More than three decades of problems with rowdy bars on Lower Park Street continue, a seemingly perpetual nuisance for neighbors and a continuing need for police to monitor employee and patron activity more than they might at other downtown clubs.
On Tuesday, the Lewiston City Council put Club Karma at Altera on probation. Police have received at least 10 disturbance or disorderly complaints since the self-described “go-go” club opened in January, and there have been a handful of arrests for disorderly conduct, assault and indecent exposure.
The club has also repeatedly allowed underage drinking and, on March 9 when police were called there for a disturbance, club employees were hustling underage drinkers out the back door.
Club Karma is not the trouble spot the Midnight Blues Club across the river was — with 18 assaults, 22 fights and 21 complaints of disorderly conduct in 2006 — when the Auburn City Council threatened to shut it down. But it’s not exactly the place of good emanations its name might suggest.
In Lewiston and in Auburn, when clubs and bars have become hot spots of criminal activity, recommendations to force better behavior have always been the same:
• Hire more bouncers and offer them better training.
• Hire police officers to patrol the club or bar floor.
• Install security cameras so patrons know they are being monitored.
• Limit or alternate hours of operation.
In every case when local bars or clubs have been subject to potential closure, and these recommendations have been foisted, the businesses eventually closed, curtailing entertainment options in the Twin Cities.
That’s a shame.
Not every bar or club has an unruly reputation, which is proof that some — actually, most — of these businesses can conduct themselves with decorum.
Government-forced shuttering of clubs is not productive from an economic standpoint, nor does it do anything to enhance the downtown social scene.
In 2007, Lewiston’s Planning Board was on the verge of banning all bars on Park Street when troubles at Club Adrenaline and the Blue Elephant spilled into the street. Instead, the city voted not to renew bar owners’ respective liquor licenses, and — without the ability to serve booze — both places quickly closed.
Then, after weeks of discussion in which the council seemed reluctant to hamstring the future of Park Street or future bar owners based on complaints about two trouble bars, councilors adopted a 90-day moratorium on new liquor licenses on Park Street. So, at least for a time, residents of the Oak Street Park apartments were not bothered by noise and drunken antics.
Other businesses have come and gone in this section of Park Street; Club Karma is the latest arrival.
The three-story club has interesting service options, with food and nonalcoholic drinks for underage patrons on the first floor; dancing, alcoholic drinks and a go-go dancer’s platform on the second floor; and a VIP lounge with bottle service on the third floor.
It’s not unlike the tiered services that had been available at New York’s popular Studio 54 in the late 1970s, attracting a variety of clients who wanted different things in a nightclub.
Fundamentally, nightclubs are for-profit businesses and owners offer services for one reason: to bring patrons and their dollars in the front door.
Club Karma’s got a cool idea going, but it’s only going to be able to keep its doors open if it gets the bad behavior under control.
We support a downtown club scene because the Twin Cities need a vibrant nightlife. But, Park Street is not just a commercial strip. It’s also a residential neighborhood.
Club Karma has a responsibility to be a good neighbor. It’s just smart business.
Sun Journal, Lewiston (June 22)