Police fail to close CBD strip club over ‘baseless’ brothel claims

A police taskforce’s bid to shut down a well-known Melbourne strip club over allegations of operating an unlicensed brothel has failed after prosecutors decided not to proceed.

The Men’s Gallery in the CBD was accused by officers from the sex industry co-ordination unit of operating an unlicensed brothel by allowing exotic dancers to simulate masturbation in front of patrons, who would then often make cash payments.

The Men’s Gallery strip club on Lonsdale Street, Melbourne. Credit:Paul Jeffers

In a short hearing before magistrate Stella Stuthridge at the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on Friday, prosecutor Anthony Albore applied to withdraw an application against Men’s Gallery owner Peter Iwaniuk. Mr Albore did not detail why the matter was withdrawn.

The Men’s Gallery has been owned for almost 30 years by Mr Iwaniuk and is one of Melbourne’s largest adult entertainment venues. He said the suggestion he was operating a brothel was ridiculous.

“We’re grateful to the police for dropping the charges and recognising that the case against us was baseless.

“We have run this business for 28 years without any compliance issues and remain baffled why this action was taken. Anyway, we’re pleased to put it behind us and move on,” Mr Iwanuik told The Age.

Club owner Peter Iwaniuk.Credit:James Davies

The Lonsdale Street venue was raided by officers from the state liquor unit on May 25, when CCTV footage and computer hard-drives were removed, while a separate warrant was executed at Centrefold Lounge on King Street, which is also owned by Mr Iwaniuk.

At the time, police issued Mr Iwaniuk with 20 penalty notices for allegedly supplying liquor in breach of its licence conditions. The separate matter, which is still before the court, will be heard in February next year.

The application to designate the club a brothel threatened to shake up the state’s adult entertainment industry by deeming simulated masturbation an activity that would have to take place in a venue with a brothel licence and would have allowed a magistrate to ban the Men’s Gallery from serving alcohol.

Mr Iwanuik engaged a formidable legal team to fight the application, including prominent human rights lawyer Greg Barns, SC.

Inflation nightclub.

Over the past decade, Mr Iwanuik has repeatedly frustrated attempts by prominent property developer Lorenz Grollo to gentrify the King Street precinct, which has long been known for its seedy strip clubs and late-night venues.

In 2018, he finally agreed to sell the Inflation nightclub to Mr Grollo and St Martins Properties, who co-own the nearby Rialto tower. But plans to build a second tower adjoining the Rialto have been thwarted by a long-term tenant of Inflation, Martha Tsamis.

Melbourne City Council has been supportive of the Grollo vision to rejuvenate the western end of the CBD.

“We want King Street to be a vibrant, safe and attractive part of the city. Economic activity, safety and amenity are a priority for me and the entire City of Melbourne team,” lord mayor Sally Capp said in August.

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