It's Tuesday evening, and the tourists have said goodnight to the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials. At the end of the Mall, the dome of the Capitol shines like a moon. Almost in its shadow, seven blocks away, is a neighborhood few tourists have reason to visit.
Lining the streets beneath the noise of I is a mixture of auto-repair shops, chainlink fences, and taxi-cab companies. A bouncer sits on a stool outside a building at First Street, Southeast. Parked cars line the street. Inside, the VIP balcony is filling up, and the downstairs lounge is teeming with businessmen trying to show clients a good time.
Scantily clad women hobnob with customers, exchanging pleasantries and cruising for tips. A young woman in a sheer blue dress and high platform heels introduces herself as "Sugar. I know I'm smart. This is just one part of me, and I'm having a lot of fun.
Sugar says she grew up in a Bethesda neighborhood off River Road and graduated from an area college. On stage, she sheds the dress and is left wearing a baby-blue garter and the platform heels. Her dance moves are not elaborate. She looks a bit bored.
Men approach her to slip dollar bills under her garter. Sugar says she began stripping on a dare three weeks earlier. She and some friends were out at another strip club when Sugar—a little drunk, she says—started talking to a dancer on stage. The dancer dared her to go up, and "Sugar" was born.
But not crazy like a Fanne Foxe, some old-timers might say. Today's strippers, like Sugar, may have toned bodies, but they're about as exotic as cashiers at a suburban mall. Most say stripping—or dancing nude—is a means to an end. Gone is the old red-light district along DC's 14th Street, where neon lights led the way to peep shows, go-go clubs, and burlesque halls and where the late congressman Wilbur Mills, an Arkansas Democrat, fell madly in love with Fanne Foxe—the "Argentine Firecracker"—then fell out of power when she fell into the Tidal Basin.
The gaudy downtown clubs have been replaced by office buildings; the striptease acts have given way to in-your-face nudity.
Dating in is weird. but dating in in tragically divided washington? yeah, weirder.
As a result of laws that keep new strip clubs from locating in DC, the only X-rated action that remains in public view is a handful of clubs that feature nude dancing. The rest of X-rated Washington is now largely out of sight—a flourishing underworld of escort services and massage-parlor brothels. Thirty years ago, you could walk through DC's red-light district and take in Jell-O wrestling and cent peep shows.
There was also burlesque, with big-name headliners like Blaze Starr, who performed in sequined outfits and plumes of feathers, and comedians who filled in between acts. In a panic, Foxe leaped into the Tidal Basin. Soon after, Mills sought help for a drinking problem and reed as head of the House Ways and Means Committee. Bythe neon demimonde that thrived in the blocks around 14th, H, and I streets had vanished. New laws and tighter restrictions have kept X-rated Washington from making a public comeback.
Dc's red-light district is gone, and the strip-club scene is pretty tame. but the sex industry is going strong. using the internet, it has gone underground, and police warn of coming turf wars.
In the early s, DC placed a freeze on liquor s for nude-dancing establishments. It was a compromise between eliminating them and letting them expand. And we didn't want them to expand. The law was amended to allow clubs to relocate within certain areas, but they must be more than feet from any residential building and at least feet from another strip club to prevent the kind of concentration that marked DC's 14th Street.
The freeze on s gives DC club owners job security—it prevents national chains like Scores and Larry Flynt's Hustler Club from moving in. Those chains—and thousands of independent clubs—constitute a big business boom. There are none in Alexandria or Montgomery County, police say. There are about 40 major strip clubs in Atlanta, she says. Despite possibilities for increased tax revenues, Evans says, the District is not looking sex allow more clubs.
What DC has is a handful of clubs that range from glitzy showrooms like the Nexus Gold Club to places that feel more like neighborhood bars—albeit with women dancing nude. Several even serve good food. The best-known beautiful is Camelot Show Bar on M Street downtown, where the decor is classier, the dancers are searching attractive, and the mid-fortyish district is older than elsewhere.
Not far away, Archibalds on K Street has the couple of a local pub. At happy hour it's packed with a mix of whites and blacks, often Columbia a few women, all of whom chat amiably; the nude dancing almost seems secondary. The Royal Palace, a short walk from Dupont Circle, inside looks at first like a bingo hall; both the clientele and the dancers are racially diverse, and the atmosphere is friendly.
