LINCOLN — A controversial central Omaha club that allows nude dancing has filed a federal lawsuit after being cited on suspicion of allowing alcohol consumption without a license.
The club’s owner, Shane Harrington, pledged Tuesday to be “the biggest pain in the a**” in light of a recent crackdown by Omaha police, including possibly resuming street-side protests involving nearly nude dancers.
“It’s war,” he said.
But a city attorney responded that the city cannot ignore violations of the law.
Club Omaha, whose business model inspired the Legislature to pass a law last year requiring liquor licenses for “bottle clubs,” filed its lawsuit Thursday after three of its employees were ticketed by Omaha police on March 12.
The citations, for allowing consumption of alcohol in a public place without a license, are apparently the first filed under the new law. They are misdemeanors, punishable by up to a $500 fine.
The lawsuit is the latest in a string filed by Harrington, who has long maintained that his clubs are persecuted because they provide adult entertainment.
His latest argument? His members-only, private club isn’t a “public place,” so it is not subject to the new law, which requires “any place open to the general public” that allows people to bring their own bottle of liquor, beer or wine to obtain a state bottle club license.
“We don’t believe we’re a bottle club,” Harrington said, because only paying members are allowed to enter.
He lost round one on Tuesday when U.S. District Judge Laurie Smith Camp rejected a request for a restraining order that would have blocked police from using information gathered during three recent visits to the club at 7301 Farnam St. The club had maintained that police had no right to enter the private club and that their searches were illegal.
Harrington, who is in the process of moving his Omaha club to near 120th Street and West Center Road, said in an interview that he expected to lose in court on Tuesday.
“We just want to see where we stand, where they stand,” he said, “because we’re moving into a new place, a ‘forever home.’ ”
Harrington said that he plans to move to his new location on Sunday and to decide by then whether he needs to stop allowing club members to bring their own booze, or apply for a liquor license or bottle club license. Another option: The new club is adjacent to an existing nightclub, Rehab, and he could just allow his patrons to go next door for their drinks.
“I’m not sure what our next step is,” Harrington said.
He already has a state lawsuit underway in Lancaster County, contesting the bottle club law, Legislative Bill 1120, as unconstitutional. And his federal lawsuit, despite the setback on Tuesday, also awaits a day in court.
After the bill was passed, Club Omaha suspended alcohol use for about six weeks, then informed Omaha and state officials, by email, that it was resuming the practice of allowing members to bring their own. In the email, Harrington’s attorney maintained that the new state law, as well as an Omaha ordinance passed after that, did not apply to Club Omaha because it wasn’t open to the public and because liquor use was “incidental” to the purpose of the facility, which was adult entertainment.
The attorney, Evan Spencer of New York City, also made an offer to the city in an email last year: If Club Omaha was allowed to “return to our original format,” it would cease holding street-side protests featuring scantily clad dancers and would stop posting “political cartoons” on its Facebook page that lampoon public officials. The attorney also pledged that Harrington would stop looking for a location in Omaha’s Old Market.
Harrington said the email didn’t generate a response.
Will Acosta-Trejo of the City Law Department said that once LB 1120 became law, the city had no choice but enforce it.
“We can’t have side deals with clubs,” he said.