Neighborhood advocates and strip club owners don’t often agree on what’s best for a community. But on this they do: A soon-to-open business on an upscale city street could change the nature of nude dancing in the District.
When JP’s club opens in a few weeks in Glover Park, it won’t have a kitchen. Instead, that space will be used to serve up nude dancing not just on stage but also in “private alcoves” and on tabletops, making the club different from its competitors.
“It begs the question of what’s going to go on there,” said advisory neighborhood commissioner Jackie Blumenthal, the blueprints for the club open in her living room. “The way this is set up and the whole attitude toward it seems to encourage a little bit of crossing the line, and that’s what concerns us.”
A dismayed competitor put it more bluntly: “Washington has one of the cleanest strip club attitudes in the whole nation. This is going to change the whole city. If they allow this to open, I assure you other clubs will follow suit. You don’t want Washington to become like Las Vegas.”
The owners of JP’s, who bought the license and name after a fire shut down the original operation in 2008, say their plans fall in line with regulations, including a three-foot rule that separates entertainers from customers. When the place opens, they say, patrons can expect to find an upscale business in line with nearby Georgetown, even if it doesn’t resemble the old JP’s, which had been in operation since 1986, or other strip clubs in the area.
“It’s not our intention to be held to the standard of what any other club is doing now, has done in the past or will do in the future,” said Paul Kadlick, a representative for the owners. “It’s our intention to run our business in the best fashion we can.”
Neighborhoods fighting what they regard as undesirable businesses in their back yards is nothing new. But what’s happening on a stretch of Wisconsin Avenue, a few doors down from a homemade ice cream shop where families regularly grab cones and cross the street to watch nighttime Little League games, is about more than residents not wanting a strip club in their midst. (They have learned to live with another one nearby, they say.) It’s about the way nude dancing is offered in the city and who should make the decisions about how such clubs are allowed to operate.
The argument from residents and fellow strip club owners comes down to two words: “substantial change.” They say that the plans for the new JP’s, which will offer dancing on two stages, three tables and two private alcoves, differ enough from the old JP’s, which limited entertainment to two stages, that the District’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, which oversees the licenses for strip clubs in the city, should hold a public hearing before the place is allowed to open.
The board, which has received letters outlining these concerns, has decided otherwise.
It will allow the new owners of JP’s, BJ Enterprises, to reactivate the license before the board decides on the issue of “substantial change,” spokesman Bill Hager said. Once the license is reactivated, he said, it will be subject to the board’s renewal process, which requires a 45-day public hearing notice, allowing the community a chance to object. All the while, the club will be allowed to operate.
Blumenthal said that if the board later determines that “substantial changes” were made, she fears it won’t matter. Construction will be done and a customer base established. “They’re not going to order this stuff to be ripped out and the kitchen to be rebuilt,” she said.
Other strip club owners were surprised by the board’s position, saying that if they made major changes to their operations, their plans would be subject to scrutiny beforehand, not after the fact.
One club owner, who asked not to be identified because he depends on the ABC Board for his license, said that he can tell customers who are looking for more than a show that the District allows only looking, not touching. Once they learn another place offers sanctioned VIP cubicles, it will open “Pandora’s box,” he predicted.
“This is a slippery slope, because in our business you move to the lowest common denominator,” he said. “If they are allowed to do that, everyone has to arm themselves accordingly.”
He added, “I don’t even know if the board understands that’s a dangerous precedent. That makes it a whole different ballgame, which we will all be forced to play.”
The ABC Board currently oversees 20 licenses for class C nightclubs that are allowed to offer nude dancing. Of those, 11 are operating, with nine offering nude entertainment. The other licenses, including the one for JP’s, remain inactive.
Kadlick said he is “not concerned at all” about the licensing renewal process, since he says all of the issues raised by residents have already come before the board.
“We understand the process, we respect it and we will engage it,” he said. “But we don’t expect it to affect operations at all.”
Kadlick said that he and the owners have met with their neighbors on several occasions to explain their plans for a business that sits only 364 feet from another strip club, Good Guys. The two clubs have long been in the neighborhood, predating many of the upscale stores that are now there and plans for a luxury apartment building nearby.
“We’ve done our best to be good neighbors, and we intend to continue to do that,” Kadlick said. “We can’t make them feel any better about the business we’re in.”
Kadlick said that their license doesn’t require them to “serve a bag of pretzels” if they don’t want to, but they do plan to have catered food. As for the layout, he said, customers can draw the dancers to the tables for a fee and the alcoves will not have doors but will serve those who want a “more modest, private area.”
“We expect to generate a lot of tax revenue for the city and income for people,” Kadlick said.
Taped to the reflective glass window outside the club, on a sheet of paper with the words “Coming Soon!” is a list of a half- dozen positions they hope to fill in the coming weeks. They plan to hire 20 core staff members and up to 30 dancers.
Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.