Across the street, JP's is a utility strip club—nude dancers, a younger crowd of regulars, and a dark but hospitable atmosphere. There are pool tables, video games, and dozens of flat-screen televisions showing sporting events; an electronic board displays the starting time and point spread for upcoming games. Near-nude dancers perform on two stages.
Unlike in DC, dancers must wear G-strings and pasties that cover their nipples. The atmosphere is relaxed. Men wearing everything from suits to shorts and T-shirts sit at tables eating and drinking and watching TV, handing out dollar bills as the dancers walk by after finishing their acts. As with the clubs in DC, police say the Crystal City club seldom generates trouble. That's not always the case in Prince George's County, where clubs are located in industrial areas and a few residential neighborhoods. Patrons say there's an anything-goes atmosphere in some of the clubs, and the scene can be more rough-and-tumble than in downtown DC and Virginia.
DC's strip clubs attract their share of out-of-towners, but most patrons are local, club owners say. I'd say conventioneers maybe make up 25 percent of our customers. Club owners also say business is pretty much the same no matter which political party is in power. Says another: "I'm sure President Bush hates us, but having a conservative in power hasn't affected our business.
DC's gay strip clubs are decidedly different. Instead of being scattered, the gay clubs are in one location—off South Capitol Street, Southeast, in cavernous warehouses. Far from feeling like neighborhood bars, the gay clubs are explicitly sexual. Ziegfeld's and Secrets is a combination showroom and strip club.
Ziegfeld's is the showroom, a large hall where drag performances are held on a wooden stage surrounded by cocktail tables and chairs.
There's a bar in the back. Through a glass door to the right of the bar is Secrets, the strip club, where muscular men dance naked on stages and on the bar. About a dozen televisions show hard-core gay pornography. Dancers allow patrons to stroke their genitals—a practice almost never seen in the heterosexual clubs. Allen Carroll and Chris Jansen have owned Ziegfeld's for almost 30 years. They opened the first gay club in the warehouse district south of the Capitol.
Now there are some half dozen gay strip clubs, theaters, and bathhouses in the area. But not for long. The new baseball stadium will carve up the area and force at least six clubs, including Ziegfeld's, Heat, and the Follies Theatre, to vacate.
Customers in here are always saying to me, 'You've gotta open another place. What are we going to do? Councilman Jack Evans acknowledges that the gay clubs in the area face a difficult situation. There's nowhere else in the city where we can re-create that.
The land doesn't exist. I don't want them to just stick us in some neighborhood and have to work on gaining acceptance again.
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I'm hoping they'll be lenient with and relocating laws with us and take into consideration how long we've been here. At the Bada Bing strip club featured on HBO's The Sopranos, sexual favors are traded, drugs are readily available, and gangsters gather to couple their moves. One DC manager says the only relationship his club has to The Sopranos is that "they showed people drinking Grey Goose vodka at the Bada Bing, and immediately Grey Goose sales went up more than percent.
In any business you have some bad apples, but the club owners here make real good money, and there's no reason to do anything extracurricular. In the old beautiful, the "extracurricular" was Columbia. You even had [then-mayor] Marion Barry accused of doing cocaine at the This Is It club in the mids. Washington has changed.
The sex important thing I tell my managers is that we have to keep ourso we can't do anything that district cause us to lose it. Sergeant Mark Gilkey, the DC police detective in charge of the antiprostitution unit, says police get involved primarily when they receive complaints from citizens.
The clientele for clubs is totally different than it used to be. The clubs have cleaned up considerably. The law broken most often in DC clubs is the one requiring that dancers perform on a stage at least three feet from the nearest customer. According to ABRA director of operations Jeff Coudriet, it is technically a violation for a patron to go up to a stage and slip money in a dancer's garter while she performs. But Coudriet acknowledges, "It's so historically done here that we look the other way on the tipping issue. For the most part, DC is pretty clean.
Dancers themselves have something to do with that, says one manager. It makes the guys think that all the girls will do it because one girl is doing it, and the majority of girls don't want that stigma.