickey says. "We're battle-hardened urban fighters, and we don't trust anybody."

Standing in the living room of his north Bachman Lake home, located in a shaded middle-class area that seems far removed from the working-class neighborhoods a few blocks south, Dickey vents consternation bordering on rage toward his longtime nemesis: the Bachman Lake clubs.

He fumes that Northwest substation police officials have praised Burch Management at community meetings for doing a "great job" in preventing crime outside of the clubs. He doesn't accept that assessment, but says it's only half the picture regardless. Dickey's beef of the moment is alleged crime inside the clubs. The steamy interactions between dancers and patrons at Baby Dolls and other clubs, he charges, are proof that city police neglect their duties.

He points to section 41A-18.1 of the city's 1997 SOB law, which prohibits touching between customers and dancers who are exposing "specified anatomical areas." The verboten areas include "human genitals," pubic regions and hair, and female breasts revealed "below a point immediately above the top of the areola." Interestingly, the law also outlaws woodies, even those kept under wraps. The definition bans dancer-patron contact involving "human male genitals in a discernibly erect state," even if completely and opaquely covered. "The whole nature of the business now is lap dancing," Dickey argues, "and that by its very nature is against the law."

On his VCR, Dickey plays a video he obtained by sending a spy with a hidden camera in his jacket into Baby Dolls. The shaky amateur footage from the darkened club shows a bored-looking woman sitting on a man's lap and undulating in front of him. Then she turns around to face the man, and he fondles her rear. In the background, a dancer on a stage hugs a man who just gave her some money.

All illegal, says Dickey, who claimed on the Internet he now held incontrovertible proof that the police aren't enforcing the law in the clubs. "If the city wanted to," he says, "it could send vice in there and make these cases nonstop and put some pressure on these clubs." On, a Web site run by local dissidents, Dickey declared: "Now the truth is out there, and no one can deny it."

Not so fast, city officials and police told Dickey, who now admits his error. They point to conflicting parts of Buchmeyer's preliminary injunction against the 1997 SOB law as the reason why anti-groping laws aren't being enforced.

Their interpretation: While Buchmeyer's ruling denied the clubs' motion to throw out the law's anti-touching provision and predicted it would be upheld (Houston and Arlington have similar restrictions), he also suspended another provision stating definitions of body parts, arguing they "restricted the essential expressive nature of the Intervenor's business." So Buchmeyer said city officials can enforce part of the new SOB law, but then he gutted the specifics of what constituted that provision. This confounding ruling convinced officials to lay off for now.

"I don't think it's practical to enforce something we don't have a definition for," says Corky Davis, the assistant city attorney.

In the meantime, police enforce the lewdness statutes embedded in Texas penal law, which basically allows for plenty of contact as long as genitalia or animals aren't involved. Breast touching is illegal, but light breast rubbing by patrons isn't usually prosecuted, law enforcement officials say.

Despite activists' charges that police have a "hands-off" policy toward the clubs, Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission records show a record of periodic vice enforcement. TABC largely relies on local vice cops for reports of lewdness and other infractions, and the vice cops pass on arrest information to TABC, which docks the establishments administratively.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help