Nudity proposal has Block uneasy Some clubs fear they won't survive if ban is lifted

November 22, 1995|By Michael James | Michael James,SUN STAFF

Former state Sen. American Joe Miedusiewski's proposal to allow nude dancing in Baltimore has sent The Block into a frenzy of sorts, leaving adult nightclub owners wondering whether naked women will save the troubled strip or put it out of business.

While nudity is a concept most Block owners welcome -- dancers are currently required by liquor regulations to cover their private parts -- the threat of outside competition is not. And the naked truth is that Mr. Miedusiewski's proposal would mean just that.

"We're looking to raise the standards. We do not agree with what The Block does," said Mr. Miedusiewski, now a lobbyist for an upscale Atlanta strip club interested in moving to Baltimore. "If we're successful in any way, shape or form to raise the standards, it's the death knell for The Block."

Mr. Miedusiewski has asked the city liquor board to consider allowing nudity here. In return for his efforts, he is being paid $8,000 a month plus expenses by the Cheetah Club, which he describes as "an upscale playboy club of the 90s" that puts nude dancing in a 36,000-square foot dinner facility featuring valet parking and fine cigars.

"They've got a grand piano there, and art deco and artwork on the walls. They have a wine selection that is extremely impressive," Mr. Miedusiewski said of a recent visit to the Atlanta business.

'Tough to govern'

Mr. Miedusiewski said he hasn't targeted a specific location for the club and he stressed that the idea is in the "conceptualization" stage. But he said Cheetah's is a fashionable contrast to The Block, which he called "spurious," "a blemish on the city's character" and a "strip of little holes in the wall that are tough to govern."

His proposal and his comments about The Block -- which is struggling to stay alive amid continuing financial and political pressure -- caused some owners to bare not their dancers, but their knuckles.

"I've got a top rail at my bar that has four cognacs, 15 single malt scotches, and 11 rums. And he's saying there's no quality," said Tony Pulaski, owner of the Stage Door nightclub.

"Where was Senator Joe when he was a senator? Where was he when we wanted nudity then? Now all of a sudden he's got somebody from outside of town paying him money, and he wants nudity," Mr. Pulaski said. "The problem with bringing the ,, Cheetah Club in is that they're from Atlanta. I'm from Baltimore. And I'm not going to let these politicians, former or current, rape Baltimore business one more time."

Bill Wantland, a co-owner of the Club Pussycat, said he was against the nudity proposal.

"The Cheetah Club would knock a lot of people out of business," said Mr. Wantland, who said he makes a good living running a Block nightclub. "Bringing back nudity won't help down here, either. All it will do is bring back prostitution."

The club owners say they have cleaned up prostitution in the bars.

On a recent visit, a reporter watched dancers at several nightclubs sit with men in the audience and kiss and fondle them for the price of a $20 drink at the bar. Some of the women asked the men for another $20 drink so they may continue kissing.

Dancers are paid a percentage of the drink prices and earn up to $200 a night, according to several dancers interviewed.

Convention attraction

But the owners say that the groping would disappear if nude dancing were allowed. Their argument is that business is hurting and nudity would help attract more conventioneers who come to Baltimore.

Many of those conventioneers, they say, are disappointed that Baltimore doesn't offer nudity as do other cities such as Houston, Atlanta, and West Palm Beach, Fla.

"London, Paris, Berlin, they all have nudity, and those are some of the classiest cities in the world," said George Barzoucas, the owner of the Villa Nova showbar. "Nail us for prostitution. Nail us for narcotics. But don't nail us for nudity."

Nude dancing is allowed in Baltimore, but only at clubs that don't have liquor licenses. Those that sell liquor are prohibited.

No imminent change

Aaron L. Stansbury, the city liquor board's executive secretary, said the board won't take any action on Mr. Miedusiewski's nudity request unless the Maryland legislature passes a new law governing adult entertainment.

"It would be precipitous for the board to modify its regulation pertaining to nudity before then, because we couldn't implement it until the state code was modified," Mr. Stansbury said.

Robert B. Schulman, an attorney for the East Baltimore Street Merchants Association, which represents about 20 adult entertainment businesses, said Block owners generally support any provision allowing nude dancing.

"Their position has been that you can see a lot more on television and in movies than you can see at their locations. It'll bring in business, and they believe what's good for business is good for the city," Mr. Schulman said.

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