Three nightclubs have dropped their federal lawsuit against the city of Brookhaven after succeeding in getting the city’s alcohol law changed in their favor.

A federal judge dismissed March 21 the lawsuit filed last year by Josephine’s, Medusa Restaurant & Lounge and XS Restaurant & Lounge that alleged the city’s revamped alcohol ordinance approved last year was discriminatory. The ordinance had required certain venues to pay a $100,000 alcohol license fee and not sell alcohol on Sundays, but those restrictions were eventually eliminated by the City Council.

“My clients achieved a good result in this case,” said Cary Wiggins said, attorney for the plaintiffs. “This case forced the city to [over]haul its ordinances. Now small karaoke bars and family-owned cantinas can serve alcohol on Sundays and avoid paying $100,000 for their alcohol licenses.”

The City Council in 2018 approved a new alcohol ordinance that created an “entertainment venue” category that mandated businesses with a DJ, dance floor or stage pay a $100,000 alcohol license fee. The new ordinance also prohibited such businesses from selling alcohol on Sundays and rolled back alcohol hours from 3 a.m. to 2 a.m.

The city said the new ordinance was intended to thwart what it says are rising crime statistics on Buford Highway while also forcing the venues to cover police costs through the new, much higher fees.

At the same time the new ordinance was approved, the city was allowing the Pink Pony strip club to remain open until 4 a.m. seven days a week and not pay a $100,000 alcohol license fee. The Pink Pony did pay an annual $225,000 fee to the city to cover police costs. These allowances were part of an “exit agreement” the city and the Pink Pony reached in 2014 that would allow the Pink Pony to stay open and sell alcohol in the city until the end of 2020.

After the lawsuit was filed, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction against the city, writing in his ruling there was “no rational reason for this selective enforcement” between the restrictions on the plaintiffs and the Pink Pony.

Following the injunction, the city eliminated the “entertainment venue” category and no longer required a $100,000 alcohol license fee and allowed alcohol sales on Sunday.

The city did has kept in place the 2 a.m. last call for all restaurants and nightlife venues, including the Pink Pony.

City Attorney Chris Balch praised the dismissal, which did not include any payment of attorney’s fees, other monetary damages and did not determine the city was discriminatory.

“This is a win for the residents of Brookhaven,” Balch said in a written statement. “Our current ordinance remains intact and in force, enhancing safety in the area and preserving the quality of life for those who live here.”

Dyana Bagby

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.