Inside the Shepherd Park Restaurant/Go-Go Club at the District line on Georgia Avenue NW, a steady procession of topless and bottomless dancers undulates before college students and blue-collar workers who sip $1.15 beers at darkened tables.
Sometimes the place is packed. Most often, business is steady. "Just like McDonald's, we do well on volume," says owner Behnam Ebrhimi (Ben) Zanganeh.
The place has been described by one suburban weekly as a classic American neighborhood pub. Last year, it sponsored a softball team and its exterior was painted red, white and blue for the Bicentennial.
Zanganeh likes to think of it that way, as clean and all-American. It fits in nicely with the 32-year-old Iranian proprietor's achievement of the American dream.
Zanganeh is one of about a dozen Iranians in the Washington area who have gravitated toward owning and working in night clubs as their ticket to success in America. Some of the Persian club owners, a tiny fraction of the diverse Iranian community of some 5,000 in the Washington area, have become naturalized citizens and are working their way into the American mainstream.
In some ways they remain a community apart, resembling a small family with their intermingling business relationships, friendships and feuds.
The murder last May of Alexis Goodarzi, maitre d' of Capitol Hill's Rotunda Restaurant, led police and reporters into their often insular world but provided no solution to the execution-style murder, which remains unsolved.
It did, however, open a window into a little known slice of Washington life.
By all accounts, it is a volatile life in which change is one of the few constants, partnerships bloom and wilt with astonishing speed, and various members of the group sue each other repeatedly.
"In this Iranian community," said one of the handful of lawyers the club owners have provided with steady work, "they can fight in court one day and double-date the next. They sue each other, make deals with handshakes. It drives lawyers up a wall."
Goodarzi, by most accounts, was only a peripheral figure in the Washington area world of Iranian club owners. Some, however, looked up to him as a "big shot" who held a top job at a prestigious restaurant.
Goodarzi had told several of his friends that he was interested in purchasing a club, but that goal eluded him, except for a partial and fleeting interest in the Bastille, a College Park nightclub. At the time of his death, Goodarzi was both a plaintiff and a defendant in lawsuits involving the club.
Apparently the most successful of the club-owning Iranians here has been Zangeneh, a member of a land-owning family that came to the United States 13 years ago. Zanganeh attended schools in California, Oklahoma and Maryland and managed clubs belonging to others before acquiring the Shepherd Park in 1972, Club 99 at 1214 18th St. NW in 1973 (he sold it the same year) and the Good Guys at 2311 Wisconsin Ave. NW in 1974.
He owns Aston-Martin and MG sports cars. "I might even buy a Rolls Royce some day," he says, adding quickly, "To me, a car is a means of transportation."
If Zanganeh is an American success story, another person emerges from public records and interviews as a persevering hard-luck figure among the Iranian immigrants. His name is Dehnad Taiedi, known as Danny.
"He got too big too fast," said Trudy Ann Bennett, who was Trudy Ann Taiedi from 1967 to 1971 and says she remains close to him. "He's too good-hearted. He believes everybody."
Taiedi, who declined to be interviewed, came to this country to a small West Virginia college to study mathematics. In 1959, he dropped out of school and migrated to Washington where he worked in several restaurants, "to try to learn about business because I want to buy a place for myself," he explained in a court deposition.
The son of a retired general in the Iranian army, Taiedi shared an apartment in Prince George's County in the mid-1960s with Goodarzi and subsequently was named beneficiary (and identified as "cousin") on a $2,500 life insurance policy purchased by Goodarzi.
Goodarzi objected to Taiedi's marriage, according to Taiedi's ex-wife, and the two men drifted apart. Sometime in 1974, Taiedi was replaced as Goodarzi's beneficiary.
At his wife's urging, Taiedi sank the dwindling funds given him by his father into a down payment on the Good Guys Club in May, 1968. The sale price was $125,000.
