Wednesday, September 8, 2010
Written by Walter Pierce

Is the downtown club a menace, or is there something sinister going on here?

Something’s not sitting right with downtown nightclub Karma facing a two-year revocation of its liquor license. Yanking a bar’s liquor license is like carting off the incinerator from a crematorium — it puts it out of business. The Lafayette City-Parish Council, exercising its parliamentary prerogative to not exercise its authority, tabled last week a vote on whether to uphold an administrative ruling that Karma’s license should be revoked due to a series of incidents over the spring and summer involving arrests by police — mainly breaking up fights in the parking lot.

Karma is a classic meat market, a hook-up club, and the belief that one is both physically attractive and rhythmically gifted, for most of us anyway, requires no small volume of alcohol. It’s an unfortunate trait of we homo sapiens that alcohol also pollutes testosterone, turning randy young men into belligerent jerks for whom fisticuffs is a ready response to any perceived slight.

Karma is the biggest nightclub in Lafayette, chockablock Thursday and Saturday nights with meatheads and airheads — 20-somethings entangled by an inelegant contrivance of vanity, apathy and ignorance. And at 2 a.m. when about 1,500 people are streaming out of Karma, the immediate area around the club can get tense. This is not exclusive to Karma. But the crowd there is huge, and if you’re drunk and not about to get laid, your arms are more likely to end in fists.

That’s where the police come in. Those interventions by law enforcement can, by ordinance, lead to points being assessed against a club, generally two points per incident. If a club collects a dozen points within a year, it can face revocation of its license.

Karma’s attorney argued last week when he appealed the revocation that the assignment of points is “capricious and arbitrary,” and it’s easy to be swayed by his argument. The Orwellian-sounding Office of Alcohol and Noise Control decides which clubs get the points. It’s a judgment call.

But as Nathan Stubbs reports in this week’s issue, there have been only 17 point assignments against clubs this year by ANC — most of them downtown, with one each at the McKinley and Simcoe strips and another at a bar in River Ranch. You read right: River Ranch.

Yet nine of the 17 point assignments were at Karma. True, it’s the biggest club. But are we to believe that among the scores of bars in Lafayette, only 17 incidents warranted points and more than half were at Karma?

The proverbial city fathers have made no secret that they would like to reduce the number of bars and thin the crowds on Jefferson Street. Shutting down the biggest operator is an expedient means of doing it because, if I’ve read the bar moratorium ordinance correctly, losing the liquor license for two years would mean no bar could ever again open in the building currently occupied by Karma. Ever.

Here’s where we move into conspiracy theory territory: Sources tell us the owners of the bars adjacent to and across the street from Karma would love to see the place shuttered because of the patrons it attracts, specifically the ruffians who loiter outside the club, catcalling women and challenging men with their stares.

The downtown bar owners, police and the administration have been meeting for months to resolve an impasse over the security levy and police details on weekends downtown. Could this be the solution? Target the big bar?

To make matters infinitely touchier, Karma’s meat- and airheads are now overwhelmingly black, drawn to the club by hip-hop-themed nights.

Former Karma owner Eric Cloutier, whose credibility is an issue but who is removed enough from the bar business to speak his mind, came out and said it at the appeal before the CPC: Karma is being targeted because of the skin color of its patrons.

“When I owned it, it was a white club,” Cloutier told the council, waving his arms like a French-Canadian dervish. “We had fights every night and never got points. Now it’s a black club.”

Most of us, I would hope, are loath to believe police and bar owners would collude to shut down a business because of greed and/or racism. But this is the Deep South, and the bar business is a cutthroat affair.

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