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From Crude to Prude PDF Print E-mail
Written by Erik Bojnansky   
June 2009

Once sin city, North Bay Village now battles bare breasts

North Bay Village, a city dredged from the bottom of Biscayne Bay, has seen its share of scandal. But so far it’s never allowed a strip club within its borders, and many residents want to keep it that way -- even if it means spending thousands of dollars at a time when money is scarce. However, such a “gentlemen’s club” may be opening for business nonetheless.

This past March, Michael Pulwer, owner of Miami-based Pleasure Emporium adult stores, entered into a contract to purchase Barchetta on the Bay, the former bayfront restaurant at 1601 79th Street Causeway, for an undisclosed sum. His plan: Transform it from an Italian restaurant into a steakhouse featuring nude female dancers.

Ironically the Realtor brokering the deal is one of North Bay Village’s own: Commissioner George Kane, who once tried to sell the property to North Bay Village itself -- for a new $11 million city hall. “Actually that was what I thought would be the highest and best use for it, but it didn’t go anywhere,” Kane says. “That would have been a great place for city hall visibility, but I don’t get to vote on it because I’m the Realtor.”

So Kane and his client accepted the pending offer from Pulwer, whose representatives then declared their intent to turn Barchetta into a dual-purpose flesh pit -- one part for eating, the other for ogling.

Commissioner Kane’s constituents were not amused.

“You know who goes to those clubs?” asks 36-year resident Ann Bakst. “People who are basically sexually not all together.”

Citing a 1964 law prohibiting adult entertainment anywhere in North Bay Village, city officials refused to grant an operating license to Pulwer, who promptly sued, claiming a violation of his First Amendment right to free expression -- in this case, nude dancing.

City commissioners then hired constitutional law attorney Bruce Rogow for $35,000 to develop a new law, one that doesn’t ban strip clubs outright but requires that they be 500 feet away from residential areas, parks, religious institutions, and schools. North Bay Village being less than a square mile in size, this restriction would leave just one specific place where women could entertain while naked -- namely, Broadcast Key, an island that is home to WSVN-TV (Channel 7) and an unused radio tower owned by developer Scott Greenwald. (Greenwald did not respond to a BT request for comment.)

On June 22, the commission passed a first reading of the proposed ordinance by a vote of 4-0, with Kane abstaining. A second and final reading is scheduled for this month. Says city manager Matt Schwartz: “This new ordinance will pass constitutional muster.”

Pulwer’s attorney, Mark Goldstein, believes the new ordinance unlawfully “singles out” his client. In addition, says Goldstein, for months the city has used the old, unconstitutional law to block Pulwer from doing business. “This is a fight that the city is ill-advised to take on,” he asserts, warning that Rogow’s fees plus damages owed to Pulwer could cost North Bay Village up to $300,000. (Federal Judge Cecilia Altonaga heard arguments from both sides on June 24. No decision had rendered by BT’s press deadline.)

Forking over several hundred thousand dollars is about the last thing North Bay Village needs right now. Facing a 20 percent drop in its tax base, the city is already cutting services and slashing staff salaries. “Basically we’re looking at how the city will survive the next two years without raising taxes,” says Richard Chervony, president of the watchdog group Citizens for Full Disclosure of North Bay Village. Still, Chervony supports the potentially costly fight against X-rated businesses. “If I want to frequent a strip club,” he says, “I will get in my car and drive to a strip club. It is going to further depreciate property values. It’s the wrong element to bring to the city.”

David Lombardi, president of Wynwood-based Lombardi Properties, agrees that a strip club won’t boost property values. “It brings in all these cheesy, horny idiots who want to get drunk,” he says. “I really don’t think it’ll be positive for the area. What’s it going to bring? A liquor store? A condom store?”

Jeff Morr, president and CEO of Majestic Properties, concurs in Lombardi’s assessment, but allows that an upscale adult club -- one that is low key -- may not be so bad for property values. “It might bring in a little excitement,” he offers.

Once upon a time, excitement was not foreign to these parts. In the 1950s, a string of restaurants and nightclubs sprung up along the causeway, attracting celebrities like Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland. For a time Dean Martin owned his own club, Dino’s. Alleged mafia lieutenants were also hanging around, and quite possibly getting a piece of the action. Prostitutes were also busy, though discreet.

Doing business where Barchetta now stands was Nick and Arthur’s, which had a reputation for excellent food throughout the 1960s and 1970s. In the 1980s, the property was taken over by Billy’s on the Bay. When Billy’s took off for Broward, Landry’s Seafood Restaurant moved in, and after Landry’s closed in 1996, the place changed hands so many times locals lost track.

By 2004 hotelier Frederic Puren had become the owner and opened Roger’s, which lasted a couple of years. Puren then leased the 12,300-square-foot facility to Claudio Gottardo, who renamed it Barchetta and opened for business as an Italian restaurant. That too ended in failure -- at least as an eatery. In recent months, Barchetta has been operating as an after-hours club for special events. City manager Schwartz says neighbors began complaining about noise and fights, but Gottardo has begun working with city officials and now has North Bay Village off-duty police officers providing security.

Although Ann Bakst has complained about Barchetta’s late-night shenanigans, the longtime activist predicts that its mutation into a nudie bar will be much worse. “It is going to bring hookers!” she exclaims. “More hookers than they had in the Sixties. Girls are going to be walking the streets down here to meet the guys coming out of the strip joint, coming out fully erect!”

Attorney Goldstein scoffs at such talk. He assures that the new club will be first-rate. The only things it will attract to North Bay Village are Mercedes, Porches, and luxury power boats docking from the bay. “We’re not talking about opening up a brothel in a residential area,” he stresses. “We’re talking about a high-end adult-entertainment facility in a commercially zoned area.”

 

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