It's Saturday night, and Jiggles Gentlemen's Club in the University District is humming: Pert, mostly nude girls chat up mostly college-age guys who are slouched into the velveteen folds of plush chairs. A fully nude woman onstage wraps herself high around a pole and spins to the ground, while the audience drinks Snapple and nonalcoholic beer (booze is banned in Washington strip clubs).
"We drug-test our girls and we follow the law," a club manager tells me. "Nothing illegal flies here."
But the entire place is illegal, according to the city.
On March 11, City Attorney Pete Holmes's office will ask a King County Superior Court judge to close down Jiggles permanently, on the grounds that the club is violating a city rule that bans strip clubs within 800 feet of places where children congregate. "[Jiggles] doesn't have a building permit that meets those requirements," explains Bryan Stevens, a spokesman for the Department of Planning and Development. "This is the only test you have to meet. It's pretty clear—you either meet it or you don't." Jiggles is located across the street from the University Child Development School and within 800 feet of a YMCA, a community center, and a public park.
However, being under attack from the city is exactly where the owner seems to be most comfortable—and most successful.
Launched by Bob Davis, a former commercial airline pilot turned nightclub entrepreneur, Jiggles is the first strip club he's successfully opened. But it isn't his first attempt.
Over the past seven years, Davis has tried to open three other strip clubs in Seattle. "All of them were blocked by the city," says Davis. "They say I don't have the proper permits or they pull land-use codes on me." But while none of his strip clubs actually opened until Jiggles did on December 16, Davis has experienced striking business and political success.
Simply put, every change to Seattle's strip club laws in 20-plus years has been prompted by Davis's lawsuits. This is just the latest battle being waged in a longer, more tedious war to liberalize Seattle's strip club regulations. In 2004, Davis sued the city in federal district court, where he successfully overturned a 17-year-old citywide moratorium on issuing permits for new strip clubs—which prompted the city to adopt the 800-foot zoning rule. In 2009, Davis sued the city again for blocking his plans to open a strip club in Cyndy's House of Pancakes on Aurora Avenue. That suit forced the city to approve or reject permit applications within 30 days (previously, the city could just ignore them). Not only has Davis been single-handedly changing Seattle's strip club laws, he's making a good living at it.
"I've made $500,000 off the city so far in damages," says Davis. He's also collected $120,000 from Kenmore and another $350,000 from Bothell in strip-club-related lawsuits. "I've never lost a case," he says, confident in this latest battle with the city. "And I'm not settling cheap this time."
In this case, Davis insists that Jiggles (formerly Giggles Comedy Club) has had an "adult entertainment license" to operate the club since 2007—before the city adopted its current zoning requirements.
As much as the city would like to make this issue about one regulation—or one man or one strip club—Davis has been successfully arguing just the opposite for years: The problem lies with the city's archaic rules for strip clubs. He says they're needlessly restrictive regulations that reinforce anti-nudity mores that most Seattle residents don't even subscribe to.
For example, there was a February 15 public meeting about Jiggles hosted by the 43rd District Democrats. Chairman Scott Forbes says, "We took a straw poll, and the results were that people felt like the city shouldn't spend a lot of time enforcing the law that Jiggles is violating."
If Davis doesn't win in King County court, he plans to take his case to the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. And he vows to continue his one-man campaign to make Seattle's strip club scene more like Portland's. "They have 35 clubs there, all with liquor and gambling," he explains. "Show me the damage those clubs have brought to Portland. Show me the harm my club has brought to the University District. You can't—the city can't—because there isn't any."