Strippers Vs. Stars

DJs aren't the same as strippers, but that doesn't matter (at least in Denver).

An isolated stripper pole on a stage lit by an array of spotlights on a dark background
The false equivalency between dancers and DJs could have real consequences for one Denver restaurant. / Allan Swart ©

Why is a raven like a writing desk? The classic riddle is mostly unanswerable, as is a modern variant: Why is a DJ like a dancer? That’s what one Colorado tasting room is trying to figure out after it got slapped with a citation.

We spoke to the CEO of the company, who requested we identify the business only as a Denver-area operator. On a Friday night back in August—when the spot was legally operating at 50 percent indoor capacity with six feet between parties, she says—a sting came in and asked if the establishment was serving food.

“We were,” says the CEO. ” They wanted to see who our vendor was, so I provided the business license. From my perspective, that didn’t seem to satisfy them…they went around looking for different violations.”

That night, the bar and restaurant had a DJ in house. Assuming the regulations for distancing were the same for customers and for the DJ, staff had installed the performer a table on its expansive outdoor patio, six feet away from guests. “She wasn’t singing into a mic. She was wearing a mask and spinning records, [but] she was considered a performer.” The business was cited for having a performer within 25 feet of customers.

“When you looked up the example the state was using for a performer at that time, it was a stripper. There was nothing referencing a DJ or a singer or an actor,” our unnamed CEO continues, expressing bafflement at the idea that anyone would consider a masked DJ in the same realm as a dancer at a strip club. “This feels like a stretch to get $1,000 we don’t have when we’re operating at 50 percent.”

Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment’s (CDPHE’s) website (which was last updated on November 30, 2020) is fairly limited in its examples of which performers must remain 25 feet away from patrons, and which can be just six feet away. It currently reads in part: “Performances with vocal speech or singing, wind or brass instruments, or activities that cause heavy breathing must be 25ft from patrons. Performances with no forced exhalation as in the prior examples, like a piano, harp, or organ player, must be a minimum of 6ft from patrons, but 25ft is preferred.” Unsurprisingly, the website does not define “activities that cause heavy breathing.”

The business ended up going to “virtual” court (which the CEO describes as “even a bigger joke…the majority of other cases were true violations, like people running a dance club packed to the rafters”) at the end of November and pleading out. It’s now in the midst of a six-month probation period. If it does receive another violation, it will be fined $1,000 and potentially have its liquor license suspended.

“The scariest part,” the CEO says, “is because we technically have a violation, now that Denver’s doing the 5 Star variance, all the paperwork says if you have a violation, you can’t apply for 5 Star program….We need that 5 Star variance; 25 percent doesn’t pay the bills. [Our concern] is more the 5 Star variance than a brief loss of our liquor license.”

The operation’s attorney has advised that other counties are approving 5 Star Certifications for businesses with violation, but “you never know with Denver,” says the CEO. “It’s insanity. It’s crazy. Out argument [if we’re denied 5 Star certification] would be that we’ve never, ever had a violation. Even felons have the the right to obtain a liquor license!”

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