PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Lawyers for the Wild Zebra strip club insisted on Friday that management did not know about alleged prostitution happening in the back room there, as they make a bid to reopen following a closure by the Providence Board of Licenses.
The shuttered club went before the R.I. Department of Business Regulation to ask for an emergency stay to reopen pending a full appeal. The hearing officer did not immediately render a decision Friday.
The Providence Board of Licenses revoked all of the Allens Avenue club’s licenses on Wednesday after finding the alleged solicitation of prostitution at the club was the result of “gross negligence” on the part of management.
Two undercover detectives testified to the licensing board that they were offered sex in exchange for money by dancers last May. The dancers said they could do it in the club’s private back room, which has cubicles with dividing walls high enough to hide what’s happening inside.
“There is no evidence in the record whatsoever that any manager allowed her, or them, to proposition anyone,” argued Peter Petrarca, an attorney for the Wild Zebra. He also said the two women who allegedly solicited the officers were fired in August.
“The fact that there were management staff five-to-ten feet away when this offer was made, along with bartenders, the board could certainly infer that they either could’ve heard it or should’ve heard it,” said Louis DeSimone, an attorney for the licensing board. He pointed to the fact that the dancers had to pay a $35 fee to the house to use the back room, and a supervisor was back there.
The officers also testified that while in the back room (they declined the sex but received lap dances), they heard people having sex in other cubicles and saw condoms in the trash.
Petrarca argued the act of having sex is not prohibited in strip clubs if it’s not in exchange for money.
“Sex acts are permitted inside the location,” Petrarca said. “I think the board did everything that it could possibly do, for whatever reason, in an attempt to close this location.”
Providence Assistant City Solicitor Mario Martone also argued that the club had the “conditions” to allow prostitution.
“They have a regular lap dance area that’s open and obvious to everybody,” Martone said. “So in that area it’s very unlikely that something could occur. But they also have this back area that does have cubicles that you cannot see into.”
He described the manager as the “gatekeeper” to the back room, who could have looked into the cubicles to check on what was happening inside.
Wild Zebra’s lawyers point to the Foxy Lady, which was shut down in 2018 by the same licensing board but later able to reopen — at first without the VIP room, but the back room later reopened under a settlement mediated with the city. That club agreed to lower the back room partitions to three feet.
“Every adult club in this city has a back room,” said Nick Hemond, another attorney for Wild Zebra. “They’re not against the law.”
“This is not about condoms in the trash can,” Hemond added. “It’s not about back rooms. It’s about two independent contractors who went in business for themselves at the bar and solicited.”