LINCOLN — Strip club owner Shane Harrington won approval of a liquor license for his planned west Omaha bikini bar on Tuesday.
In exchange, the club owner agreed to comply with several special conditions, including dropping his three pending lawsuits against the City of Omaha, State of Nebraska and various government officials.
“They just have the power and the resources that I don’t have,” Harrington said. “The war’s over. I think they won, and I think we won.”
He commented after the State Liquor Control Commission followed a recommendation by the Omaha City Council and voted 2-0 to grant a liquor license for Harrington’s proposed Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club at 2615 S. 120th St.
The club, expected to open by Dec. 1, would feature female dancers clad in bikinis. The dancers also would perform next door, totally nude, at a no-alcohol club called Club Omaha. Harrington has operated a Club Omaha for more than two years in Omaha as a private bottle club, where members could bring their own bottles of alcohol. It recently moved to west Omaha from a location near 72nd and Dodge Streets.
Harrington’s bottle club business plan, which allowed him to skirt local ordinances against featuring nude dancers in Omaha as well as Hastings and Grand Island, inspired the State Legislature in 2018 to clarify state law and require bottle clubs to obtain a state liquor license, like a regular bar. That sparked Harrington to declare “war,” and fight the law through the courts and to stage a well-publicized protest by scantily clad employees along one of Omaha’s busiest intersections.
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On Tuesday, the sometimes-combative Harrington was dressed in a necktie and vest, and agreed with several comments made by commission members, as well as special conditions set by the city and the state liquor board to obtain a liquor license.
The Liquor Control Commission, the final decision-maker for all liquor licenses in the state, had required Harrington to appear before them on Tuesday to explain why he deserved a liquor license now after it had rejected a liquor license in 2011 for his proposed Lincoln nightclub called Smooth and after the commission had made it clear that his bottle clubs were operating illegally.
Hobert Rupe, the executive director of the liquor commission, asked Harrington why commission members could expect him to follow liquor laws now when he’d resisted them, and filed lawsuits against them, in the past.
“I understand a (liquor) license is a privilege,” he said. “Would I attempt to jeopardize that? I can’t comprehend doing that.”
During the hourlong hearing, Milissa Johnson-Wiles, an assistant Nebraska attorney general who represents the commission, challenged Harrington to explain why his membership rules bar law enforcement officers from entering his bottle clubs, and why he’d once said that he’d draw a firearm “immediately” if a police officer entered his club without a search warrant.
“You don’t trust the police?” she asked.
“There’s a lot of crooked officers out there,” Harrington said. “Unfortunate. But I do believe that.”
But he later added, under questioning by Johnson-Wiles, that he would comply with the requirement that law enforcement be allowed to enter a liquor establishment at any time. That same condition will apply to the no-alcohol Club Omaha, so police can ensure that no liquor is being consumed there.
“Of course I’ll let them in,” Harrington said.
“I have a great relationship with the beat cops,” he said, adding that he believes it’s their bosses who bow to political pressure to clamp down on adult entertainment businesses.
Harrington’s lawsuit against the 2018 bottle club law had been scheduled for oral argument before the Nebraska Supreme Court. But now it will be dismissed, he said, along with lawsuits pending in federal and district court challenging actions taken against his clubs. He said even if he’d won his Supreme Court case, he was assured that the state would pass another law to block his bottle club.
Harrington said he’s learned a lot in his court battles, and maybe earned some respect, but is now ready to be a regular business owner and work with the state and city.
“That’s all that we ever wanted — to find a way to work with them,” he said.