Still Smokin', Despite the Ban

Dick Wise, a sex-industry veteran and proud rabble-rouser, is smoking a cigarette.

This act would not be particularly noteworthy to anyone but Wise and his personal physician if not for the setting. Dressed in jeans and cowboy boots on a recent weekday afternoon, Wise is seated at a table at the 418 Club, the eight-year-old downtown Minneapolis strip club that he owns.

Today marks one week since Wise decided that the city's recently enacted smoking ban doesn't apply to his business and began allowing patrons to puff away. "Smoking like a chimney," he laughs.

Wise and his attorney, David Redburn, are somewhat vague about the legal justification for ignoring the nanny dictates of municipal government. Redburn notes that the smoking ban ordinance specifically cites restaurants, bars, bowling alleys, and pool halls--none of which describe the alcohol-free strip club that doesn't serve food. "We haven't challenged the ordinance," Redburn says. "We believe we're operating within it."

Officials at City Hall don't exactly agree. Ricardo Cervantes, deputy director for business licensing and consumer services, says that the 418 Club is licensed as a place of entertainment and as a restaurant, therefore falling squarely within the dictates of the smoking ban. "There is no provision that I'm aware of that would allow them to allow smoking at that establishment," says Cervantes, noting that the initial penalty for violations is a $200 fine. "If they continue to violate knowingly then we will aggressively pursue it."

Wise says that he's willing to fight the enforcement of the smoking ban in the courts. For him the new ordinance is not only detrimental to his business, but also philosophically offensive. "They shouldn't be trying to legislate what everybody does," he says. "What's next?"

Peter Hafiz, chief executive officer of Déjà Vu and Dreamgirls--both of which are also alcohol-free downtown strip clubs--maintains that he isn't worried about the 418 Club cutting into his business by allowing patrons to smoke. But he notes that the smoking ban has already reduced revenues by 15 percent and that the only way to boost business is to eliminate or liberalize the smoking ban throughout the city. "[Wise] might keep his girls happy because they don't have to stand on the sidewalk to smoke a cigarette," Hafiz says, "but that's about it."

Either way, Wise claims that there haven't been any complaints--from customers or employees--since patrons began puffing away again. "The dancers love it," he says. "Shit, most of 'em smoke."

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