Boise currently has two strip clubs that serve alcohol. At both, dancers are required by Idaho's liquor laws to be at least 21 years old and to wear bikinis. Then there's the now-infamous Erotic City, the lone "juice bar," where girls 18 and older can take off their bikini tops, as long as they wear a latex cover over their nipples. That club, recently cited for its "creative" approach to skirt the city's nude ordinance, is the only non-alcoholic club inside city limits. And according to one former dancer, it is making the most of its market share.
Social perception of these clubs, where girls dance in thongs to please throngs of patrons with wads of ones, is not always pleasant. Rumors of illicit activities abound inside and outside these establishments-despite efforts from law enforcement agencies and liable bar owners to keep dancers under wraps.
"For me, the state could take away my liquor license," said Darrell Barrett, co-owner of the Bench bikini bar the Torch 2. "Working in a bar, we carry heavier charges-it's a different world. I have a lot more to lose than a club like Erotic City ... I lose my liquor license and my livelihood."
Last year, Erotic City began holding "Art Night," an all-nude event meant to utilize a loophole in the ordinance that allows nudity in cases of "serious artistic merit." Officers disagreed with the club's definition of "artistic"-namely, sketch pads on tables-and cited three dancers this March. If found guilty of a misdemeanor charge for violating the city's nude ordinance, the busted dancers could be sentenced to a maximum six months in jail and fined $300 for each charge. Erotic City's owner, Chris Teague, also faces three misdemeanor charges for aiding and abetting the dancers charged.
Erotic City has been on the Boise Police Department radar since at least late 2004, said Lt. Scott Mulcahny-and not just for nudity.
"We have had investigations of Erotic City ... and reports of doing what they cannot do," he said. "Girls were rubbing themselves on a man's groin, and rubbing their groin on a customer's knee. It's more the type of thing you would see in bachelor clubs in Vegas, not 'art clubs' in Boise."
Mulcahny said the law does not allow for patrons or dancers to touch each other, which reports determined was happening in the club during the four-month police department investigation into "Art Night." He said the police department and the city attorney took that time to decide whether to prosecute Teague and his dancers for violating city code.
"We tried to talk with Mr. Teague and discourage him in lieu of a citation or arrest," Mulcahny said. "Writing a ticket or making an arrest sometimes isn't the best to remedy a situation."
When it comes to the Alcohol Beverage Control, writing a ticket is usually the only solution. Take, for instance, the situation at the now-defunct Sawtooth Gentleman's Club, where in early 2002 the club was forced to suspend liquor sales for 30 days, according to Sgt. Greg Harris of the Alcohol Beverage Commission.
"At the bottom line, they were cited for three different violations," Harris said. "They were given a $15,000 fine and a 30-day suspension of their liquor license." He specifically cited section 23-614 of Idaho Code, which defines acts that are illegal at establishments serving alcoholic beverages. Under these laws, a performer cannot display breasts or genitals, simulate sexual acts, a patron cannot touch a dancer and a dancer cannot touch certain areas of a patron.
"We work quite a bit with the Boise Police Department," Harris said. "If a club should violate (any ordinances), administrative sanctions could be taken against a person's (liquor) license." He said violating either Boise City's nudity ordinance or the state code could result in criminal charges, as well as the suspension or complete revocation of an institution's liquor license.
Outside of the world of booze, BW learned of dirtier tidbits of what can happen once the curtain is closed on a private dance club. One dancer, "Carrie," said she has taken it all off for the sake of a buck at Erotic City.
"Chris [the owner] didn't care what we did, so long as we were making money-he told us that," Carrie said. "In a private dance, I would stand up and pull my panties to the side ... But I'm wild, without restraint, and at that club there are no rules."
Carrie was one of a handful of dancers at the club who was over the age of 21, and also one who began performing topless for "Art Night," but she left the establishment before the Boise City Police began stepping up their investigation. But even when not working during what she called "nude nights," Carrie said she and some other dancers wouldn't wear pasties.
"If there was a suspicion of a cop [in the club] I would go back, and put hairspray and glitter over my nipples," she said. Carrie also said Teague would encourage girls to participate in "Art Night" by taking a lower percent of a girl's earnings.
"He would charge 25 percent normally," she said. "But if you participated in Art Night, he would take 20 percent." Carrie said she would make up to $300 a night Monday and Tuesday, the designated days for the now foiled artistic endeavor.
Teague did not answer repeated phone calls from BW, but has vowed in the past that he will fight the city's charges.
Barrett, who said he runs a "tight ship" at the Torch 2, has installed intricate security measures to make sure his girls don't step outside the law, a measure he said protects against questionable activity at his business.
Management at the Spearmint Rhino was unable to comment without approval from its corporate office, which said "no comment" in response to questions about security and disciplinary actions the club takes with its dancers.
"I worked at the Rhino, and I know girls do things that are illegal," said "Marissa," a former Spearmint Rhino dancer. "That's part of why I quit-you can't compete if you're a clean dancer."