ABC News Coronavirus Small Business

Strip club fights to stay open amid city's nonessential business closures

"We have sexually explicit entertainment … but the business is a restaurant."

A federal judge granted a strip club a temporary restraining order against the city of Houston and several city agencies allowing it to remain open as a restaurant, according to court documents.

Judge Vanessa D. Gilmore, who presides over the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division, issued the order on Friday.

The club, Onyx Houston, opened its doors early Friday when the state's mandated closures to prevent the spread of coronavirus, ended at midnight.

Within an hour of opening, "dozens of Houston Police Department Officers and Fire Department officials raided the business," the club alleges in the court document.

The city agencies threatened to shut the club down as a "nonessential" business, but "lacking a legal basis to do so," according to the court docket, allowed the club to remain open. However, instead of leaving, police and fire officials, "loitered in the parking lot of Onyx from the hours of approximately 12:40 AM until 4:00 AM," the club alleged in the docket. It then filed a restraining order to remain open.

The operators of Onyx argued in court documents that the business, which bills itself on its website as an "upscale urban gentlemen’s club" offering "fine dining," falls under the category of restaurants, which Abbott allowed to reopen at reduced capacity and under health guidelines.

"We have a restaurant license, a nightclub license, an adult entertainment license ... less than 50% of our sales come from alcohol, as long as that is, you can operate under the governor's deal," Eric Langan the president of Onyx, told ABC News. He said there will be a hearing next Friday for a permanent injunction.

Langan said all the entertainers, whom he called "independent contractors" and employees are required to wear masks. Patrons are offered masks, but not required to wear them inside the establishment. He said the club is taking other safety precautions, including no contact or touching between entertainers and patrons.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said in a statement to Houston ABC station KTRK, "I am asking the state to quickly clarify whether the governor intended for sexually oriented businesses like Onyx to be a part of the businesses authorized to open on May 1. And if not, I am also asking the state via the Texas Attorney General to enforce the state's order because the city cannot afford to expend its limited resources, i.e. fire and police, to defend the state's order that a federal judge is now questioning."

ABC News requested a comment from Abbott's office, but have yet to receive a response.

The mayor is "misunderstanding" the nature of their business, Langan said.

"Yes, we have sexually explicit entertainment ... but the business is a restaurant with entertainment and that is protected by the first amendment," he said.

A request for comment by ABC News from the Houston Police Department and Turner's office has yet to be received.

Langan said that it's necessary for the club to be open to cover operating costs including food and labor.

"We're not going to make any money," he said. "We're not going to make money to make our rent."

What to know about coronavirus:

  • How it started and how to protect yourself: Coronavirus explained
  • What to do if you have symptoms: Coronavirus symptoms
  • Tracking the spread in the U.S. and worldwide: Coronavirus map