PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — There was no “social distancing” between some dancers and patrons at one local strip club over the weekend, Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza said Wednesday.
“There were people doing lap dances,” Elorza said, telling reporters what police observed at the Wonderland Gentlemen’s Club. “I can’t think of anything more irresponsible at a time like this.”
Elorza said the strip club is one of six businesses that police have shut down, accusing them of being in violation of his emergency orders related to the coronavirus.
The mayor pulled all entertainment licenses last Thursday and limited establishments to serving 100 or fewer patrons. By Monday, all restaurants and bars in the entire state were ordered to stop having dine-in patrons. (Delivery, takeout and drive-through is still allowed.)
Since then, police officers have been doing spot checks at bars and restaurants and also responding to complaints.
On Saturday night, Public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré said Wonderland and Parkview Bakery allegedly violated the order.
Masheratti Lounge and La Sonrisa were caught on Sunday, Paré said. And after restaurants were told to stop dine-in services, Vic’s Tap and Gemma’s Bar were both discovered serving customers inside for St. Patrick’s Day.
“It’s important that we shut down these places that attract large crowds that are ripe for contagion,” Elorza said.
The mayor thanked establishments that are following the order, and said he understood how difficult it was to lose business. But he insisted it was critical to prevent gatherings as COVID-19 continues to spread.
“This is a period where there’s very limited testing happening,” Elorza said. “We’ve got to believe that there are way more than simply the 33 confirmed positive tests.”
Elorza said the six businesses that were shut down will face additional penalties once the order is lifted. The Providence Board of Licenses — which handles penalties for businesses — typically meets three times a week, but canceled its meetings this week after Providence City Hall was closed.
In a statement, Parkview Bakery — which has been cited in the past for turning into an unlicensed nightclub at night — denied violating Elorza’s order.
“Parkview Bakery believes we were not over capacity this weekend and the necessary adjustments were successful in remaining compliant with occupancy ordinances,” the statement said in part. “We look forward to resolving this matter with the city.”
“This could not be any more serious,” Elorza said, adding that he sees the “best-case scenario” as a month and a half of widespread closures.
“This could easily spread past two months,” he said. “Hope for the best, but plan for the worst.”