Dixwell bar faces outcry over exotic dancers

Dixwell residents are fighting to keep strippers out of their neighborhood — and Yale is backing them.

In late January Butta J’s Cafe, a bar on Ashmun Street, filed a request with the state Department of Consumer Protection for a new liquor permit that would allow it to feature various forms of live entertainment, including exotic dancing. The new permit would also allow the bar to install stripper poles for private events such as bachelor parties.

In response, Dixwell community members joined forces with the Science Park Development Corporation, New Haven’s City Plan Department and Yale’s Office of New Haven and State Affairs to oppose Butta J’s application. Last week Michael Morand ’87 DIV ’93, associate vice president for New Haven and State Affairs, submitted a letter to the Department of Consumer Protection on behalf of Yale urging the department to deny Butta J’s request.

The University has worked closely with the Dixwell neighborhood to improve the community, Morand said in the letter, and “this proposed use [of Butta J’s] is entirely inappropriate for the club’s location in the center of a residential neighborhood.”

In addition to Morand’s letter, the coalition opposing Butta J’s also sent a petition and letters from the New Haven City Plan Department and Dixwell Enterprise Community Management Team to the Department of Consumer Protection.

Roxanne Condon, chair of the Dixwell Enterprise Community Management Team, said she first became aware of the bar’s plans two weeks ago when a neighborhood resident brought a Butta J’s classified ad to her attention. She said she was upset to see the advertisement was seeking exotic dancers in addition to comedians, disc-jockeys and acoustic performers.

Ward 22 Alderman Greg Morehead, in whose ward Butta J’s is located, said he was in shock when he heard about the bar’s plans.

“I just couldn’t believe it,” he said. “We’ve had problems with violence at the club during the hot summer months in the past, but this was the last straw for me.”

But on Tuesday, Butta J’s owner, Joyce Bellamy, told residents she would remove exotic dancers from the bar’s live entertainment lineup because of the neighborhood’s overwhelming opposition, Morehead said.

Bellamy told the New Haven Independent Wednesday that she never intended for the exotic dancing to occur “on an everyday basis.” Bellamy did not return phone messages seeking comment Tuesday evening.

Still five community members interviewed Tuesday said they are not convinced Bellamy’s bar has a positive effect on the neighborhood or that she has abandoned the idea of having exotic dancers perform at Butta J’s. Dixwell resident Towanda Jenkins said even without the addition of exotic dancers, the bar remains “a disgrace” to the neighborhood and that it ought to be shut down.

Morehead said it is likely there will be a public hearing in the next two weeks on the bar’s application for a new kind of liquor license.

He said the community will continue to oppose her going forward, even though she has said she no longer wants to hire exotic dancers. If Bellamy obtains the new liquor permit, she would be able to add exotic dancers without any legal obstacles in the future, Morehead said.

“If her application is approved, there will be no more red tape for her,” Morehead said. “She claims the dancers will only be used for private functions but I honestly don’t think it would end up like that.”

Neighborhood residents said Butta J’s plan is especially troubling because there is a preK-8 school located 1,000 feet from the bar, a new day care center will be built across the street, and there are nine churches within half a mile.

Butta J’s Cafe is located between the Dixwell neighborhood and Science Park, which is currently undergoing a multi-million dollar redevelopment.

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