Augusta’s only black gay nightclub is facing closure for admitting an underage patron, but the club’s owner says his club is being unfairly singled out – while his attorney says the city’s nightclub law might not be legal.
Timothy Lowery said he opened Skittlez Bar and Grill last year to capture an untapped market in Augusta, with much success.
“Nobody was doing the black gay thing, so that’s why I did it. There was nowhere for that group to go,” Lowery said in a Tuesday telephone interview.
Lowery was recommended by the sheriff’s office planning department and the Augusta Commission in February 2012 for an on-premises liquor, beer and wine license for Skittlez. He paid the $4,779 fee and opened the doors in July, later employing his daughter as a bartender.
An Augusta Chronicle report from May found that Skittlez had had no incidents of crime when other clubs had dozens or even hundreds. However, Lowery was penalized for an April incident involving an unpermitted adult dancer who removed his clothing in the presence of a minor.
The Augusta Commission voted to suspend Lowery’s license in June for three months and place it on probation for a year, and when he reopened, things proceeded trouble-free until a recent Friday. Lowery said he didn’t hire security because he wasn’t expecting a crowd.
That evening, Lowery claims he invited inside from the parking lot a minor who was serving as designated driver for several of-age patrons. The minor recently had a seizure in the club parking lot, Lowery said, and he didn’t want that to happen again with no one around to help.
The unnamed minor’s presence was the only violation cited by the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office at a Monday meeting of the city’s public services committee, although Investigator Tony Hyatt said other minors in the parking lot were complaining about being ejected when police arrived.
RCSO and Planning recommended revoking Skittlez’ license, but Lowery said that’s not fair.
“It’s blatantly obvious what’s going on when you have clubs with hundreds of incidents” that are allowed to remain open, while he faces revocation for one, Lowery said.
A month ago, former Magic City owner Tyrone Davis was allowed by the commission to keep his new Pure Platinum Sports Bar open a few blocks from Skittlez on Gordon Highway, despite incidents that
included a March beating death in the club’s parking area and about 14 instances of unlawful alcohol consumption.
Lowery said he’s being singled out not so much for his clientele but because he complained to federal investigators last year about being targeted and because the city isn’t fair in its application of the rules.
“No company is going to want to set up in Richmond County if they think it’s going to be corruption,” he said.
Lowery, who said he learned late that Skittlez was being considered for revocation Monday, arrived with attorney Jack Batson, who dismissed most of the allegations against his client as parking lot hearsay to which investigators “bootstrapped” the single offense - the underage patron who hadn’t been served alcohol inside the club.
The city’s lounge ordinance, moreover, is too vague in its prohibition against allowing minors in bars, something not outlawed by the state, Batson said.
Augusta General Counsel Andrew MacKenzie said Tuesday that cities are allowed to impose greater restrictions than the state in certain areas. “I think our code is constitutional,” he said.
Augusta commissioners were divided on support for Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle’s motion to revoke Skittlez’ license Monday. The club had support in Commissioner Bill Lockett, who called most of the evidence against Lowery circumstantial. The revocation goes before the full commission next week.
Lowery said customers are already asking where they will go if Skittlez is shut down, but expected existing nightclubs would welcome the new business, now that he’s established a customer base.
“They can be themselves in this place without fearing somebody’s gay-bashing them,” he said. “The message I got yesterday is what we going to do now?”