Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Bikini-clad baristas prompt cover-up talk

‘Exposure’ law would require certain amount of clothing

Jessica Etchart, 23, right, and Niqui Kukel, 25, prepare drinks for customers during an afternoon rush Tuesday at XXXtreme Espresso. (Tyler Tjomsland)

On Monday, Mike Fagan passed around a list of anatomical definitions to members of the city’s Public Safety Committee, including fellow Spokane City Council members, the police chief and the police ombudsman.

The words on the list – “perineum,” “areola” and “anal cleft” – were meant to help the committee understand Fagan’s latest ordinance, a push to crack down on so-called bikini baristas.

The proposed ordinance, Fagan said, gives the owners of the stands a choice: “You move your business to a certain zone, or you put more clothes on.”

“I’m OK with bikinis. I’m OK with lingerie,” said Fagan, a libertarian. “But when it comes to pasties and G-strings, in regards to safety, what’s going on is a little overboard.”

If passed, the ordinance would add a new section to city code, creating a misdemeanor “unlawful public exposure” law. This is distinct from an indecent exposure charge, a felony, which is defined by state law as “open and obscene exposure … knowing that such conduct is likely to cause reasonable affront or alarm.”

Fagan said alternately, bikini barista stands could operate in zones where adult businesses are permitted.

At a couple of stands Tuesday, a line of cars and trucks waited for an afternoon jolt of espresso and, presumably, an eyeful of flesh.

Niqui Kukel, 25, was happy to oblige.

As part-owner of XXXtreme Espresso on Northwest Boulevard, Kukel rushed between the stand’s two windows, steaming milk, pulling shots and making change. She wore red, star-shaped pasties, lingerie shorts and garters.

“My big thing is, ‘Why now?’ ” Kukel said, noting that shops similar to hers have been around for almost a decade. “You can see worse with the click of a mouse.”

Fagan, who got the idea for the ordinance after hearing “multiple complaints from constituents,” said he did not consider his proposal “over-regulation.” Instead, he said it was the “government’s job to listen to its employer. And its employer is the taxpayer and the citizen of the city.”

The ordinance is not yet scheduled for debate by the council. Fagan said he wanted to wait a couple of weeks to collect public opinion.

Regardless, he was already making his case against the near-naked baristas and their customers.

“The city of Spokane is a family-friendly place. A place to raise kids,” Fagan said. “Are these the types of values we want to project?”

Council President Ben Stuckart said it isn’t the council’s job to define city values.

“Who decides what Spokane values are?” Stuckart said Tuesday. “I didn’t get elected to legislate values. … We should be talking about economic development, the creation of the budget and police accountability. I just don’t think bikini baristas is at the top of the list for most Spokane voters.”

In his briefing paper to the Public Safety Committee, Fagan wrote that “baristas wearing bikinis, lingerie or less may not be in compliance” with health and safety regulations.

Not so, said Kim Papich, spokeswoman with the Spokane Regional Health District.

“We don’t consider what they do a violation of food code,” Papich said, adding that two complaints from city residents about the stands were recently investigated by the health district.

Elaine Fischer, spokeswoman for the state Labor and Industries department, said there was “no particular safety requirement regarding what to wear” while making coffee.

“We regulate personal protective gear,” Fischer said. “None is required at a barista stand.”

Spokane police Chief Frank Straub said Tuesday that he viewed the matter as “more of a code enforcement issue than a police enforcement issue.”

Asked if it would become a priority for him if the ordinance passed, Straub casually replied, “Not this week.”

Such a muted response wasn’t the case Monday when Fagan presented his list of definitions and proposed ordinance.

When Fagan kept unintentionally exchanging “explosion” for “exposure,” Councilman Mike Allen couldn’t help but point out the slip of tongue.

Fagan replied that he’d had too much coffee.

“I can tell you unequivocally, we’ve confirmed the constituents’ concerns,” Fagan said, holding up a cup of coffee from Big Shots on Division. “If you’re working with hot food, you should be wearing a hairnet, not fishnet stockings.”