Politics, Barbecue and Skin, All Served Up Hot at the Inn
Saturday, June 11, 2005
It's almost midnight, and the night crawlers have taken over the Ebony Inn. Next to a faded "No Drinking and Loitering" sign, young men with braided hair and baseball caps sip beer from paper bags. A black Cadillac Escalade rests on the uneven asphalt of the parking lot like an oversized ornament.
Inside, scantily clad exotic dancers Chocolate and Vanilla are on all fours, grinding their hips for about 30 admirers. Dollar bills float like confetti onto the dance floor. A muscular man tucks bill after bill into Vanilla's black G-string, then squeezes her flesh as if he's palming a basketball.
She smiles as if she likes it.
"Give it up, yo. Give it up," yells her emcee, a wireless mike in one hand, a wad of cash in the other. "Don't be scared to come up. Get out your dollar bills."
Two months have passed since Maryland lawmakers added Prince George's to a roster of counties that banned nudity and sexual displays in venues that sell alcohol. The legendary Ebony Inn in Fairmount Heights is such a place, but the law's reach stops at its door. Legislators gave it an exemption from the new rules.
It is perhaps the most politically connected nightclub in the region, a place where history clashes with a community's vision of its future. It remains a Prince George's institution because of a compact man with curly black hair, a thick moustache and squared-off glasses. He spends long hours in a cluttered office above a drive-through liquor store next door to the Ebony Inn.
He's former state senator Tommie Broadwater Jr., who has spent a lifetime in the spotlight. He and his family own the Inn, the liquor store, a bail bond business, a motel and a takeout barbecue rib joint -- on a seesawing stretch of Sheriff Road known as the Hill.
Broadwater's oldest friends call him "Rocky" -- short for Rockefeller. But he was also known as the political godfather of Prince George's County.
The tan walls of Broadwater's office are covered with photos that showcase his wide-reaching clout. There's Broadwater shaking County Executive Jack B. Johnson's hand. There's Broadwater at the fundraiser he organized at the Ebony Inn for Jesse L. Jackson's 1988 presidential bid.
And there, behind a large black television, is the biggest portrait, framed in gold and lit up like a shrine. It's Broadwater with Maryland state senator and political ally Nathaniel Exum (D-Prince George's).
"We're very close," said Broadwater, looking up at the photo.
In April, Exum amended a legislative bill to exempt the Ebony Inn from having to fire Chocolate and Vanilla. The law takes effect in October.