Saint John could soon be getting a new exotic dance club, but according to Mayor Don Darling, the city first needs to clarify how much skin can be shown and where.
"Let's all just be clear what the licence allows you to do," Darling said over the phone Friday evening.
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Darling said there were complaints that nudity had occurred in "unlicensed" parts of the newly opened Club Montreal on Union Street, something businesses are not allowed to show in the uptown core under the zoning bylaw.
What is allowed uptown is exotic dancing, meaning dancers can strip to their underwear but no further.
After a motion by council, Darling signed a letter to Public Safety Minister Denis Landry seeking clarification of what can and can't be done at exotic dance bars in different parts of Saint John.
Major issues in past
"Several years ago we had major issues in our uptown area with such establishments," the letter states. "We do not want this situation repeated."
But Darling said he has seen nothing but anecdotal evidence that nudity has occurred and his letter was not drafted to persuade the minister not to grant the club an exotic dance licence.
"I have no evidence of that at all," the mayor said. "It would be pure speculation and I don't like to do that."
"Just clarifying what our zoning allowed for and didn't allow for — that's essentially the spirit in this."
Josh Ernst, the owner of Club Montreal, said he leased and opened the bar, next to exotic dance club Blush, on Friday with the understanding he'd receive an exotic dance licence.
"They wrote me a letter saying they're fine with it," he said. "I've been waiting, waiting and waiting for the province and now they're giving me a hard time about it."
He said he wants to provide exotic male entertainers for the gay community east of Quebec.
Club Montreal used to exist 15 years ago, and Ernst said he's trying to revive it.
New for city
He said he wants to offer something completely different from what's been seen in Saint John over the last 15 years, but he's frustrated.
He expected to have the licence for opening weekend, he said.
Ernst said he controls what happens inside his establishment. The bar is designed like any other bar but has a shower decorated in lights, where the performers will do their act. Back rooms don't exist for full nudity to occur.
"What happens outside is not controlled by the bar," he said.
'Adult' facilities prohibited
According to a letter sent to the owners from the province, the zoning bylaw prohibits any "adult entertainment facility," which is an enterprise providing entertainment or service that appeals to or is designed to appeal to, "an erotic or sexual appetite or inclination."
The letter goes on to say the province doesn't consider Club Montreal to be such an establishment. For the owner, the point of paying male erotic dancers is to sell beer.
Ernst feels as if he's been sold a false promise, especially with the letter stating exotic dancing was fine.
"I said I was ready to sue the province," he said over the phone Friday.
He knows the rules and has the Montreal dancers and documentation lined up, but feels a lot is blocking him from showcasing Chippendales routines, which, as long as the entertainers kept their bow ties and underwear on, is completely sanctioned.
"It should have been approved by now."