Night club owner not happy Gilford taking its sweet time with dancing permit

GILFORD — The owner of a local night club whose "exotic dancing" permit is being held at bay by selectmen, told the board last night that he was "tired"of the town's not working with him and his attorney.

Willard Drew, the owner of the former King's Grant Inn, blamed the town in general and Town Administrator Scott Dunn specifically, for slow-walking his approval for a live entertainment permit that includes "nearly-naked" women.

"We all try to do what's right," said Drew. "I would think the town administrator would feel the same way."

Drew has owned the former King's Grant Inn, more recently known as Mardi Gras North and before that Kokomo's for 22 years. About five weeks ago, he applied for a live entertainment permit with what the town refers to as exotic dancing. He was told that his permit would not be granted until the state gave him a liquor license and the town attorney reviewed his answers to some questions posed by the town in the wake of a 2011 drug raid at the business that he was leasing to Mardi Gras North.

About three weeks ago, selectmen gave him and his business partner Tom Lyons a live entertainment license but without exotic dancing, saying the town attorney hadn't gotten back to them. Thinking he was on tonight's agenda, Drew flew home from Florida before learning today that he was not on the agenda.

He said his attorney spoke with Dunn at 4 p.m. and was told the town attorney hadn't reviewed his application and the answers to the town's questions. He said he was not only angry about the hold up but said he was extremely angry that neither he or his attorney were told they weren't on the agenda after being told they would be on it in "early November."

One of the questions was how Drew was going to address people coming into his establishment who may have "drugs" on them.

"The same way you do," Drew answered, reading from three Gilford news stories that appeared in The Daily Sun within the past two weeks — one that involved an arrest for a marijuana growing operation on Governor's Island, one that involved a man arrested for snorting narcotics at the Elementary School, and one that involved under-aged drinking in a local motel.

"You have a Fire Department, a Police Department and roads," he said. "They all do the best they can do."

He said he will have "bouncers" or security staff, trained bartenders, and other employees the public may not see but who are needed to run a business — like a dishwasher.

Drew said he paid $33,000 in back property taxes to the town just so he could operate his business — along with a 12-percent penalty.

He said it's not just the money. It's his frustration with the people who want to control (the town) who, in what he said was their own opinions, don't like exotic dancing so they seek to prevent it.

"The correct opinion is the legal opinion," he said. "It's time to make a legal opinion whether you like it or not."

In the not-so-distant-past, Drew sued the town in federal court over his First Amendment right to operate a strip club. He said since then the town has gradually taken pieces of his business away including "invading" his building in October of 2011 and damaging the premisis.

"I've done nothing illegal," he said, noting he has put five children through Gilford's schools, has never done anything illegal and doesn't plan to start anytime soon.

"Stop lollygagging around," he said.

Tim Sullivan, who was the only resident other than staff who attended the meeting, said he agreed with Drew. He said he remembered the same thing happening 25 years ago when the rock band Steppenwolf was scheduled to play a concert and it was canceled at the last minute because it was "hard rock".

He told selectmen that it was hard enough to run a business and pay taxes without them getting in the way. ''It's better to have a property tax-producing business."

Lyons, Drew's partner, made an impassioned plea to the board on behalf of all the lonely men out there who are willing to pay someone to be nice to them even though they know it's not real.

"We all like wrestling," Lyons said. "But we know it's fake."

Selectmen said nothing. Nor did Dunn.
At the end Drew stood up again and said he wanted to thank the police, fire, town clerk, and the public works director for always working with him and, with one exception, trying to accommodate his business.

"I have to say that I appreciate the people who work for you," Drew said.

To date, all of the department heads who have to okay any live entertainment license have done so. Selectman Gus Benavides has voted in the past to grant Drew his license however Selectman's Chair Kevin Hayes and Selectman John O'Brien have not.