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Wahpeton bar closed until licensing issues surrounding owner's request to have lap dancing allowed are settled

The Oasis Stage Bar and Package Store, 512 Dakota Ave., in Wahpeton, N.D. as seen Jan. 16, 2018. Forum file photo

WAHPETON, N.D. — The Oasis Stage Bar and Package Store, a topless bar where the owner is seeking to have lap dancing approved, is closed until local liquor and cabaret licensing issues can be worked out, Police Chief Scott Thorsteinson said Friday, Feb. 2.

That could happen as soon as this Monday, when the City Council meets, Thorsteinson said.

In fact, the chief said a sign outside the Oasis said the bar will reopen Tuesday, indicating that owner Matt Pausch is confident that will happen.

However, the council agenda posted online Friday morning didn't appear to have a placeholder for the issue to be discussed, though Thorsteinson said he was told by the city's finance director and auditor Darcy Huwe that the issue was on the agenda.

The closure of the Oasis came after Thorsteinson received a letter from the North Dakota Attorney General's Office dated Jan. 25 saying that the Oasis and owner Matt Pausch didn't have a valid state liquor license and that the police chief must take steps to ensure the bar did not sell liquor.

Thorsteinson said the Oasis's city liquor and cabaret licenses are contingent on Pausch having a valid state license. Pausch surrendered the city licenses, the chief said.

Thorsteinson said he was notified about 3 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 1, that Pausch had gotten the state license for the Oasis renewed. Attempts to contact Pausch Friday morning were not successful.

The Oasis Stage Bar and Package Store, 512 Dakota Ave., is currently the only bar in Wahpeton with a cabaret license that allows for topless entertainment, according to Huwe.

That license prohibits contact between performers and patrons - including a lap dance, which involves a dancer sitting and gyrating on a seated customer.

Pausch has asked the city to change the existing ordinance to allow lap dances.

It's been more than two decades since this topic last came up in Wahpeton. There was a non-binding advisory election on cabaret regulations in December 1996 that asked residents if topless entertainment should be allowed within licensed liquor establishments.

According to city records, 823 people, or 52 percent, voted in favor of continuing with the existing ordinance, while 742 people, or 48 percent, voted in opposition to have a topless entertainment prohibition.

Thorsteinson said he's "not the morality police," but he does worry that allowing lap dancing at the bar may attract a rougher crowd of patrons.

Thorsteinson said state law may also prohibit sexual touching which involves an exchange of money. If so, that would mean lap-dancing would be a non-starter. He said he'd like legal experts to weigh in on that issue.

Nonetheless, he said Pausch, "runs a pretty good business up there. That bar is not overrepresented in our calls."

Helmut Schmidt

Helmut Schmidt was born in Germany, but grew up in the Twin Cities area, graduating from Park High School of Cottage Grove. After serving a tour in the U.S. Army, he attended the University of St. Thomas in St Paul, Minn., graduating in 1984 with a degree in journalism. He then worked at the Albert Lea (Minn.) Tribune and served as managing editor there for three years. He joined The Forum in October 1989, working as a copy editor until 2000. Since then, he has worked as a reporter on several beats, including education, Fargo city government, business and military affairs. He is currently The Forum's K-12 education reporter.

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