A brilliant yellow notice is taped securely to the padlocked front door, making sure you don’t miss the hand-scrawled message.
Bump-and-grind girlie club Assets—get it?—is shuttered for an “indefinite suspension.” D.C. alcohol authorities ruled the nightclub north of Dupont Circle at Connecticut and Florida avenues NW had become “an imminent danger” for flaunting coronavirus restrictions not once, but three separate times.
Among the violations, maskless male customers were seen stuffing wads of money into the staff’s bikinis. The club employed most of the women as nude dancers before the pandemic necessitated a ban on live entertainment. During the reopening process, they’ve worn as few clothes as possible as they acted like servers, alluringly bringing food and drinks to tables. Inspectors reported seeing customers throwing money at the “waitresses,” a move you might interpret as a chance to watch them bend over to pick it up.
And out in the adjacent Assets parking lot—its asphalt painted a vivid pink and ringed with awkwardly hung plastic greenery—only a cold wind blows across the deserted space. Normally buxom females would be serving out there, too, as part of its pandemic pivot to stay viable.
But even if Assets were still open, it’s been too cold for barely clothed waitresses to tend to customers al fresco. “There is less demand for wait staff wearing winter coats,” observes entertainment business and real estate lawyer Richard Bianco, who represents the club owners.
Bianco says Assets is appealing the shutdown, looking to reach a compromise with the District’s Office of the Attorney General. “We don’t concede any of the allegations,” Bianco says, “but at the end of the day it’s a business and sometimes you have to buy peace.”
To reopen, the nightclub must first negotiate with the attorney general and then ask the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board to approve any agreement.
The shutdown is only the latest clash with authorities and neighbors, who have battled for decades over the strip club, which has operated under various names at 1805 Connecticut Ave. NW. Prior to the past year under its new ownership as Assets, it was known for many years as Royal Palace and before that, Erik’s. Thirty one years ago, in 1989, then-ANC 2B Chairman Jack Evans (yes, that Jack Evans), led a successful effort to force Erik’s to take down all the exterior naked girl neon signs. That community agreement remains in place today with successor clubs.
“It was not a high class establishment,” Evans recalls now, learning of the current troubles.
Ellen Goldstein has lived in the nearby, upscale neighborhood of Sheridan-Kalorama since the 1980s. Its residents have long opposed the club, and a fresh contingent of them oppose the new name. “I’m sure Mayor [Muriel] Bowser wouldn’t want to walk her little daughter by there and have her daughter ask, ‘What does Assets mean?’” Goldstein tells City Paper. Neighbors say, pre-pandemic, the club sometimes drew a rowdy, noisy crowd that disturbed them even though the club sits on highly commercialized Connecticut Avenue NW.
Assets has another big problem if it gets permission to reopen. Like other food-serving establishments and restaurants, the club will only be able to seat 25 percent of its tables starting on Dec. 14. This is down from 50 percent capacity that was permitted at the start of Phase 2 in June. That means Assets’ current 50 percent maximum of 65 indoor customers would drop to 25 percent and only 32 indoor customers in a place that can typically hold 130.
“It’s certainly going to have an impact on what we decide [about reopening],” Bianco says. “They are operating at a loss now with the restrictions. We know it’s going to be significantly worse.” Bianco says co-owners Jeffrey Schaeffer and his wife Gabby Miller will make the call. “It’s a hard cost to be open,” Bianco explains. Disapproving neighbors say they have only a little hope that the club will close permanently.
Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration inspectors have cited Assets three times since July. In addition to staff “interacting” with customers, whatever that means, violations included music being played “above a conversational level” and food and drink served after midnight.
The club got its first warning on July 22. A second visit by inspectors to the dimly lit club came weeks later on August 6. According to the report, “there did not appear to be any effort to close [on time] … the establishment provided live entertainment and served alcoholic beverages to patrons … specifically, waitresses danced for patrons, some of whom placed currency bills into the bikini straps of the waitresses or threw money at them.”
Finally, on November 22, inspectors returned for a third time, discovering more serious violations. The report says the front and side doors were locked even though customers were inside, a clear safety violation. When inspectors finally managed to get inside, they reported a large crowd drinking, “smoking hookah, and not maintaining a distance of six feet.”
Most of the customers “were not wearing face masks,” nor were some employees. It alleges that co-owner Gabby Miller “was sitting on the top of the bar without a face mask and speaking into a microphone engaging the patrons.”
On Dec. 2, the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board ruled that there were “violations of the law after repeated warnings” and that it all “demonstrates an indifference or inability to come into compliance.” It’s unclear when the red-light business will get the legal green light to reopen.
This post has been updated to correct Jack Evans’ elected position in 1989. He was the chair of ANC 2B, not the president of the Dupont Circle Citizens Association.