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Austin: ‘La Bare’ Club Is Too Revealing

July 23, 2006

AUSTIN (AP) _ ``Bryce″ hits the stage with a cartwheel and a flip, then starts dancing to the pulsing grooves of the music. Dressed in a baseball uniform, his batting gloves are the first to come off. Then comes the shirt. It won’t be long before he’s all the way down to his short shorts, enticing women around the stage to stuff cash into tip jars, or, for the more daring, to slip money under the elastic bands on his beefy arms and legs.

Cheeky fun or downright dirty?

``Bryce,″ whose real name is Gavin Lewis, is a stripper at La Bare, a male revue club in a legal battle with the city of Austin over whether the club is a little too baring and daring for operating so close to a public park and the Texas School for the Deaf.

La Bare dancers don’t get naked, but Austin officials say that doesn’t matter. According to the city, the club is in violation of zoning laws that prohibit adult-oriented businesses within 1,000 feet of parks and schools.

The dispute has held up the club’s state liquor license and threatens to shut down La Bare to girls-night-out and bachlorette parties.

``It’s not a sexually oriented business,″ said La Bare co-owner Kevin Cox. ``It is sexually suggestive.″

Too suggestive for its location, according to an affidavit filed in municipal court, where Cox faces criminal misdemeanor charges of illegally operating a business. A trial could come as early as this week.

La Bare, which also operates clubs in Houston and Dallas, opened in Austin on Dec. 30. House rules posted at the front door, in the restrooms and near the bar read ``Don’t squeeze the Charmin!″ _ a warning against touching the dancers.

Customers are supposed to tip dancers under garters and in jars, not in their shorts. But two undercover police officers who went to the club Jan. 27 reported seeing dancers mimick sex acts, touch themselves, give lap dances and expose their buttocks and pubic area.

Under city law, adult-oriented businesses include those with ``erotic touching of human genitals, the pubic region, the buttock or the female breast,″ aroused genitals displayed or sex acts performed.

Cox says that doesn’t happen at his club. Dawn Kent, who had her 36th birthday party at the club the night the undercover officers attended, said she didn’t see anything like that and never does.

A commercial leasing agent in Dallas, Kent said she comes to Austin to visit friends and go to the club every weekend. She said La Bare’s club in Dallas is much more sexually explicit than the Austin show.

``This is different. It’s a dance hall,″ she said. ``This one is very, very clean.″

Anne Morgan, chief of litigation in Austin’s law department, said she’s unaware of any complaints from the public but that the city is obligated to enforce the law.

``It will be up to the community to decide,″ if La Bare crosses the line, she said.

Cox faces fines of up to $2,000 for each day he operates the business illegally if convicted. He and his lawyer, Jeff Kelly, claim the city is using selective enforcement.

Austin has a reputation as an ``anything goes″ kind of town. ``Keep Austin Weird″ is one unofficial motto, and locally famous homeless man and occasional mayoral candidate Leslie Cochran is often seen strutting around downtown in a G-string, showing more skin than La Bare dancers.

Cox, who invited reporters to watch and photograph dancers while the club was closed, says his dancers aren’t any more sexually suggestive than waitresses at a nearby Hooters restaurant and are far less racy than some downtown clubs within a few blocks of a city park.

Cox said moving La Bare to a new location isn’t that easy because he’s pumped $500,000 into renovations at the building that’s on a prime piece of real estate just south of downtown.

The club applied for its liquor license nine months ago but approval stalled in zoning debates. In a lawsuit against the city, the club said the alcohol permit was sailing until police wanted the club to identify itself as a sexually oriented business.

Without a liquor license, Cox estimates $1.2 million in lost revenue. He says the club’s current bring-your-own alcohol policy is dangerous because the club can’t cut off customers who drink too much.

``For me to manage girls pouring their own drinks on their table is a nightmare,″ he said. ``I can’t control the consumption of alcohol and I’ve got women puking in the bathroom all the time.″

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