MADISON, Wisc.For nearly 50 years, Visions Nightclub has been the state capital’s only strip cluband that’s about how long it has been a target for local officials. Their latest foray against the company: The citys Alcohol License and Review Committee last night rejected the club’s attempt to renew its adult entertainment (read: stripper) license, even though it approved its license to serve alcohol. However, there are plenty of bars in Madison, and without its strippers, Visions may have troubles keeping the doors open. “The Alcohol License and Review Committee took up the licenses for Visions for their annual renewal and apparently declined to renew the adult entertainment license because the fee had not been paid in the Summer of 2019 when the license had been renewed for this year,” the club’s attorney, Jeff Scott Olson, told AVN. “But all I know is what I read in the papers. I wasn’t at the meeting and didn’t know it was on the agenda.” That the city would target its only strip club is hardly surprising. Though formerly a Democratic stronghold, Wisconsin voters elected arch-conservative Scott Walker to the governorship in 2010, and he is perhaps best known for introducing a bill that limited collective bargaining for most of the state’s public employees. He also signed several pieces of legislation designed to thwart voting and abortion rights, and as he was leaving office in 2018, having lost the governorship to Democrat Gary Evers, he signed legislation to significantly strip administrative powers from the incoming Democratic administration. One of Madison’s first actions against Visions, which is located at 3554 E. Washington Ave., came in 2013, when the city Building Inspection Division decided that the illustration of what Madison.com described as “a line drawing of a scantily clothed woman wearing boots clinging to a pole and holding a dollar bill in her free hand” painted near the club’s entrance was a violation of city’s the public sign ordinanceand was not in any way based on the drawing’s content, nohow, no way, according to Building Inspection Division Director George Hank. The city’s ordinance prohibits signs from being directly painted on a buildingand besides, the area taken up by the sign, combined with existing signage on the structure, “likely exceeded” the total permitted signage area, according to Hank. Trouble is, several other businesses also have hand-painted signs on their facades, leading Visions co-owner Dean McConley to charge that the club was being singled out because of its nature. Fast-forward to December of 2018, when a shooting inside the club that landed the perp 10 months in the slammer led to a City Council uproar and calls for the club to be closedand that, in addition to several complaints about violence in and outside of the club, led to Assistant City Attorney Jennifer Zilavy filing a 56-page complaint in August of 2019, seeking to revoke Visions liquor and entertainment licenses based on such infractions as the unapproved construction of private dance booths, the purchase of alcohol from unlicensed sellers, and maintaining a “disorderly or riotous, indecent, or improper house.” The call for closure was taken up by former Alderman David Ahrens, who charged, “Visions is a hub for drugs. Probably prostitution. What can I say? Its a pit.” And he wasn’t the only one: “People who live around Visions have seen everything. A couple years ago, there was a woman giving a blow job at the end of my driveway at 10 in the morning,” claimed former Alderman Mike Shivers. “If it werent for Visions, itd be a nice neighborhood. Its not exactly the epitome of a community builder.” With “publicity” like that (not to mention a Change.org petition to shut the club down), is it any wonder that the city tried to revoke the club’s liquor license? (Club manager David Brown noted that crime wasn’t just a problem for Visions but also for several other local businesses because “it’s a crappy neighborhood.”) But even more damaging, when Visions tried to renew its adult entertainment license for 2020, Zilavy claimed that Visions had never paid for its previous adult entertainment license, so even though the license was granted, it was never issued. Hence, according to her, from July 1 to December 31, 2019, Visions was operating without a valid license for its dancersthough apparently, no one in the city noticed or tried to cite the club for a license violation. What it did do, though, was force the club to close for three months beginning on January 1, 2020, based on Zilavy’s complaint that the club maintained a “disorderly or riotous, indecent, or improper house.” A City Council Committee hearing was held regarding the closureand interestingly, the council again forgot to invite Olson, the club’s attorneywho, when he found out about the hearing later, said he was “shocked” to hear about the meeting’s outcome, and that he was “fairly angry about this.” Of course, once the three-month closure agreement had expired, the club remained closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During that time, Visions’ owners apparently started to get the message that the city was aiming to deep-six the club, and entered into talks with the Silk Exotic chain, which operates mostly in the Milwaukee area, to take over the club. “After this year, Im sick and tired of dealing with the city,” Brown lamented. “Silk has deep pockets and the time to deal with the city and make some investments. So what exactly is the problem here?” For its part, Silk Exotic’s Director of Operations Kyle Zubke noted that his chain has “a great track record,” and that it planned to invest $750,000 in a building remodel as well as implement “several layers of security,” including using several former law enforcement officers such as those found at the chain’s other locations. Olson had expected that the transfer of ownership from Visions to “Silk Exotic Madison East Gentlemens Club” wouldn’t be a problem when it was being discussed in late October of 2019, but wouldn’t’cha know it, in mid-January of 2020, the city’s Alcohol License Review Committee voted unanimously to deny Silk Exotics alcohol, entertainment and adult entertainment licenses, and about three weeks later, the City Council, acting on its committee’s recommendation, upheld the denial of the licenses. According to an article on Madison.com, District 15 Alderman Grant Foster claimed that the decision “was not about adult entertainment, zoning or whether Silk Exotic would be a better operator than Visions. It was about the health, safety and welfare of nearby residents.” “Its not in the best interest of the neighborhood,” Foster said. Visions remains closed under Madison’s pandemic lockdown order, and at this writing, its future remains uncertain.
written by: Mark Kernes