In Bars & Clubs Commentary

Shawnna performs at 618 Live on Water, also known as the Ladybug Club. (PHOTO: 618 Live on Water/Facebook)

The moral, legal implications of a Downtown strip club

As we head into the new year, I would like to take a little time to lend my expertise to this battle about whether there should be a strip club in Downtown Milwaukee.

I'm not going to spend a lot of time on "this place or that place or some other place." Jon Ferraro, who is going to open the club, wants to be on 4th Street across from the Bradley Center, but he also has a memorandum of understanding to take over the troubled Ladybug Club on Water Street, between Wisconsin and Michigan.

I want to talk about my strip club experience, which is fairly vast, and about the moral and political implications of having a strip club.

Let me start by saying I have been in strip clubs in big cities and small towns. I have been in clubs out in the boondocks. I have been in clubs where the next nearest structure was a barn. I have been in strip clubs in probably 30 or states and at least six or seven countries. I've been in clubs with two dancers and in clubs with 30 dancers. I've been in clubs that serve alcohol and those that don't.

OK, enough about me.

Let's talk about Downtown Milwaukee where the streets generally get rolled up just as the sun is going down. The closing of the wings of the Calatrava is about the most action you can see Downtown, especially on a weeknight.

Ask anyone who has a business Downtown. We need people down there. Eating, drinking, going to the theater, listening to live music. And there is a market for a strip club.

Ask the concierge at any hotel and they will tell you that one of the most often asked questions from male guests is "where's the nearest strip club?" The other question they get a lot is "where can I get my hair cut?" Just think of the possibilities.

There is no doubt, absolutely no doubt, that a strip club will bring people Downtown.

I think the people who object to a strip club claim to be concerned by the thought of over-stimulated and over-served men, freed from some den of iniquity, stumbling out and causing some kind of ruckus near the homes and businesses nearby. I think that's a crock.

That may be the claim, but I really think that a lot of people are offended by the idea of women making a living (some supporting a family) by taking off almost all their clothes, being nice to customers and letting men stuff dollar bills into their g-strings. This dream these people have of rampant sexual activity inside these clubs is just that – a broken-down dream.

One thing to note is there is no guy dressed in a fedora and a raincoat shouting that passing men should "step right up and see the naked lady." That only happens at the State Fair Midway.

One of the strip clubs I've been to is Silk Exotic, owned by Ferraro, out on the far northwest side. I was there for the first time last week. Here's what I found.

Unless you have x-ray vision, you would never know there were naked ladies dancing inside this place. I was greeted by men dressed in black suits, white shirts and black ties. Greeters and security guys. Very, very polite. Good humored. And very watchful eyes.

They say you can always tell the Secret Service agents because they are the ones not looking at the president. These guys don't watch the girls. They watch the guys. Did I mention how polite they were?

Strip clubs are generally watched much more closely than, say your neighborhood dry cleaners or the pharmacy counter at your neighborhood Walgreens or CVS. The owners and operators know that to stay in business they have to keep things on the up and up.

We already have one strip club Downtown, Art's Performing Center, which deserves major praise for the cleverness of its name. Art's is on Juneau. Three doors away is a church. There's a salad place next door. There aren't any windows, just a door. Nobody stumbles into Art's by mistake. And nobody complains. You don't see men streaming out and urinating on the street. Nobody comes out with any part of their anatomy exposed. Some of them might be drunk. But if that's the bar we are setting, there are a dozen places within one block of Art's where the drunkenness quotient is way higher.

Ferraro wants to put his strip club on 4th Street across from the Bradley Center. The BC, the Bucks, the Admirals and Marquette have all written letters opposing it. Now, anyone who thinks a family won't go to a Bucks game because there is a strip club across the street is smoking some kind of silly cigarette. That just won't happen. You have my word.

Ald. Bob Bauman is the key player in this. He has stepped up and recently designed a worthy program to have all the information about doing business with – and available properties in – the city in one place. It's an admirable effort.

Now he has to turn his talents to fixing this.

He's got one bar with a suspended license that is unloved by just about everyone, except the people who either carry guns or start fights at the place.

You've got another site on 4th Street that has a long history of unsuccessful operators. That property is owned by the city and Ferraro wants his club there.

Ferraro has signed a letter of agreement to take over the first club, Ladybug, if he can arrange a lease with John Burke, who owns the building, and if can get a license from the city to operate his club. It's kind of like his backup plan if the 4th Street thing falls through.

So Bauman has a lot on his plate. I've known him for years and he likes nothing better than to be presented with a problem and to come up with a solution that keeps the most people happy.

It seems obvious to me that the alderman can bring all sides together and say that exotic dancing is here to stay. Although Ferraro wants 4th Street, Bauman and his cohorts could offer him a license for the Water Street place. I don't know if he'd take it as long as he still has his application for 4th Street on the table.

But this may well be time to sit back and just say "we'll see." Because I think if Bauman has his way, we will see sooner than later.


nik | Jan. 7, 2014 at 7:54 p.m. (report)

My vote is for the water street location. Walking distance to a few of the new hotels and a short two block walk to the Third Ward. For the convention attendee or business person this is a very accessible location.

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Photodavie | Dec. 30, 2013 at 2:27 p.m. (report)

"I have been in strip clubs in probably 30 or states and at least six or seven countries." Wow Dave. Just wow. Now that's devotion to topless dancing.

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AndrewJ | Dec. 26, 2013 at 12:37 p.m. (report)

Good article, Dave. My preference would be for it to end up at the Water Street location, and that is solely based on the fact it would then mean the Lady Bug Club has been killed off for good. But, I would have no qualms if it landed at the 4th Street location. As for those at the Bradley Center, namely the Bucks, I would reply to their protests by reminding them that they don't even want to be in that building as it is, which I think forfeits their rights to lobby for what's around it. As for those who question the people and activity that would come and go around a downtown strip club, they should do exactly what you did and visit the near North Side location. They are located in an area where people have had trouble opening a regular old bar, where everyone keeps their clothes on. Yet, you never, and I mean literally never, hear of issues over at Silk. So it's clear the operators know what they're doing and can mitigate trouble. Operating Downtown would probably be even easier for them.

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