Mar 26, 2024 - News

Alcohol will soon be allowed at Washington state strip clubs

Illustration of a gavel popping out of a bottle of champagne like a cork

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Washington plans to start letting strip clubs serve alcohol, something the state has banned for decades.

Why it matters: Adult entertainers say Washington's longtime ban on alcohol sales at strip joints has hurt clubs financially, causing club owners to charge dancers high fees in order to perform, while sometimes cutting corners on club security.

The latest: Washington's Legislature voted this month to repeal the statewide ban on selling alcohol at places that allow nudity — part of a larger package of safety reforms for the adult entertainment industry.

  • Senate Bill 6105, which supporters have dubbed a "strippers' bill of rights," also requires strip clubs to limit the fees they charge dancers, maintain emergency panic buttons, develop procedures for responding to allegations of customer misconduct and hire adequate security staff, among other changes.

Zoom in: The bill, which Gov. Jay Inslee signed Monday, further directs the state Liquor and Cannabis Board to repeal its so-called "lewd conduct" rule, which has historically barred alcohol from being served at places where nipples or other body parts, such as the buttocks, are exposed.

  • The rule dates to 1975, according to an analysis by liquor board staff.

What they're saying: Madison Zack-Wu, a dancer and campaign manager of the advocacy group Strippers Are Workers, told Axios that allowing Washington strip clubs to sell alcohol will make clubs more financially stable, helping them pay for added security and other improvements called for in the bill.

  • A state advisory committee said in a 2020 report that Washington's restriction on alcohol at strip clubs was unusual, with most states — including neighboring Oregon — having no such ban.
  • "Many of us have worked in other states and seen it is so much more sustainable and safe," Zack-Wu said.

Friction point: The push to repeal the ban on nudity around alcohol sales gained new momentum after recent inspections of LGBTQ+ bars in Seattle, which some patrons and community advocates described as "raids" that made them feel targeted and unsafe.

What they're saying: "This kind of rule has no place in our state today," state Rep. Nicole Macri (D-Seattle) said during a House floor debate last month.

  • "This type of behavior by state government should have been ended a long time ago."

The other side: During that same debate, state Rep. Skyler Rude (R-Walla Walla) said he would have preferred to "modernize" the state's lewd conduct rule "without totally repealing it."

  • The bill passed along party lines, with Democrats supporting it and Republicans voting no.

What's next: You shouldn't expect to see alcohol served in Washington strip clubs immediately.

  • The state Department of Labor and Industries first must develop detailed rules to implement the new strip club safety requirements, which are expected to be in place by January.
  • After that, the agency must inspect whether clubs are complying — a precursor to getting a liquor license under the new law.
  • Then, getting a liquor license generally takes new applicants between 45 and 90 days.
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