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Last week Dion “Tina Tuna” Adams took the stage at Lime, a nightclub located on a desolate stretch of Half Street SW. He gathered his gown in his hands, pivoted on his stilettos, and began lip-syncing. “Tell me something good,” he mouthed.
It’s an appropriate tune for the folks at Lime, who’ve had plenty of bad news lately. In May, the city sued owner Hubert Philogene for operating a business without the appropriate license. Between April and August, Philogene says, the Metropolitan Police Department closed the club multiple times and arrested him twice. Now Philogene is suing the city for harassment. And just last week, a dancer at Lime tore off his clothes—even though the club doesn’t have a nude dancing license.
That most recent incident occurred close to 2 a.m. on Sept. 12. It was Hot Chocolate Tuesday, a weekly event that made its debut at Lime last spring. For Adams and business partner Raymond “Tink” Cole, holding the show at Lime represented a kind of homecoming. Cole initiated Hot Chocolate Tuesdays at the Edge/Wet nightclub on L Street SE more than a decade ago, he says, and the mix of drag performances and “male dancing” was wildly successful, attracting 500 people on a slow night. “We made history,” Cole says. “We made Tuesday into a party night.”
But the last year has been hard on Hot Chocolate. When the Edge/Wet closed in September 2006 to make way for the new baseball stadium, Cole, Adams, and their partner Tony Christian were forced to relocate. “The Edge is a legacy to us,” Cole says. “It took us a minute to let go.” They tried hosting performances in Oxon Hill, Md., but their fans didn’t follow them across the District line. “The truth of the matter is, they wasn’t coming,” Cole says.
So, when former Edge/Wet owner Ron Hunt told them about Lime, they jumped at the chance to return to D.C. They held their first show at the club April 24, but the club closed for the summer, and attendance has lagged since its reopening. On Sept. 12, only about 50 patrons, primarily black men, circled the dance floor while drag queens and dancers took the stage. Adams invited the audience to clap for some “sexy chocolate ass” and get ready for the show’s “climax.”
The climax that night had a name: ReDICKulous. The dancer arrived on stage wearing a cape, a one-piece jumpsuit, and underwear. A few minutes later, he wore nothing at all. He writhed on the linoleum floor, squeezed Hershey’s Syrup into his mouth, and briefly wrapped his lips around his supersized penis. As the music faded, Adams encouraged Lime’s patrons to give ReDICKulous a hand. “This child’s ass looks like two biscuits, and I’m hungry as a motherfucker,” he said.
“I think it’s important the gay community has a place to go to have fun in a safe environment,” says one patron, who declined to give his name. Cole says Hot Chocolate is ready to keep that environment at Lime. “We’re not going anywhere,” he says.
But staying at Lime could be a problem. The club isn’t licensed for nude dancing, says Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) spokesperson Cynthia Simms.
Cole says ReDICKulous’ flash dance was a mistake. The performer hails from Atlanta, he says, and wasn’t familiar with D.C.’s nude-dancing policies. “He made an accident,” he says.
Philogene says he did not know nude dancing was going to be part of the show and vows that it won’t happen again. “If there are any loopholes, I need to correct them immediately,” he says.
ReDICKulous’ performance is just one of several balls in the air at Lime, which features go-go performances, open mic nights, and reggae acts as well as Hot Chocolate Tuesdays. This summer, at the urging of attorney Andrea Bagwell, the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board held two hearings to determine whether Philogene made changes to Lime’s ownership without appropriately notifying the board.
Phillip Allen, a Baltimore businessman, testified that he contributed $282,000 between 2005 and 2006 to Lime’s rent, remodeling, liquor, and employee salaries. George Garnier, a welder from Takoma Park, said he forked over between $160,000 and $180,000 between 2004 and 2006. Both men expected to become co-owners in Lime’s LLC, they testified before the board.
By February 2006, however, Garnier and Allen’s relationship with Philogene had deteriorated, Garnier testified. They asked for more control of the club, but Philogene was unresponsive. “Every time we have a meeting, we say we’re going to do one thing…Mr. Philogene always go back and change it, and we was having a problem with that,” Garnier says.
In June 2006, Garnier arrived at the club and discovered the locks had been changed. He retaliated by changing the locks again and welding the door shut. Later that month, Garnier and Allen removed liquor, stereo equipment, and cash registers from the club, they testified.
Philogene says the men were investors, not partners or co-owners. “I was the one who started the business on my own without them even being there,” he says. He confirms that he signed an operating agreement with the two men that split ownership evenly but claims that Garnier and Allen never fulfilled the financial commitments he says ownership entailed. Far from being pushed out, Allen and Garnier left the business when “they came and took all the liquor out,” Philogene says.
The board has taken the matter under consideration but has not yet issued a decision. “This is a mess,” board member Vera B. Abbott said at an Aug. 7 ABC Board hearing.
The mess doesn’t stop there. In April 2007, Philogene says, D.C. police officers began visiting Lime regularly to check its licenses. He showed the cops a restaurant license issued by the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) and a nightclub license from ABRA, he says, but the officers kept coming. They shut the club down five times over the course of five months, Philogene says, adding, “to this day, I’m still trying to find out what they wanted.”
On May 7, the Office of the Attorney General filed a suit in D.C. Superior Court against Lime for “operating illegally as a public hall.” The suit alleges the club hosted live music performances without an appropriate certificate of occupancy and business license. On July 2, Philogene was arrested for operating without a license, handcuffed in front of his patrons, and carted off to jail, he says. He was arrested again July 15 for the same reason. “I’ve been through a lot of hardship. Every time I think I get myself above, it’s like I’m going deeper into the hole,” Philogene says.
Still, he’s standing up for himself. In August, Philogene sued the District of Columbia in Superior Court, stating that the club never behaved as a public hall because it never entertained more than 400 people and was legally licensed as a restaurant by DCRA. Furthermore, the suit says, “the owner, employees, and patrons have been harassed by DCRA employees and MPD police.” A judge permitted the club to reopen Aug. 31, he says.
But Allen and Garnier say that unless Lime’s liquor license is revoked, the turbulence will continue. “Mr. Philogene doesn’t work within any parameters,” Allen says. “He does what he wants every day. A business doesn’t run on impulse.”
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