The Wild Alaskan, a boat-based strip club operating in waters outside the city of Kodiak, had its liquor license revoked Monday by the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board.
The ABC Board voted unanimously to revoke the ship's license during a meeting in Midtown Anchorage.
"I'm blown away," Wild Alaskan owner Darren Byler said after the meeting. "Can't believe it."
An old crab boat renovated into a strip club, the Wild Alaskan opened in July. The boat is anchored outside of Kodiak harbor, and water taxis shuttle passengers to and from the vessel, an ABC memo stated. A charge of $20 per person per hour is levied for the 12 passengers allowed on the boat at a time. Byler told KTVA in November that the business had been "wildly successful."
At issue was whether the strip club was operating legally under its "common carrier" liquor license, which authorizes the sale of alcohol on a vehicle licensed for the transport of freight or passengers.
With the Wild Alaskan anchored in state waters, the question before the ABC Board was whether it was adhering to the "passenger travel" portion of its license.
ABC Board Director Cynthia Franklin asked the board to consider where to draw the line "when you take a boat that's supposed to be moving around and put it in one place."
Franklin told the board that Kodiak bar owners had alleged an unfair advantage for the Wild Alaskan: Common carrier licenses are unlimited in number, while liquor licenses for bars are allotted by population.
Common carrier licenses are also subject to less oversight, requiring no approval from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation or local government, Franklin told the board.
The strip club had originally requested the common carrier license under a separate business plan, which would have seen the Wild Alaskan conducting dinner cruises. However, to remain profitable, the Wild Alaskan had to change its business plan, Byler's wife, Kimberly Riedel-Byler, wrote to the board in October.
Darren Byler, who's also general manager of Alaska Leader Tours, testified at length before the board on Monday. He said his business is safe, clean and operating within state statutes.
"By being on anchor does not take our vessel status away," Byler said. He said he was planning to conduct sightseeing tours on the Wild Alaskan come spring.
He said the complaints levied against him were due to the nature of his business, not because he was breaking the law.
Board member Ethan Billings asked Byler to describe the Wild Alaskan's hours of operation. Byler said the strip club, although closed for winter, had been open five nights a week, from 9 p.m. to the early morning hours.
Billings replied that the Wild Alaskan sounded like "more of a bar to me than a charter."
After the vote, Byler expressed disbelief and frustration at the ruling.
"I can't believe what just happened," Byler said. "We're a passenger vessel and simply by anchoring the vessel does not take us off a passenger vessel status. Period," he said.
"They strictly took our license away because of what we're doing with our entertainment charters. That's not right. They're another facet of the self-proclaimed morality police," Byler said.
Byler said he would appeal the decision.
Alaska Dispatch Publishing