Can't Boogie No More

Club owners fear the city may put a stop to dancing the night away

When Jay Winborn lived in Miami, no nightclub closed before 5 a.m. Most places, the night was just getting started around then. Some clubs didn't shut down until noon the next day. This is just how things were. Not only in Miami, where he lived for five years, but pretty much all over.

Winborn knows this because he is a DJ, an occupation that has allowed him to witness firsthand how dance clubs operate in cities around the country and around the world. Before he moved back to Dallas, there were plenty of times when he'd pack up his records just in time to grab some lunch.

"I know there is kind of a misconception by some people in the city that people out late at night are troublemakers and stuff like that, and it's just not the case," Winborn says. He spins records Thursday nights at Club Clearview, and Fridays and Saturdays at Seven. "There is a massive amount of people that like to go out and stay out late on Saturday night. They're not doing anything bad. They're going out to have a good time."

Removing the late-hours dance hall permits won't do much to clean up Deep Ellum.
Mark Graham
Removing the late-hours dance hall permits won't do much to clean up Deep Ellum.

In Dallas, however, that good time has a time limit. Under Chapter 14 of the city code, dancing at nightclubs isn't allowed after 4 a.m., and only then if the club has paid the $1,400 annual fee for a late-hours dance hall permit and been approved by the review board, as well as the health, fire and police departments. Oh, and if the backgrounds of the club's owners, their spouses, their employees and everyone else remotely connected with the enterprise checks out with the proper authorities. Then you can dance as much as you want--until 4 a.m., of course.

For now, that is. Winborn is worried--and so are most other DJs, nightclub owners and their customers--because of the rumor he's heard that the city is actively pursuing a revision of Chapter 14 that would suspend all late-hours dance hall permits. Except it's not exactly a rumor: Mayor Laura Miller and the Dallas Police Department are indeed investigating the potential outcome of just such an action, a move that would affect 20 or so nightclubs.

"Anything that makes our job easier, you know, we'd like to see," says Lieutenant Vincent Golbeck, who works out of the DPD's Central Division, which handles Deep Ellum. "I'd rather be using resources elsewhere after 2 a.m. than just in a two or three block area. And it's not just in Deep Ellum. It's citywide, in all the different entertainment areas."

Here's the way it shakes out: During one of the mayor's new accountability meetings, formed in the wake of the revelation that Dallas is No. 1 among major U.S. cities for all crime, Miller asked the police department what she and the city council could do to help stem the tide, specifically in Deep Ellum. The department suggested removing all late-hours dance hall permits, citing their long-held contention that those venues improperly sapped police resources that could better be used elsewhere. Miller then asked City Attorney Madeleine Johnson to see how they could go about doing that. Everyone basically agrees on this version of events.

This is as far as it's gone so far. A new draft of Chapter 14 doesn't exist yet, and the issue hasn't appeared on the council's agenda. In all likelihood, any decision will wait until next month, after the new city budget is approved. Before that happens, the discussion will make its way through the public safety committee, headed by council member Dr. Elba Garcia.

"It's one of the many things we are looking into to see if we can pinpoint, 'Is there crime coming out of it?'" Garcia says. "The police department is working--and this is what we asked them at the meeting, to please put in a paper, OK, what are the pros and the cons? Late-hour permits might not have any problem. I hear some people took it as we're going to go after them. And the reality is that's not the case right now."

It's that "right now" that is bothering nightclub owners. Don Nedler, one of the owners of the Lizard Lounge and the current president of the Hospitality Association of Dallas Inc. (HADI), says he learned about the results of the meeting from a city council member, whom he declines to name. He then called the council's John Loza and Veletta Lill, both of whom confirmed what he'd heard. He was floored. Nedler says if the Lizard Lounge lost its late-hours permit it would be "a disaster."

"I'll just tell you right now: It would put me out of business," Nedler says. "Now bear in mind, I've been in the same location for 12 years, I've never had a violation, and out of the blue, because the mayor said, 'Hey, that sounds like a great idea,' I could lose my after-hours permit and be out of business. If I had to close at 2, nobody's gonna pay a $10 or $15 cover after 12."

Michael Morris, who owns a handful of venues, including Seven and One, and is HADI's secretary, agrees. At Seven, for example, he says it's "much busier after 2:30," since customers show up after they've had dinner and drinks, maybe having hit a few other clubs on the way.

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