Christine’s Cabaret, a go-go bar and steakhouse in Southwest Philly, was closed in March of 2012, shortly after owner Rob Laflar died of an apparent drug overdose the previous January while awaiting trial for murder.
Laflar was a wealthy strip-club mogul who owned a mansion in Blue Bell, Pa., and he’d been charged, along with several employees, in the 2009 beating death of James Koons, a 31-year-old father of two who’d gotten involved in a fight at Laflar’s nearby club Oasis. Koons apparently died when he hit his head on the ground after being punched, according to the defense; according to the prosecution, the medical examiner's report shows that there was a fatal blow.* The charges were murder in the third degree. A trial of one of Laflar's employees, John Pettit, ended in a hung jury last year. Koons’ friend, George Foreacre, survived the scuffle, and celebrated Laflar’s demise to a Daily News reporter.
On Wednesday, the Zoning Board of Adjustment will hear an appeal of an L&I decision to revoke Christine’s Cabaret’s food license because the club is closed and its zoning use permit has expired. In an appeal of that decision, attorney Dawn Tancredi claimed that L&I’s decision was based on erroneous information that the use was discontinued. The club was merely between tenants, according to Tancredi, and therefore the zoning permit should not have expired. The Board of L&I Review remanded the case to the zoning board in early August.
A note on the Christine’s Cabaret website says the club is temporarily closed for renovations; the phone number listed is no longer active. Tancredi was not immediately available for comment.
When L&I initially issued the permit for the cabaret, back in 2007, it issued the permit by right. The property was zoned LR, or least restrictive, which is now I-3 heavy industrial, and adult cabaret uses are permitted in those zoning districts. But a go-go bar is also a regulated use, which means it’s not allowed within 1,000 feet of another regulated use. When L&I issued the permit, the inspector said that Christine’s was 1,055 feet from the Purple Orchid, another adult establishment at the corner of 61st and Passyunk, making it outside the restricted area, according to inspection records obtained by PlanPhilly.
That measurement is disputed. The zoning code requires that the space between regulated uses be measured from lot line to lot line, and it appears that the space between Christine’s and the Purple Orchid was measured by L&I from door to door. The space between the two properties appears to be shorter than 800 feet, using the ruler tool on Google Maps.
The distance issue is significant because, if L&I’s initial measurement is used, the use permit can be reissued as a matter of right. But, if the property is found to be within 1,000 feet of the Purple Orchid, the owner will need to get a variance in order to operate an adult cabaret there.
Another wrinkle: the owner of the property at 6130 W. Passyunk Ave., according to court documents, is Henry “Ed” Alfano, who was indicted in the federal corruption probe of Philadelphia’s recently abolished Traffic Court for a ticket-fixing scheme involving traffic judge Fortunato Perri, Sr. Alfano was later represented, according to news reports, by the judge’s son, Fortunato Perri, Jr., a criminal defense attorney known for representing the Philadelphia rapper Beanie Sigel in an attempted-murder case.
We’ll venture a guess that this is going to be an interesting hearing: Wednesday, Sept. 18, at 2 p.m., on the 18th floor of 1515 Arch Street, Philadelphia.
Jared Brey writes about development, zoning policy, and city government for PlanPhilly.com. He wasn't interested in being a reporter until halfway through a master's program in journalism at Temple University that he intended to parlay into an academic career. His work has appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News, City Paper, Business Journal, and Metropolis.