Nearly three weeks after community concerns arose about the late-night culture surrounding a new hookah lounge near downtown Jefferson City, the business has been asked to scale back its after-hours presence — or lose its business license.
Golden Smoke Hookah Lounge, located at 633 E. High St. on the corner of High and Lafayette streets, offers customers flavored hookah tobacco and a social atmosphere to enjoy it in on Thursday through Saturday nights.
Controversy surrounding the lounge, which opened in May, primarily involves the crowds that gather around it. Concerned residents have said they've observed crowds of 100-200 people outside the lounge, which has an occupancy of 49, along with everything from alcohol and marijuana use on the sidewalks to women urinating in the streets.
The Jefferson City Police Department, aware of what Chief Roger Schroeder called the "volatile environment outside the hookah lounge and extending west on High Street," initiated special enforcement details in the area on weekends throughout August.
Police issued 19 tickets around the 600 and 700 blocks of East High Street during August — some related to the crowd, some not necessarily — according to records provided by the city, including citations for disturbing the peace, possession of a controlled substance, unlawful use of drug paraphernalia, fights, open containers of alcohol in a public place, and public urination and defecation.
Golden Smoke owner Corey Hykes also was charged once on behalf of the business for peace disturbance due to maximum permitted sound levels on Aug. 28, according to municipal court records.
Concerns enforcement in the East High Street/Lafayette Street area drove illegal conduct to the nearby Lincoln University campus show some limited evidence.
One early-morning Aug. 21 call to Lincoln University police sent officers to Dawson Hall because "there may be some issues because a lot of people were coming from the local hookah and bars" prior to three separate fights breaking out with about 200 people in the hall's parking lot, according to the dispatch report. Two other fights were reported on the campus on weekends in August.
"It's clear that people understand that we are not the problem but the issue," said Hykes. "Since the city can't control the citizens, they want to get rid of the issue so there isn't a problem."
Hykes has said repeatedly in recent weeks, while Golden Smoke's management controls the atmosphere inside the lounge, the behavior of people on the street is not his responsibility.
In a letter to Hykes dated Aug. 31, interim City Attorney Mark Comley noted that may not be true.
"I suspect that within these groups are persons who patronize the lounge and afterward stay in the area to socialize. If they are not customers, they nonetheless are a means of popularizing or advertising the popularity of your business," Comley wrote. "It is unlawful for any person in the city to cause, maintain or allow the creation or maintenance of a nuisance. The cause at root of the crowds is the lounge, and in my estimation, the lounge is permitting, and perhaps profiting from, this condition at the grave expense of other property nearby."
Hykes said, through cooperation with the city and the lounge's current landlord, he hopes to identify a new, larger location to move Golden Smoke Hookah Lounge — preferably one not in a mixed-use (commercial and residential) area like its current venue — within the next month or so.
One aspect of the concerns — the noise and behavior of the crowd between 1:30-4 a.m. — could be alleviated even sooner, as city officials have determined the hookah lounge does not meet the occupancy requirements to operate in extended hours.
A city ordinance requires all businesses open to the public between 1:30-4 a.m. comply with the requirements of "A2 Assembly" use as defined in the fire code. Golden Smoke Hookah Lounge is classified in "Business Group B" use, as its occupancy is under 50 people.
At Hykes' request, Jefferson City building and fire officials inspected the building Sept. 6 to determine whether its occupancy could be increased to accommodate about 100 people and meet the A2 Assembly requirements.
"Given the space constraints of the structure, it may be possible to increase the occupant load beyond 40 (100 is doubtful)," Jefferson City Building Official Larry Burkhardt wrote in a letter to Hykes. "However, it would require some major alterations to the structure to accomplish the increase."
The lounge now plans to operate from 8 p.m.-1:30 a.m. Thursdays through Saturdays for at least two months.
Burkhardt's inspection also discovered three building code violations based on its current Business Group B classification:
The lounge's rear exit from the patron assembly area does not meet International Building Code egress (exit) requirements. (However, the front door does meet egress requirements, and with an occupancy less than 50, the building requires only one exit.)
Fire barrier separation is not provided at the rear door, which opens up to a half flight of stairs leading to a landing serving a garage entrance and stairway to a residential apartment.
The building's single restroom is not sufficient for its occupancy of 49, as it should have one male and one female restroom.
Hykes said he is developing a plan to correct those issues.
Golden Smoke's initial building inspection, before the business opened in May, did not note those violations but only an issue with its ventilation, which was fixed, Burkhardt said.
"I looked at it a little bit harder because of the scrutiny, not that I was trying to find something," Burkhardt said. "When we did the initial inspection, that (rear) door was pretty well blocked. It wasn't apparent that it was going to be an exit door. In looking at it, I noted a few things that I don't think were properly addressed (during the initial inspection)."
The business' initial fire code inspection in April noted no violations, but even the fire-related violations noted in the Sept. 6 building inspection are regulations the city's Building Regulations Division — not fire department — would look for, both Burkhardt and fire department Division Chief Jason Turner said.
The business owner and city officials began discussing whether the lounge could meet A2 Assembly requirements after Golden Smoke began advertising an "ABC Party" — "Anything But Clothes," requesting women attend in lingerie — in late August. The party, which ultimately did not happen, called for a cover charge of $5, or $3 for ladies in lingerie.
"It strongly appears that use of the lounge for this event is beyond the scope of the lounge's business license," Comley wrote in the Aug. 31 letter. "If the lingerie party does take place (and/or similar events), be advised it in all likelihood will constitute cause for revocation of the lounge's business license."
Comley further explained the lounge's business license as a retail tobacco shop requires sales of tobacco must constitute at least 70 percent of sales, and he questioned whether the lounge met that threshold if accepting cover charges.