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LAPD Warns Men Of 'Scam' At Hostess Bars For Some Reason

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Police are cracking down on a bar where women make money by coercing men into buying them overpriced cocktails, calling it a 'scam.' The crackdown brings a longtime, arguably unscammy practice of employing ficheras into the spotlight. (Or, you know, the ancient practice of men spending too much money buying drinks for a woman who has no intention of ever giving them a real shot.)

But back to the ficheras: they sit with male customers, typically immigrants from Central America or Mexico, who will buy them a drink in exchange for their time. This may include conversation or dancing with the men, though any sort of explicit activity is not allowed. The women are paid by the bar for each drink a customer buys them.

The bar authorities are targeting now is the El Arroyo Bar at 7026 S Broadway in South L.A. They've used the crackdown as an opportunity to warn men. LAPD Capt. Jorge Rodriguez told the L.A. Times that men who go to such bars could "rack up a big bill and get scammed out of a lot of money" in a short time.

These bars are relatively common in Los Angeles, and they have their counterparts in the hostess bars found in Koreatown, where patrons can pay for an overpriced bottle or cocktail and in exchange, spend time and sing karaoke with a beautiful woman. Other clubs are known as Taxi Dance Halls, where customers can pay to dance with women. LAPD Officer Justin Fuller told the Times, "I don't know if it's growing or if it's spreading. It has always been a common thing."

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It's hard to say if it's really a scam—the practice is pretty common in other countries, too. Most of these establishments makes it pretty obvious what you're paying for—though an anonymous source told LAist he visited one such bar by mistake in Tokyo and found himself confused.

"In my case, there were a lot of factors like not knowing the pricing, adding drinks I didn't ask for, being too drunk to notice on the bill (which was in Japanese and Yen), and not feeling comfortable/safe contesting anything," he said. "In that bar's case, I could imagine not knowing the girls were paid to do this and thinking it's like buying a regular drink for a regular girl."

The LAPD performed an undercover operation at El Arroyo Bar where they said they watched three scantily clad women accept cash from the bartenders after men purchased them drinks. The drinks were rather small and pretty expensive. A beer might cost about $5, but the cocktails for the women typically run $15 to $20—so about the same as drinks at Chateau Marmot or the Roosevelt, really. These cocktails are watered down with very little alcohol and come in small cups. The women allegedly make their money by getting men to buy them on their behalf.

It's illegal to solicit people into buying alcohol, and because that's essentially a ficheras' job, the bar has been fined several times and the women who work there as well as manager Marcelo Barrales have been charged with misdemeanors.

Barrales' grandson, however, claims that the women he saw working at the bar were waitresses, whose uniform consists of shorts and a T-shirt. He believes that the bar has a bad reputation, but not from his grandfather who took over in 2009, but rather a previous owner. He wants to know why the city is trying to shut his grandfather's bar down "when other bars have more troubles."

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We spoke with a woman who worked as a fichera, and she told us her experience was nothing like that described by authorities at Arroyo. And she takes issue with the notion that male customers are being scammed. "Those guys know what's up," she says.

The woman, who wished to remain anonymous, said she spent about a month as a fichera at a bar in Long Beach when she was about 26 years old. She said that she found the gig on Craigslist. At first, she was told by the woman interviewing her that she might not work out because she couldn't speak Spanish but they decided to give her a chance.

"They had us drinking tiny Heinekens for $12," she recalled. "Then we hung out and played pool."

It was tough for her because of the language barrier, and she found that many of the older women were more outgoing. However, she also found it to be a pretty laid-back place to work.

"[Women] didn't dress super scandalously," she said. "We were told to dress nicely with heels and things like that. I've seen worse at clubs. It wasn't like a stripper bar, or anything like that. Everyone seemed pretty nice and the guys seemed to be friendly. They didn't push us at all...they kept their distance and just hung out."

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She said most customers were blue-collar type guys, often younger. She said roving Mariachi bands would often swing by and that the customers enjoyed hanging out and singing with them. She quit the bar after about a month because her brother was no longer willing to pick her up, and the bar wouldn't allow any of the women to drive themselves home because their job was to drink.

In the case of the El Arroyo Bar, it isn't just the practice of allegedly using ficheras that has caught the attention of authorities. City officials called the bar a "nuisance," saying it's racked up over 50 violations and a number of arrests in four years, plus a host of complaints from neighbors. The City Council has revoked the bar's conditional use permit meaning that they can no longer sell alcohol, KTLA reports.

Resident Stephanie Campbell claims that the bar's patrons were responsible for dirtying the sidewalks with urine, feces and used condoms, while officials say other neighbors have complained about lewd contact outside the establishment. Other neighbors indicated to the Times that it was just a place to get a beer.

"The bar activities do not spill into the outside," a 22-year-old patron told the Times. "I don't understand how the kids don't feel secure. The bar is closed during the day."

This isn't the first time police have cracked down on hostess bars. In 2010, the police raided Club 907 in downtown L.A. and arrested 81 women and seven men. Police said that most were charged with using a fake ID in order to get a job, while others were charged with conspiracy to commit prostitution. At the time, Lt. Paul Vernon said that ID charges were serious because they often accompany trafficking.

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"It's often a symptom of that—between some of them being illegal and perhaps being placed in a position to work off some indentured servitude," he said.