In June, residents in the Ward 5 neighborhoods abutting the club-cum-steakhouse submitted two petitions, one with five signatures and another with 21, arguing the establishment was disrupting peace, quiet and public safety. The club had previously been located at 900 First Street SE, but moved when the city declared eminent domain to make room for the new ballpark. It opened at its new digs on Queens Chapel Road in April.
But when the club’s license renewal application came up this week, only one resident showed up to declare it unwelcome: Lauren Wallace, a U.D.C. law student and local who’d signed the five-signature petition. The second, 21-neighbor group had apparently dropped out. “This case is not about nude dancing being a bad thing in D.C., [but] whether or not it’s appropriate for a nude dancing establishment to be in a residential neighborhood,” Wallace said.
Stadium Club co-manager Keith Forney testified on the club’s behalf, accompanied by lawyer Stephen O’Brien and an entourage of witnesses. The club noted that it occupies two lots alongside warehouses for a meat company and a waste-management firm, well away from delicate neighbors.
Wallace, on the other hand, had just one witness, D.C. resident and fellow U.D.C. law student Benjamin Petok, who was at the club on the evening of June 16th, when a homeless man slashed a valet attendant with a broken bottle. As a result, Petok was unable to exit the premises around midnight. MPD apprehended the man, who was not a patron. Mayhem!
How common are such incidents? An Alcoholic Beverage Regulatory Administration (ABRA) investigator, Jabriel Shakoor, followed hearing custom to detail recent calls to police about the venue. Since May, the calls have included reports of: a simple assault, an assault with a deadly weapon, disorderly conduct, and a theft. Shakoor said that over the course of several visits, he also witnessed couples, friends and larger parties eating at the restaurant portion of the establishment.
Unfortunately for club foes, he did not cite any liquor-law violations.
Alas, once Wallace took over cross-examination, the line of questioning lost direction.
“Is it true that vaginas are shown?” she asked.
“They are nude, in that vaginas can be seen…,” Forney replied.
Things got worse for the protestants. Petok, who’d never been in the neighborhood before his trip to the club, revealed that he was asked to visit by a fellow student, Don Padou, who reimbursed him $325 for the night, covering admission and drinks. Padou, a Ward 5 resident, was another member of Wallace’s group of five petitioners. He was not present at the hearing.
On the stand, Petok described his night at the strip joint: dancers working on two stages, clothed at first but eventually–wait for it–stripping nude. He said he bought a few dancers drinks and witnessed customers consume alcohol on the outdoors patio. Both of which are against club policy.
Petok also claimed to have seen things that almost violated city strip-club regs against touching and lap dances.
“I suppose you could avoid touching the dancers, but I think there’s incidental contact,” he said, noting patrons tipped dancers on stage. “Some women would touch their breasts, genital and buttocks.”
And near the end of the night–five hours in–Petok paid $100 for 10-minutes in a private room with a dancer–his car was blocked, what else was he to do? The experience was “essentially a lap dance, where she, naked, would grind her exposed body up against my clothed body,” he said.
Such testimony might have been damning–notwithstanding the use of mitigating words like “incidental” and “essentially”–but for one pesky problem: Liquor license hearings aren’t the place to hash out strip-club rules.
After about 90 minutes, ABC Board Chairman Charles Brodsky ran out of patience when Wallace refused to let her witness answer club attorney O’Brien’s question: “How did what you observed in the Stadium Club that night, impact peace, order, and quiet outside of the club?”
Petok, Wallace said, was there only to state facts and not his own opinions.
“The basis of this protest is peace, order, and quiet…the only witness put on by the protestant group…is a guy that can’t make any claims to peace, order, and quiet,” Brodsky replied. “So, why in God’s name did they bring you? I don’t understand.”
If the club is violating its own stripper-behavior, and the city’s, residents can’t trust them to maintain order outside their establishment, Wallace explained.
“I’m not really interested in your theoretical reasoning…claims by a paid person…that goes inside this establishment to find something that goes on inside, that has no impact on the outside,” Brodsky said.
At this point, Petok piped up. He was merely visiting the strip club as a favor for a friend, he said.
“You were paid,” Brodsky shot back.
“It was a zero sum for me,” Petok replied.
“That’s like being a little bit pregnant,” Brodsky said.
On the other hand, the law student did say one good thing about his visit: “I certainly didn’t observe prostitution.”
The ABC Board did not immediately vote on the club. A decision is due soon.
For more Stadium Club content, check out the review by City Paper’s own Tim Carman of the club’s walled-off, no-cover-charge restaurant section. For the record, vaginas could be seen there, too, but not very easily. The review focused instead on chef Andre Miller‘s wallet-emptying steak.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery.