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Garage Strip Clubs Thriving in Pr. George's

By Paul Schwartzman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 29, 2004; Page C01

The sign outside the blue-and-white, garage-style building advertises a carwash and banquet hall. The proprietor, at least according to Prince George's County records, is Grandma's South Carolina Catering.

Yet in the year since it opened on Central Avenue near the District border, no car has been scrubbed and no meal has been cooked, the owner acknowledges. The place doesn't even have a kitchen.

"I'm providing an outlet that takes killers off the street, a safe haven," said Daniel Irving, 41. "I'm providing jobs, and I clean up my neighborhood." He opened his first adult entertainment club in Prince George's in 1994. (Dudley M. Brooks -- The Washington Post)

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And "Grandma"? He's Daniel Irving, 41, an unabashed promoter of adult entertainment who drives a Mercedes-Benz and lives in a sprawling Capitol Heights home. Every night, he draws a crowd of patrons who pay $20 to watch women simulate sex and dance topless on a stage.

"They love it," Irving said of his customers, who often find their way to his dimly lit garage through fliers, palm cards and word of mouth.

"They come from right here in Capitol Heights. They come from D.C.," he said. "They call from the highway -- 'Yo, we're coming down from New York. How do we get to you?' "

Prince George's authorities are not as enthralled. The county has long been home to licensed clubs, places such as the Stardust Inn in Landover Hills and Three Captains in Bladensburg, where customers drink beer and whiskey and watch dancers swing on a pole. These businesses can be a magnet for crime, officials say, citing the fatal shootings of three men in front of the Stardust in April 2003.

But a new kind of establishment concerns state and county officials: makeshift clubs such as Irving's, where promoters take over garages, warehouses and storefronts and charge patrons to watch strip shows.

Irving is among the beneficiaries of a loophole in county law that allows the late-night clubs to feature strip shows if alcohol isn't served or consumed. While technically within the law, however, these businesses are also hot spots for crime, according to state and county officials.

In May, a 27-year-old District man was shot and killed in the parking lot outside Sinsaysionals, a club in a garage on Lanham-Severn Road. In 2002, a 17-year-old man was shot to death outside Music Studio 63 on Ritchie Road, a spot formerly owned by Irving. Another teenager was killed outside the club the year before.

"It's not something we want in our community because of the problems it attracts and the elements and persons it attracts," said County Council member Camille Exum (D), whose district includes Capitol Heights, where Irving's club is located.

Although no definitive list of the region's after-hours clubs exists, Prince George's appears to host most of them, investigators say -- at least a dozen. Authorities report that they have found at least one in Anne Arundel County, and a District police officer was charged last year with operating Club Bliss, an unlicensed venture in a warehouse in Northeast.

"They operate very late-night, people gather, there's alcohol, there are stabbings and on and on and on," said John Horney, chief inspector for the Maryland state comptroller, which enforces laws against the unlicensed sale of alcohol. "It's a nuisance to the community."

The emergence of the clubs prompted a meeting this summer of officials from the state, Prince George's police and the state's attorney's office, who agreed to share information and coordinate efforts to monitor the businesses. Barbara Hamm, a police spokeswoman, would not comment, citing an ongoing investigation.

A post -midnight tour of Prince George's on Thursday found at least four open for business.

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