Booze Ban in Babylon

What’s wrong with a cold one and a lap dance?

The fluorescent lights at Club Madonna turn the multicolor carpeting into a hallucinogenic swirl, a riotous assault on the eyes that parallels the bass-heavy beats pumping from the sound system. The sensory onslaught, supplemented by completely nude, lissome, gyrating females, is clearly upscale fare.

It's a hell of a lot nicer than some cinderblock cesspool on South Dixie Highway, except for one thing: A man should be allowed to enjoy a snifter of Courvoisier (or at least a freakin' Budweiser) while contemplating the lovelies onstage.

But because of a 40-year-old Miami Beach ordinance banning alcohol at strip clubs, Club Madonna — the only all-nude establishment within city limits — is dry as the proverbial bone. Sort of.

"People just get their drinks at another place and then come in here," says Club Madonna owner and all-around adult entertainment impresario Leroy Griffith. "That's not fair."

The latest development in Griffith's ongoing booze battle with the City of Miami Beach: A federal court ruled on January 20 that a Daytona Beach alcohol ban almost identical to Miami Beach's violated a club's right to free speech. Griffith's attorney, Daniel Aaronson, won the case on behalf of Lollipop's Gentlemen's Club. Citing a 2003 Manatee County ruling, he convinced District Court Judge John Antoon II that crime has nothing to do with a strip club serving drinks.

Aaronson sent a copy of the decision to city attorney Gary Held January 24 along with a letter explaining his heartfelt desire to "avoid costly, needless litigation." Held declined comment.

A short chat with a patron named Alex at Club Madonna, which is located on Washington Avenue just north of the Beach's nightclub district, shed little light on the legal precedents.

He wouldn't reveal his last name, a refusal that may have had something to do with the band of pale skin on the ring finger of his newly sunburned left hand. However, the heavyset, balding lad from Michigan, who was in town for a conference, produced the following insight regarding the hypocrisy of banning booze in the North American Babylon: "Seems pretty fucking dumb to me. I mean, there are nearly naked people everywhere. And drunk people everywhere."

Alex says his buddies from suburban Detroit gave him a South Beach game plan: "They said to get a meal and a couple of drinks at Lincoln Road, and to sit outside where I could see some girls, and then they said to go to Club Deuce (a nearby dive) and have a few drinks, and when I was through drinking to come here. So I did."

The bourbon fumes wafting from his sweaty button-down shirt were a testament to his plan's success. He was a little ahead of schedule, though — he arrived around 7:30 p.m. and had to wait about an hour for the dancing to begin.

Griffith has been lobbying for a liquor license since 2001 (though he has owned the Washington Avenue property for three decades). It looked like he would finally get his wish in February 2004, when Beach commissioners preliminarily voted to rescind the ordinance. But then on the day of the final vote, Jane Gross, wife of Commissioner Saul Gross, packed the commission chambers with parents and children from Fienberg-Fisher Elementary School, which is located a block from Griffith's club.

Commissioners, cowed by the crowd, voted to keep Club Madonna dry.

Griffith sued Jane Gross in May of 2005, alleging slander (she had sent commissioners an e-mail that referred to Griffith as a "litigious tax-evading citizen"). He also filed a lawsuit against the city, but then dropped it when he learned commissioners might again take up the issue. They didn't. "The whole thing is kind of a joke, considering what goes on at some of these other clubs," Griffith says.

Alex seconds that emotion, without taking his eyes from a raven-haired dancer with improbable proportions bending over onstage: "I could use a fucking beer right now."

 
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