In Los Angeles County, as all non-essential businesses close their doors to curb spread of the novel coronavirus, some strip clubs, gun stores, and nightclub promoters—including a man employed by L.A. County—have been slow to the draw.
L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva told a local TV station this week that the majority of complaints he’d received about the state’s “shelter in place” order being flouted concerned gun shops, night clubs, bars, and strip clubs—but a spokesperson for the Department insisted on Saturday they were now complying.
On Thursday night, a strip club called Bliss Showgirls in the Avocado Heights neighborhood published an invitation to customers on their Instagram. “Attention!!! Bliss showgirls will be open,” the pink text read. “Want to stay away from corona come to bliss. We got 10min 15 min and 25 min quarantines with your favorite showgirl [sic].”
In another post, the owner wrote: “I keep getting asked why am I open, aren’t you scared? Bruh! I’m here for the girls that work for me that have to pay for their lives daily, ain’t no government going to help them or their kids, Bliss is open til the wheels fall off.”
After receiving a tip from viewers, the local news station Fox 11 Los Angeles sent an undercover reporter to the club last Friday and Saturday nights and found the place open for business, despite bars and nightclubs being ordered to close on March 15. Bliss’ owner did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment, but he told Fox 11: “We are taking the safety of our employees and customers very serious [sic]. I closed my doors Thursday after hearing about the shutdown. Had security outside the club for a few nights after my Instagram account got hacked the next morning with invites being sent out which was through a dancer who used to run the page who got fired months ago.”
By Saturday morning, the club had posted a photo of their establishment with a large sign reading, “Sorry we’re closed, the wheels fell off.” The owner framed the whole thing as a publicity stunt. “This post made it on @foxla thanks @bmelugin33 for the free publicity,” he wrote on Instagram.
When contacted for comment Saturday morning, a spokesperson for the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department denied knowledge of any non-essential business staying open. “It is to my understanding that all businesses have complied to the order, including Bliss,” Deputy Edmo Luna said. That runs counter to what Villanueva told Fox11, when he admitted that some businesses had resisted the closures. “We’ve received complaints on particular businesses that have not been adhering to social distancing,” Sheriff Villanueva said. “Chief among them have been gun shops, night clubs, bars, and strip clubs, so we’ve fanned out and we’re making sure these businesses are complying.”
When questioned about Villanueva’s statements, Deputy Ludo clarified: “We received complaints from the public, so when law enforcement asked for compliance, so far no one had not complied with the order. Everyone has been compliant.” LAPD did not immediately respond to comment about whether they’d received similar complaints.
Beneath Bliss Showgirls’ posts, some followers mocked them in the comments—including the Fox11 reporter’s girlfriend, travel blogger Katy Johnson—while others laughed or came to their defense. Among the positive posters was a user who identified himself to The Daily Beast as a club promoter—and an employee of L.A. County, though he declined to specify in what capacity. Charles, who requested to keep his last name private because of his job, goes by “Mr. No Filter,” the name of his clothing line and nightlife promotion business. He had been a regular at Bliss Showgirls until three years ago, when he got into a serious relationship.
“It’s a nice club for what it was, even though it looks like a hole in the wall spot,” Charles said. “I read that they were still open. I was like, ‘Dang, they’re crazy’. But I’m not going to hate them for it. They have to get their money. I just found it hilarious that people would bash them for it, especially males. I understand women trying to shut it down, but then men I was so confused.”
Charles said he did not think the novel coronavirus outbreak was as serious as authorities have made it out to be. “They’ve got other things to worry about. There’s STDs out there, and they want to shut it down for a virus? They should have shut it down over the STDs.”
In fact, he told The Daily Beast, he hadn’t shut down his event promotion business either. He held a public party just last Saturday, March 21, six days after nightclub closures went into effect. “I basically called it the ‘End of the World Party,’” Charles said. “A lot of people showed up—just looking to release some stress and not worry about what’s going on. I’d say 20 people showed up? Not as many [as usual]. People are still scared and spooked about the situation.”
The flyer for the event showed a blurry map of the world with fire exploding in the background and a lipstick kiss. The caption read: “Fuck a Stay At Home Order.”
At the same time, gun stores have whiplash over Sheriff Villanueva’s back and forth regarding whether they qualify as “essential businesses.” On Mar. 24, Villanueva announced that all gun shops had been deemed non-essential businesses and had to close. But the order never went into place.
Just one day later, the sheriff backtracked on his order, suspending gun shop closures on the grounds that a county lawyer had deemed them “essential businesses.” Then, on Mar. 26, Villanueva flip-flopped yet again, ordering all gun shops to close throughout the pandemic, with exceptions for security officials or police.
The decision infuriated gun activists, who filled the sheriff’s Twitter with calls to vote him out of office. By Mar. 27, a coalition of gun owner groups, including the Firearms Policy Coalition, the owners of Gun World in Burbank, and the Second Amendment Foundation filed a lawsuit against Villaneuva, Gov. Gavin Newsom, and several state and county health officials involved in the shutdown.
The lawsuit alleges that the closure marks a clear violation of the second amendment and “shutters the Constitutional right to bear arms.” Guns and ammunition, they claim in the complaint, represent “the most essential business function possible,” at the present moment.
The Firearms Policy Coalition and the Second Amendment Foundation did not immediately return requests for comment.
When asked whether he planned to keep hosting parties, Mr. No Filter responded: “Yes.”