Inside The Block is a different world

March 15, 1994|By Scott Higham and Eric Siegel

The Block is not mentioned in any Baltimore travel brochure.

For the uninitiated, it's a place where many people live on the edge and speak a language all their own. It's a nether world of young dancers and tough-talking street people, where acts of prostitution are called "bottles," drinks cost at least $20, and hardly anyone goes by their real name.

Instead, call them "Viking Dan," "Electra Blue" or "Tank."

They work for themselves and a piece of the action. The bars have few employees on payroll, instead hiring help on commission. Doormen, dancers and bartenders use street smarts to scrape together a living.

Doormen station themselves outside clubs, beckoning pedestrians to "take a look."

Most of their money comes from dancers, who tip them for errands, and from the generosity of satisfied customers. Police say doormen also earn cash by running small amounts of drugs between the clubs and the streets, and collecting debts from deadbeats.

Inside the clubs, one dancer takes the stage while others work the bar. They caress customers, cozying up for drinks that cost $20 to $25. For each drink, the dancers get $4. Bartenders get $2. The rest goes to the bar owners.

"While having a drink with the customer, dancers will usually fondle the customer's groin," state police undercover officers wrote in a search warrant affidavit.

The flirtatious routine is a come-on one for more drinks. With some dancers, it's a come-on for sex.

Acts of sex-for-pay are commonly called "bottles" on The Block. When customers want to take dancers downstairs -- where most clubs keep closet-like rooms equipped with beds and chairs -- they are given a bottle of champagne, or sometimes just a glass of soda. The "bottle" is a ruse. The customer pays as much as $150 for the drink, and another $100 tip to the dancer.

Of the 24 bars raided in January, police said they found evidence of prostitution or solicitation in all but one -- the Midway. At that bar, a meeting place for Block workers, drinks cost a couple of bucks and the dancers keep their clothes on.

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