A Manhattan strip club favored by shock jock Howard Stern, professional athletes and Wall Street financiers could soon have its name emblazoned on Baltimore's newest all-nude venue.
Scores Baltimore - the latest outpost in an expansion effort by the parent company of Scores New York - is expected to open by April in space long occupied by Club Atlantis, the city's only full-fledged gay strip club.
The venture's local backers plan today to finalize their purchase of the Atlantis building at the Fallsway and East Monument Street, near the state prison complex and the planned site of Our Daily Bread's new food pantry and transitional residency.
Scores would become the second national strip club chain to reach Baltimore. Last year, Larry Flynt's Hustler Club opened downtown on The Block, home to half the city's 36 live adult entertainment spots.
Though the Hustler Club has vied for the mantle of "classiest" gentlemen's club - despite police allegations of illegal touching - a Scores spokesman in New York suggested the new club, visible from the Jones Falls Expressway, would be a cut above.
"We're more of the Playboy fold: very classy, full-length gowns, cabaret-style, Las Vegas-style entertainment," said the spokesman, Lonnie Hanover.
Not that he thinks people visit strip clubs to see gowns.
"The magic," he said, "is that at some point they'll take their clothes off for you."
Asked why Baltimore was added to an expansion list along with Chicago, North Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Hanover said: "We love Baltimore, that's why. Where are the Orioles going to hang out after a victory?"
One longtime Block proprietor who says the Hustler Club has had little impact doubts that Scores would make a big splash - except by further draining the pool of exotic dancers.
"It don't mean nothing for them to use the Scores name," said Peter Ireland Sr., owner of Norma Jean's. "You're going to have the same Baltimore girls as you've got at Hustler, on The Block, at the Gold Club. There's no difference."
Not true, said one member of the local team that struck a licensing agreement with publicly traded Scores Holding Company Inc.
"Many, many will be local, but many of the girls will travel from one [Scores] club to the other, so there's always fresh faces," said Andrew Alley, who will run Scores Baltimore with Brian Shulman under a deal that requires them to pay royalties to the Scores corporate operation.
"We'll have the Scores flavor and atmosphere tailored to the Baltimore area," Alley added.
Alley and Shulman run Chubbies, a small Fells Point strip club that is to be taken over by Shulman's brother, Aaron, and another local man.
Alley likens Scores to other upscale chains that have come to Baltimore or are on the way, including the Four Seasons and Ritz-Carlton. And the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association says clubs such as Scores do fill a niche.
"There is a percentage of conventioneers that look for that type of entertainment, and this does satisfy that need and offer other options," said Debra Dignan, associate vice president of convention sales.
The Baltimore liquor board agreed Thursday to let Atlantis owner John D. Rock transfer his liquor and adult entertainment licenses to Shulman and Alley. Liquor board documents show the two men have paid Rock $100,000 for his business, a sum that does not include the Fallsway property.
Efforts to reach Rock this week were unsuccessful.
Alley said the club hopes to expand to the second floor, for a total of 13,000 square feet. But a spokeswoman for Mayor Martin O'Malley said the new club would be bound by a 2001 zoning board decision permitting a more modest expansion for adult entertainment there.
One issue the club's operators won't likely face is significant community opposition. Catholic Charities knew Club Atlantis was there when it made plans to move Our Daily Bread from Mount Vernon to land near the prison.
Moreover, there aren't many area residents - except for prisoners.
"We hope to be good neighbors," Alley said, "but I don't think there will be much interaction."