A two-day hearing has revealed the "scary", "sleazy" and often "uncomfortable" world of New Zealand's strip-club scene, as two of the country's most prominent clubs engaged in round two of a liquor licence battle.
Calendar Girls owner Jaqui Le Prou was challenging the renewal of a liquor licence for the Chow brothers' Penthouse and Galaxy Club in central Auckland, as well as an on-licence application for their Mermaid Bar and The Splash Club on Karangahape Rd.
A court order meant evidence given in the Auckland District Court could not be published until the hearing finished.
Over two days, the court heard how ex-dancers and waitresses at John and Michael Chow's strip clubs were allegedly told to sell alcohol to intoxicated patrons and were constantly threatened with sexual assault from drunk men.
Ms Le Prou's lawyer, Steven Rollo, said his client believed the Chows were unable to manage such risks, and thought the only reason licences have been granted without issue to the brothers in the past, is "because the authorities have not been alerted to the manner in which businesses in Wellington are operated".
On Wednesday, John Chow denied selling alcohol to intoxicated patrons and said his clubs have always operated without any trouble.
"We don't encourage any intoxication," said Mr Chow, whose brother Michael was not present during the hearing.
The battle between the Chows and Ms Le Prou has been long and heated. Last year the brothers opposed Calendar Girls in Wellington's liquor licence, and it was cancelled as a result.
'He could hardly stand'
One of the main concerns brought to light during the hearing was the sale of alcohol to already intoxicated patrons at the Chow brothers' clubs.
Several ex-employees suggested the brothers encouraged the sale of alcohol to drunk patrons so they would continue to purchase drinks and services.
Waitresses walk the floor at both Mermaid clubs in Wellington and Auckland with large trays of pre-mixed shots, which are sold for $10.
Ex-employees allege the brothers tell their workers if they don’t sell a certain number each week, then they will lose shifts.
Mr Chow strongly denied this, but did admit waitresses are encouraged to sell around 25 shots per 100 clients.
Also of particular concern was a promotion running at Mermaid Club and The Splash Palace, which offers a complimentary bottle of bubbles to clients who book one girl for one hour at a cost of $390. However, if the client makes a double or triple booking, they can be given up to six bottles.
One dancer who used to work at Mermaids recalled a situation where an already drunk man booked two girls for three hours and was given six bottles of bubbles. He did not finish the alcohol, but fell asleep.
"He could hardly stand but he was still given six bottles of Champagne to take into the dance with me and the other girl," she said.
The dancer has worked at strip clubs in Australia, the United States and New Zealand for 10 years. She also used to work at Mermaids in Wellington.
"Michael and John allow far higher intoxication levels than I have seen in any other premises in NZ, Australia and the US," she says.
Since the promotion was brought to Judge Hole's attention on Wednesday, the club has changed its policy to one bottle per patron per night.
Another dancer described the "uncomfortable environment" and "heavy drinking culture" at Mermaids in Wellington, where she worked in 2012.
"John and Michael would come into the club and get intoxicated," she said.
Drunk patrons would fall asleep in the spa pools and private rooms at The Splash Club, and unless the person was "falling off their chair", the waitresses were told to continue serving them alcohol.
Several of those who gave evidence also said drunk patrons were hidden in private rooms or upstairs whenever police would enter the premises.
On dancer said the girls would often be drinking during their shifts just to get through the night.
"On one occasion I could not even remember where I lived and had to stay with a friend."
Sexual assault in the clubs
"Men that are absolute lambs can turn into lions when they have had too much alcohol and then sexually assault the girls," one dancer told the court.
Many girls feared working at the Chow brothers' clubs because of the risk of sexual assault and the lack of protection from club security.
A former dancer recalled an incident at Mermaids in Wellington where one girl was bitten by a client near her nipple. The attack was so forceful her skin bled. However, when the bouncer was informed about the incident, he let the offender stay in the club and looked the other way.
Another recalled at least three incidents where she was pinned against the wall of a private room by clients. On one occasion she struggled to break free, and when she complained to the bar manager she was told to go back and finish the dance.
Employees 'intimidated' by Chow brothers
The three dancers who talked about their experiences at Mermaids in Wellington said John and Michael Chow were "incredibly rude" to the girls that worked for them.
"They would take the girls to do private shows for them. Many girls were intimidated by them.
"Neither Michael or John care much about the people that work for them or their patrons."
One of the women said John Chow constantly visited the Mermaid Club in Auckland while drunk.
He would purchase lap dances with the girls, and during meetings when she would mention issues of sexual assault, "nothing was ever taken seriously".
She also told the court that when she was presented with her contract for employment at Mermaids, she was not given the chance to read it and was told to sign it straight away if she wanted the job.
A former sex worker also gave evidence from the time she worked at Splash Palace in 2011.
She described her time at the brothel as a "nightmare experience".
The woman rented a room upstairs for $200 a week and said if any of the girls were late to work or refused a client, they were fined regardless of the reason.
She also told how drunk clients were charged extra time when they passed out, which was consistent with evidence given by the other women.
During his closing submissions, Mr Chow’s lawyer Alastair Sherriff pointed out that none of the women had gone to police with their concerns.
Mr Sherriff also said "most of their evidence was related to Wellington – it's historic".
"If the situation was as bad as they portray, why would the NZ Prostitutes Collective support" the Chow brothers' business, he asked.
Calendar Girls' lawyer said the women were scared to go to police with complaints because it was "discouraged".
Judge Hole has reserved his decision, meaning the brothers will have to wait to see whether their licences will be granted.
source: newshub archive