D.C.’s Louis’ Rogue nightclub spells out its managerial policy on virtually every beer ad hanging from the walls.
Behind the bar, Bud Light–labeled signs advise customers of the club’s “$5.00 Minimum Per Hour Required!” A bigger Budweiser logo, positioned high above the metallic-pole-lined, red-light-illuminated stage, adorns a sign kindly requesting, “Please DO NOT touch the Dancers.”
And posted throughout the club, located just two blocks from the City Museum of Washington, D.C., are several “CUSTOMER NOTICE” signs, sponsored by Heineken, advising patrons to “[p]lease notify management immediately if anyone asks you to buy them anything.”
The last warning to buyers isn’t about protecting club customers; it’s there to help the strip club cover its own ass.
On Aug. 1, owner Louis Sigalas’ second-story show bar will be prohibited from selling alcohol, while the business serves out a five-day suspension of its liquor license. The punitive booze ban comes after two of Louis’ scantily clad dancers were busted for soliciting…cocktails.
Last year, city officials received a tip “alleging that the owner of the establishment is forcing waitresses and dancers to solicit a minimum of five drinks per shift,” according to a report by the District’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA).
Although a time-honored tradition for many so-called gentlemen’s clubs, soliciting drinks is against the law in the District. It’s fine to ask patrons if they want to buy a drink for themselves and their friends, a transaction that happens thousands of times each day. But under Title 25 of D.C. Code, bartenders, waiters, and dancers can’t ask patrons to buy a drink—or five—for them.
But patrons say it still happens. Just ask Great Falls resident Brian D. West, who, court records show, racked up a $33,264 bill during a single visit to Southeast stripperplex Nexus Gold Club in January 2004. “Several of the establishment’s entertainers/employees solicited the purchase by my client of alcoholic beverages,” including “a bottle of very expensive Champagne,” West’s attorney, Mark B. Sandground, alleged in a written complaint to city officials last summer.
Nexus owner Ron Hunt denies Sandground’s claim. “No one is soliciting anything here but a good time,” he says.
Maybe so. But other clubs do it pretty openly. Around midnight on July 26, S&T observed one dancer hustling some hooch from a patron at Dupont Circle’s Royal Palace. “Another drink, please,” the red-tube-topped brunette called Tatiana said to a hiccuping gentleman in a blue polo shirt at the bar. The man wearily threw up his hands, waved over the bartender, and handed over his credit card.
At Louis’ Rogue, ABRA learned, the illicit-solicitation policy came with an ultimatum: “If the drink quota is not made, then the employee will be taken off of the work schedule or fined,” the report notes.
On April 22, 2004, undercover ABRA agents Al Luna and Charles Woolridge dropped by the club to witness the practice firsthand.
Once seated, their report shows, the covert duo was approached by a dancer called Cindy, who sat down at their table. A waitress also stopped by to take their orders. The investigators both asked for beers. Cindy, apparently, was thirsty, too. “[Y]ou buy me a drink,” the stripper reportedly told Luna. The investigator happily complied, shelling out $9 for an unspecified beverage.
Another dancer, identified as M&M, soon joined the trio. Cindy suggested that her colleague also deserved a drink. Woolridge obliged, ordering the new arrival a Long Island iced tea, which wound up costing him $11.
Luna remarked that the last time he’d visited Louis’, one of the performers told him that she was required to sell 10 drinks a shift. To which, the report says, Cindy replied, “[S]he is a liar; we only have to sell 5 drinks a day.”
It was a requirement that Louis’ strippers had been following for at least a year.
In 2003, investigators had received a similar tip from a former Louis’ employee named Tracey, whose written complaint, ABRA records show, offers an insider’s look into how the club’s five-drink rule works.
“If a dancer does not wish to drink alcohol, she tells the bartender, the waitress, or both,” Tracey explained to ABRA. “If a customer insists that the girl drink an alcoholic beverage, she will order an alcoholic drink but be given a non-alcoholic drink which appears the same to the customer’s eye. Women are admonished against leaving drinks unattended because customers may taste them to see if there is indeed any alcohol in them.”
