A new ordinance introduced by Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) would make a number of changes to what strip clubs and other adult businesses can and cannot do.

For the first time, strip clubs would be able to serve alcohol under certain circumstances. At the same time, bars and clubs that aren’t licensed as adult businesses would face tougher restrictions on the type of performances they host. And, in another notable change, “non-live” adult businesses, such as adult bookstores, wouldn’t be able to convert into “live” adult businesses, such as strip clubs.

Under the current regulations, adult businesses aren’t allowed to serve alcohol. At the same time, it forbids clubs, bars and other businesses with liquor licenses from hosting “live acts, demonstrations or dances,” where employees, patrons and contracted outside performers expose their genitals, pubic hair and any portion of their buttocks. Female performers can’t expose their nipples or any portion of the breast “below the areola.”

The law also specifically states that “any device, costume or covering” any object that looks like genitals, exposed breasts and other previously described body parts also falls under the ban.

In the past, several businesses tried to get around those restrictions. Most notably, In 1993, the City of Chicago revoked the liquor license of the Clybourn Corridor-based VIP’s Gentleman’s Club, because it featured dancers whose breasts were covered just enough to avoid complete nudity. This led to a legal battle that dragged on for 18 years until the club’s owners’ appeals were exhausted.

The substitute ordinance introduced by Mitts during the Feb. 10 Chicago City Council meeting would allow strip clubs and other “live” adult businesses to get liquor licenses so long as patrons don’t engage in any activities that the current law bans.

The restrictions against businesses that aren’t licensed as adult businesses would face restrictions similar to what they face under the current law. The only change it makes is that live acts, demonstrations or dances where male genitals are covered, but are “in a discernibly turgid state,” would also be banned.

Mitts’s proposal would also affect adult businesses’ ability to change uses. The change affects the regulations regarding “nonconforming uses,” where land uses that are illegal under the current zoning laws were legal in that particular area when they were originally established. Such businesses are grandfathered in.

The current law allows non-conforming businesses to apply to get a permit for another non-conforming use, so long as that usage falls under the same category. For non-conforming adult businesses, that means they can apply for permits for another type of adult businesses. Under Mitts’ proposal, non-conforming, “non-live” adult businesses can’t be changed to “live” adult businesses.

 In late 1980s, Albany Park’s Admiral Theatre was converted from an adult movie theater ‘(a “non-live” use under the Chicago zoning code) to a strip club (a “live” use). Mitts’ changes would make this kind of change impossible in the future.

The proposed ordinance has been referred to the Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards, where it is expected to be discussed during the next regular meeting. According to the Chicago City Clerk’s website, at press time, the committee’s next meeting hasn’t been scheduled.

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...