INDIANAPOLIS — The son of the elderly woman who owns Club Onyx, a troubled strip club on Indianapolis’ southwest side, smirked his way through a liquor license renewal hearing in front of the Marion County Alcoholic Beverage Board.
Throughout the meeting, he made sarcastic comments to his attorney under his breath that did not sit well with board members before his request to keep the bar’s permit alive while he retools the club was denied.
Before the hearing was over, IMPD detectives read off a litany of liquor permit transgressions including, in the last year alone, ten police reports on assaults, four shootings and 12 stolen firearms investigations, along with allegations of drug and after-hour liquor sales and prostitution.
Ryan Carlson, clad in a pink silk shirt with a gold chain, white slacks and a large gold and apparently diamond-encrusted watch on his wrist, claimed that while he had operational responsibility for his mother’s clubs nationwide, he had no knowledge of the problems that he said previous managers presided over and ignored before announcing last week he would close Club Onyx for sixty days to reboot the bar’s image and clientele attraction.
”Trying to retool the operation and completely change the name and the nature and content and character of the business, the music played, the signage, the paint on the outside, the type of clientele that it draws, that would be the goal going forward,” said Carlson as he attempted to keep the club’s liquor permit open if inoperative until his reinvention plans were complete. ”To punish for an operation that hasn’t occurred yet that’s going to be a complete reformat of this business, all that’s doing is destroying millions of dollars in value in that property.”
As investigators played videos of dancers performing simulated sex acts on undercover vice officers, Carlson muttered, “That’s your tax dollars at work,” and, “That was fun,” after the presentation was completed.
At one point, he said that a woman allegedly selling drugs and unauthorized liquor in a restroom after closing hours was, “The tampon lady,” and not necessarily a club employee.
Carlson’s attorney, Mark Webb, later attributed his client’s comments to, “frustration,” and asked the Board for, “a mulligan,” in excusing the utterings.
Carlson said his mother’s club was worth, conservatively, $7 million and its recent shutdown threw 300 people out of work.
He said the previous management was to blame for club problems and its format of appealing to a “hip hop” crowd.
”I don’t see any accountability here,” IMPD Captain Chris Boomershine told the Board. “If you want to see more people shot, more drugs, more dealing, if you want all the things that come with this package, then renew it, but this is not good for Indianapolis.”
IMPD Vice Detective Tiffany Mastin was skeptical of the changes Carlson promised.
”I’m not sure how new paint and new furniture changes anything,” she said. ”I’m not sure how 60 days and new music create an environment where any of this is different.”
Carlson and his legal counsel sought to place blame for the club’s inability to hire licensed armed private security guards on IMPD’s policy of not permitting officers to work off duty at strip clubs.
Carlson said his company also owned The Pony, another westside strip club with new management following an after-hours violation that was reported there last fall.
The board cited poor moral character, pending criminal charges and public nuisance as reasons for denying the Club Onyx license renewal.
Webb lodged objections to much of IMPD’s criminal charge presentation, telling the board his client was unaware of those allegations until the start of the hearing.
Also up for debate was the renewal of the liquor license for Kalakutah on Century Plaza Boulevard on the northwest side.
A 25-year-old woman was shot to death in the parking lot of that club after celebrating her birthday a year ago.
”This is a picture of Secoya Williams,” said Boomershine, holding up a photograph of the slain customer. “I want everybody to remember this woman who was murdered at this location.”
Investigators told the board that club staff have attempted to thwart their gathering of evidence on another occasion, that drugs and permit violations were noted and IMPD had made several violence and firearms responses to the location, and neighbors said the owner had rebuffed several attempts to work with surrounding businesses.
”But there’s crime happening. There’s shootings. There’s drugs. There’s strippers. These are all things we do not want in our community,” said Mary Clark of the International Marketplace Coalition after IMPD listed unauthorized stripping, boxing and lingerie events at the club.
The board voted unanimously to turn down the permit renewal even though the bar’s owner promised to put the license in escrow pending the sale of the business.
Both bars can appeal their permit renewal denials to the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission.