Is That a Badge in Your Pocket, or Are You Just Happy to See Me?

Don't ask that nice chap for a cold one.And whatever you do, no fraternizing with the bartender!

Let's be honest about this. Ladies, have you ever gone to a nightclub with the notion of sashaying into some man's life and persuading him to buy you drinks? And you, gentlemen, how many times have you gone to a bar without a cent, hoping to mooch a beer? Shoot the bull about today's sports events, maybe, smile a lot, and barfly your way into some easygoing regular's generosity?

Stop!
There's a word for people like you: CRIMINALS! Law-breaking, code-violating miscreants! They ought to lock you up and throw away the key. And they just might, if you are not aware of - or worse, show a callous disregard for - a crucial codicil to the Dade County Code: Section 21-21, Subsection D, which states: "It shall be unlawful for any man or woman to frequent or loiter in a tavern, cabaret or night club for the purpose of soliciting drinks." Thirsty evildoers also have been flouting Section 4-7, Paragraph 2, of the Miami City Code, which is virtually identical in wording.

And if you don't think people are getting arrested for this sort of seemingly innocent behavior, you're dead-drunk wrong. In December alone, four women were busted in the space of less than four hours, each for doing nothing more than asking a man to buy her a delightful beverage or committing the illicit act of mingling. Yes, mingling.

In the City of Miami it is verboten for bar employees to "mingle or fraternize" with customers. The determined cop in the December crackdown, "while doing a bar check in plainclothes, observed the above defendant sit down with customers and mingle," reads the police report of one arrest. "Defendant was also observed going to the bar and getting a beer and sitting with customers. Defendant arrested."

Hours later the valiant and energetic officer was in another booze parlor when a female employee asked if he might like to buy her a libation. The officer's response: "I identified myself and arrested the defendant."

These arrests fall under the infamous "B-girl" ordinances (the offense is usually settled with a fine of about $100) that seek to prohibit wanton women from sidling up to wallet-swollen men in seedy bars and cooing, "Hey big boy, how about buying a lady a champagne cocktail" and waiting for Lonely Guy to plunk down ten dollars for a glass of ginger ale. (The profits from the dweeb's drink purchase would then be split between the seedy bar owner and the wanton woman.)

But concerned citizens, righteous teetotalers, and semantic nit-pickers need not fear: Miami and Dade County laws are broad enough to apply to any bar employee, virtuous or not, who somehow finds himself in a situation of "mingling" with patrons. While there is no legal definition of mingling, police say they know it when they see it. And even more wonderful is the fact that these rules apply to everyone, and that means you, pal. The sobering bottom line: If you go to a bar and ask someone to buy you a drink, you've just committed a misdemeanor.

The original ordinance, passed in the 1950s in Miami, was a tad sexist: "It shall be unlawful for any woman to frequent or loiter in any tavern, cabaret or night club for the purpose of soliciting men to purchase drinks." In upholding that law as constitutional, Florida's Supreme Court in 1957 agreed with the mayor and the city manager of Miami, who argued that "these men are induced to purchase drinks by the visions, or promises, express or implied, of immoral relations with the girls."

Four years later the state Supreme Court upheld the ordinance again, this time explaining to a troubled, trembling citizenry that "the frequency of immoral acts in connection with the operation of drinking establishments is such that they often constitute a grave threat to the public welfare and municipal life."

By 1967 it had become painfully necessary that the law be expanded to include everyone, including...men: "It shall be unlawful for anyone to frequent or loiter in any place selling or dispensing alcoholic beverages for consumption on the premises for the purpose of soliciting for the purchase of drinks."

No doubt the citizenry feels safer knowing police can haul out these statutes whenever they suspect there might be some other illegal activity going on, such as prostitution, but lack enough evidence to prove the more serious suspicion.

But the vague wording raises more urgent social questions. "I think it stinks," says Lori Graziano, a 22-year-old woman who openly (and quite legally) mingled with a New Times staffer during a survey of patrons at Shuckers Bar & Grill. Graziano says she's never asked a man to buy her a drink, but as she readily admits, "These things do happen.

 
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