By Zachary Hansen, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution #atlanta-ga
Following years of contentious litigation, Chamblee residents will have to leave the city to get a lap dance.
Follies, the city’s only strip club, closed its doors for the last time after losing several legal battles, including one that prohibits the business from selling alcohol and featuring fully nude dancers. While several appeals remain pending, Follies’ owners confirmed Thursday that the latest loss in court, which came last week, was the last straw for the Buford Highway club.
It’s the most recent late-night club to shut down in suburban Atlanta, where city officials have been cracking down on adult entertainment. Cary Wiggins, an attorney representing Follies and many other late-night establishments, said the ordinances passed in Chamblee make running a strip club nearly impossible.
“The city revamped its adult entertainment code and drafted the most draconian, restrictive adult ordinance I’ve read in Georgia,” he said.
Follies was founded in 1992, but its relationship with Chamblee began in 2014. The city annexed the area of Buford Highway where the business was located.
While the business was not allowed to remain open as late as it could in unincorporated DeKalb, a compromise allowed Follies and several other late-night establishments to serve alcohol until 3 a.m. and close by 3:30 a.m.
That changed in 2018 after a city report determined that crime in the area, namely thefts, fights and assaults, were increasing. Around the same time, cities including Doraville and Sandy Springs required businesses to stop serving alcohol at 2 a.m. and experienced a decrease in police calls and crime, according to legal documents.
The Chamblee City Council adopted an ordinance in February 2018 that required bars and clubs to stop serving alcohol at midnight on Sundays and 2 a.m. on weekdays and Saturdays.
Wiggins said that removed several highly profitable hours from the clubs, including Follies, prompting the club’s parent company, WBY Inc. based in Atlanta, to file a federal lawsuit. In January 2020, Judge Steven Grimberg sided with Chamblee in the U.S. District Court of North Georgia, closing the case. Wiggins said that decision has been appealed.
About the same time, Follies sued after a raid led to two citations: one for an empty fire extinguisher and another for illegally serving alcohol by the bottle.
The club initially had its liquor license suspended for three days as a result of those citations, but it was modified to a 30-day suspension after the city hired attorney Scott Bergthold. LGBT activists have labeled him as an “anti-gay attorney” who is infamous in nightlife circles for representing cities in legal action against strip clubs and sex shops.
The club lost that lawsuit as well, and Wiggins said that decision is not being appealed.
Later in 2018, the council unanimously passed an even more restrictive ordinance, which banned fully-nude dancing and lap dances, the sale of alcohol at an adult establishment and forced nightclubs to close after midnight.
“With Cheetah and Oasis and Pink Pony, all these other metro clubs operating with full liquor and full nudity, (Follies) would operate with negative cash flow,” Wiggins said.
Follies filed a second federal lawsuit after those changes were adopted, and that case remains pending.
“Follies believes that it has a valid First Amendment argument to the city’s adult laws and alcohol laws, and it’s not going away,” Wiggins said. “If we’re correct, and I think we are, the City of Chamblee will be liable for the damages that it has caused.”
The lawsuit challenges the legality of Chamblee’s ordinance and argues the club should be shielded by an agreement that strip clubs reached with DeKalb County in 2001, when the club property was still in the unincorporated area. That agreement allowed it to remain a nude club and sell liquor, and the terms were binding on any city that annexed the area in the future, according to the lawsuit.
Chamblee filed its own lawsuit against the strip club in DeKalb County Superior Court in 2019, claiming the business was violating its ordinance by continuing to sell alcohol and offering nude entertainment. The court ruled in the city’s favor July 7, saying Follies was violating the city’s alcohol code.
Follies filed three appeals against that ruling, but they lost each one. The last of those rulings took place last week. Follies’ ownership confirmed the club shut down as a result but declined to comment further.
The city would not comment further on the ongoing lawsuits due to pending litigation.