HomeNewsBusinessDiscotheque Lounge and The Joker Lounge remain open despite ongoing court battle

Discotheque Lounge and The Joker Lounge remain open despite ongoing court battle

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Two controversial nightclubs, once famous for their nude dancers, remain open during what is likely to be a lengthy appellate process.

The clubs remain open, and a September 2021 ruling by Judge Randall Hall of the United States District Court, Southern District of Georgia means the clubs can sell alcohol and have exotic animals in the building, but the dancers must be clothed.

According to court records, James “Whitey” Lester opened The Joker Lounge, located at 212 Sixth St., in 1971 and the Discotheque, located at 533 Broad St., in 1972.

MORE: Strip Clubs Fail in Attempt to Stay Open During Appeal

As downtown Augusta declined in the 1970s and 1980s, the urban center became better known for its strip clubs and X-rated theatres than for any other form of entertainment.

In 1997, the Augusta Commission voted on a zoning change that would allow such clubs to offer either adult entertainment or alcohol sales — but not both. The zoning changes meant that most of the strip clubs downtown closed immediately.

However, attorneys for Lester found a loophole that grandfathered in his clubs, allowing them to remain open as long as he remained alive.

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Lester died in 2019, and his estate tried fruitlessly to have the liquor license transferred out of Lester’s name and into the name of the general manager of the clubs, January Rush. When the transfer was declined, Discotheque Inc. filed suit in federal court.

According to the lawsuit, the plaintiffs argued that under the First Amendment, nude is a permitted form of free speech. Documents cited the 2000 U.S. Supreme Court decision City of Erie v. Pap’s A.M. that “expressive conduct that is entitled to some quantum of protection under the First Amendment.”

The suit also cited the 1972 U.S. Supreme Court decision Police Dept. of Chicago v. Mosley in stating that a government “has no power to restrict expression because of its message, its ideas, its subject matter, or its content.”

MORE: The Strippers Are Wearing Masks, But The Club Doesn’t Have A Valid Liquor License

However, the defendants — the city of Augusta — responded that the adult entertainment codes, alcohol licensing codes and business tax codes were all separate codes and not intertwined.

in his decision, Hall ruled that the plaintiffs had no standing to sue over the business tax code and that the city was not violating the plaintiff’s First Amendment rights by denying an alcohol license as such licenses are already heavily regulated.

Recently, the city faced a similar dilemma when considering allowing alcohol licensing for cigar bars. Nearly all private business establishments in Augusta are subject to the city’s ban on the consumption of smokable tobacco within the establishments. Only stores that actually sell tobacco are exempt from the ban.

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The Augusta Commission had to change the smoking ordinance, as was their right under the law, to allow for a cigar bar to sell both tobacco and alcohol. The city also had the right to demand that such establishments prove at least 20 percent of their sales are tobacco to maintain the alcohol license.

Discotheque Inc. has filed an appeal to the 11th Circuit.

However, unlike the original suit, which allowed for the lounges to remain open with both nude dancing and alcohol sales, the appeal does not allow the clubs to violate what is now settled law that is under appeal.

Everyone in the building is expected to cover up… except the snake, of course.

Scott Hudson is the Senior Reporter for The Augusta Press. Reach him at [email protected]

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