Failure to make the five-drink quota, her complaint noted, resulted in a loss of workdays, “usually what the management perceives to be your best days.”
In May 2003, ABRA investigator Jeff Jackson went to Louis’ to check out Tracey’s claims. When he entered the venue and sat down, a dancer named Apple asked him to buy her a drink, according to ABRA records. Jackson refused. The dancer turned and walked away. He then watched her solicit a drink from another customer.
That time, armed with Jackson’s eyewitness testimony, the District’s Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board took swift action. In July 2003, it summoned club owner Sigalas to a hearing.
Sigalas ultimately agreed to shell out a $5,000 fine, submit his club to a two-day suspension, and require all his charges to sign a memorandum, indicating that “[t]he solicitation of drinks by employees and entertainers is prohibited.”
Maybe Cindy and M&M didn’t get that memo.
Manager George Sigalas suggests the dancers’ drink requests were “done without our knowledge,” adding, “We’ve tried our best to correct it.”
In addition to its latest liquor-license suspension, the club was fined $1,500. That’s about 136 Long Island iced teas.
Washington Project for the Arts
Corcoran (WPAC) was founded in 1975 with a mission “to promote excellence in contemporary art in the region.” Lately, the nonprofit has been promoting the excellence of its thick, glossy book.
“Of all the things that we do for artists, this is one of the most important,” Acting Executive Director Kim Ward says of the text, a colorful, 500-plus-page directory, described on the WPAC’s Web site as “the definitive listing of established and emerging contemporary artists throughout the Washington region.”
The site goes on to claim that the listing is seen by more than “2,000 galleries, curators, and interested art patrons.” And the directory serves both the organization and its member artists, Ward says. “We hear from our members that they’ve been contacted to be in shows or have their images used for different things because of the directory,” she says.
Unfortunately, not every WPAC-registered artist is entitled to a spot in the book. In fact, about half of the nonprofit’s 1,000-plus membership isn’t included.
That’s because being in the book isn’t free. To snag a full-page listing, artists not only have to pay the $45 annual WPAC membership fee; they also have to shell out an additional $70. Space is limited. First come, first served.
And members who failed to come up with the extra cash for the forthcoming 2006 edition of the WPAC artist directory are missing out on more than just seeing their names, contact info, and sample works in print.
Take the organization’s latest exhibition, exclusively titled “Turning the Page: Artists Selected From the 2006 WPAC Artist Directory.”
Those who opted out of the new book weren’t even considered for the show. At least one artist is pretty upset about it.
“You’re upping the ante for artists to show their work within the organization,” complained Manassas-based artist R.L. Croft in a June 28 e-mail to the WPAC.
Croft blasted the pay-to-play exhibition as “an affront to the general membership.”
“[T]o exclude other dues paying members from a show because they didn’t happen to pony up the money for an ad seemed to be an irregular use of staff time and membership money,” Croft tells S&T in a separate e-mail. “My view is that it creates a tiered membership, with more services going to those who pay for them, and awards resulting press coverage opportunities as well.”
Croft further criticized the show as “a blatant marketing scheme to bring in more money.”
Ward takes issue with Croft’s use of the word “scheme.” But marketing? Hey, that’s how artwork gets sold. The directory helps not only listed artists, she suggests, but also members who are not listed. “It’s a way to say, ‘Look here at X number of artists living and working in the area. And there are more. This is just a representation. If you’re interested in artwork, come by our offices, look through our slides—you know, get in touch with us.’”
Yet paying for a page in the directory doesn’t exactly grant you a great shot at showing your work at “Turning the Page.” The series, presently curated by WPAC Project Manager Ingrid Nuss and summer intern Ding Ren, will showcase only nine artists out of about 375 who paid for a listing, or 2.4 percent.—Chris Shott
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Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Illustration by Tom Deja.