By 1986, the neon demimonde that thrived in the blocks around 14th, H, and I streets had vanished

By 1986, the neon demimonde that thrived in the blocks around 14th, H, and I streets had vanished

In the early 1990s, DC placed a freeze on liquor licenses for nude-dancing establishments. “If you owned a place, you could keep it and you could sell it, but you couldn’t move it,” says Jack Evans, city councilman in Ward 2, the downtown and close-in Northwest DC area where most of the strip clubs are. “It protected all the existing clubs, but you couldn’t get a new license. 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 600 feet from any residential building and at least 600 feet from another strip club to prevent the kind of concentration that marked DC’s 14th Street.

The freeze on licenses 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. The 3,800 “adult cabarets” in the United States earn about $15 billion of a $75-billion worldwide legal adult-entertainment market, according to Angelina Spencer of the Association of Club Executives. “This is one market that remains strong nationally and SnapCougars sees regular growth year after year,” Spencer says.

The six largest markets, Spencer says, are Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Miami/Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles. There are about 40 major strip clubs in Atlanta, she says. “Even a conservative estimate of the economic impact of such clubs translates to . . . far above the economic impact of the Braves, Hawks, and Falcons combined,” she says.

Despite possibilities for increased tax revenues, Evans says, the District is not looking to allow more clubs. “It’s just an issue we don’t want to visit again,” he says. “What we have is working.”

There are 20 licensed strip clubs in DC; three are advertised in Northern Virginia–one in Crystal City and two in Springfield; and just over a dozen operate in Prince George’s County

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 club is Camelot Show Bar on M Street downtown, where the decor is classier, the dancers are more attractive, and the mid-fortyish clientele is older than elsewhere. Not far away, Archibalds on K Street has the feel of a local pub. At happy hour it’s packed with a mix of whites and blacks, often including 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.

Good Guys on Wisconsin Avenue in Glover Park feels like a party: The music is more rock ‘n’ roll than R&B, and the dancers, who have more tattoos and piercings than elsewhere, actually use the pole in their acrobatic performances

Across the Potomac River in Crystal City, just off Jefferson Davis Highway, the Crystal City Restaurant looks like a sports bar. 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.

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