A compromise appeared to be in the offing Monday between state officials and a group of strip clubs and bars that had their alcohol licenses suspended amid a broadening crackdown that has targeted French Quarter establishments allegedly turning a blind eye to prostitution and the sale of illegal drugs on their premises.
The affected businesses have fired dozens of employees and proposed a plan to the state Office of Alcohol and Tobacco to avoid future violations.
Troy Hebert, the ATC commissioner, seemed optimistic after meeting with representatives of several of the clubs. He promised to look “very closely” at their suggestions, which included the hiring of an outside security firm and implementing a “mystery shopper” program of sorts to ensure cocaine and sex are no longer being sold in the clubs.
“I don’t want to turn the French Quarter into Disneyland. We’ve been having prostitution there for 200 years, and we’re not going to run it out over night,” Hebert said in a telephone interview. “But we’re trying to develop a plan to where these places can prevent this type of activity from happening.”
Hebert took the proposal “under advisement” and said he would announce a decision in the matter on Tuesday. Even if the clubs are permitted to continue alcohol sales, they still would be on the hook for various fines stemming from the slew of administrative violations they received during “Operation Trick or Treat,” an investigation Hebert said will continue through the holidays.
“I was pleased with not only the amount of suggestions but the quality of the suggestions coming from the establishments that we heard from today,” Hebert said. “Every establishment we had a hearing on has terminated every employee that had anything to do with the violations, including managers. One place by itself fired a dozen and a half. One place fired everybody except three people.”
Seven strip clubs and two bars, many of them located on Bourbon Street, have had their alcohol licenses suspended during the crackdown, a move that caused several of them to close their doors, at least temporarily. Some have since reopened, Hebert said, permitting customers to bring their own alcohol.
“I think this is probably the biggest enforcement operation ever undertaken by the ATC, at least in recent history,” Hebert said. “I do see it expanding. There are still a number of places that we’re watching.”
Michael Bagneris, an attorney representing the ATC, said Hebert “isn’t bound to accept” the proposal and may add some conditions to it in lieu of “crossing swords in an administrative battle.”
“We’re going to see if we can get everybody on the same page in terms of complying with the law,” Bagneris said.
One of the clubs, Centerfolds, won’t be reopening, but Bagneris said that business was expected to close anyway because its lease is ending in a few weeks. An attorney for the club declined to answer questions about the case Monday.
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