By 1972, Taiedi was firmed committed to the business and looking for another club to buy. That summer, he negotiated the purchase of the M Club at 3124 M St. NW, a prime Georgetown location. Taiedi sought to buy a half-interest from Michael Bakhtiar, an Iranian who had broken into the club business in the early 1960s working at Benny's, 829 14th St. NW. Later, Bakhtiar was to buy Bogey's, a discotheque near Dupont Circle that eventually folded.
Taiedi's purchase of Bakhtiar's M Club stock was consummated Sept. 2, 1972 for $80,000 - $15,000 in cash and a $65,000 note on Taiedi's home in Lanham.
Within days, the M Club was raided by city liquor board inspectors who found 47 bottles of untaxed whiskey and an unregistered firearm in a locked basement closet. According to court testimony, Taiedi had been unaware of the contraband when he bought into the club but was nonetheless held responsible.
Taiedi, as the new corporate president, was also held reponsible by liquor board inspectors for sale of alcohol to a minor and for five employees arrested for selling marijuana and cocaine, although all incidents had occurred prior to his ownership.
The narcotics and alcohol sales citations were dismissed but, because of the other violations, the M Club's liquor license was revoked July 26, 1973.
While the revocation was being appealed, Zanganeh tried briefly and unsuccessfully to acquire the license. Without its liquor license, the M Club closed in 1974. The corporation has since been slapped with $21,227 in federal and local tax liens, and Taiedi, as its president, faces prosecution for failure to pay $6,500 in city sales tax.
"Such problems," said Sylvia Flatgow, an elderly widow who was the M Club's landlady. "I almost went to jail. I had to pay a $1,900 or $2,100 water bill they hadn't paid. Rent? Are you kidding? They gave me such hardluck stories, I let it ride. I'm an innocent, dumb woman."
In paying the rent, she said, Taiedi, a short man who wore a man's mink coat and drove "a beautiful, elegant car," sometimes delivered by hand $70 in dollar bills to her apartment. "He didn't even want a receipt. He said he trust me," she said.
To recoup his M Club losses, Taiedi sued Bakhtiar. After a two-day trial in federal court here in 1976, Bakhtiar was ordered to return Taiedi's $15,000 down payment and all his subsequent payments.
During the trial, Leon Petrossian, the other M Club partner, and, along with Taiedi and others, an owner of the Bastille property, supported Taiedi's version of events surrounding the contraband liquor and firearm.
Petrossian "took the rap" for the untaxed whiskey, he said, "to save my dear partner (Bakhtiar) and my future partner (Taiedi)." But Taiedi had not been saved.
On the second day of the trial, Petrossian testified that he received a threatening phone call the night before from Bakhtiar and Tommy Motlagh, an Iranian and a former M Club bartender who later had interests in the Bastille and the Godfather, a go-go club on upper Wisconsin Avenue NW.
"They keep mentioning that I didn't testify right, "Petrossian said in court. Motlagh, he said, "put it in such a way that if I don't cooperate, I will lose my house," which Petrossian had mortgaged for his share of the Bastille. Motlagh said in an interview that he did not recall the conversation.
Financially strapped by the M Club fiasco, Taiedi was forced to sell the Good Guys in 1974. The sale was not a simple matter.
First, he sold the Good Guys (for $20,000 cash and an $80,000 note) to fellow Iranian Kambiz Mirdjahangiri, Mirdjahangiri then signed an agreement to sell the Good Guys to three other Iranians, who quickly took possession of the club. But before that deal was done, Mirdjahangiri went back to Iran to settle his father's estate. He never returned.
Taiedi, who still held the note on the Good Guy, then tried to sell the club in the summer of 1975 to Ben Zanganeh, for $2,000 cash and "other good and valuable consideration." Should Zanganeh succeed in taking possession of the Good Guys from the three interim "owners," he also promised to forgive a $5,000 personal loan to Taiedi.
As new holder of the note, Zanganer was in a legal position to foreclose when the three other defaulted on payments. When they defaulted, Zanganeh filed foreclosure papers.
On the eve of the foreclosure sale, Zanganeh said in a court affidavit: "I was told they would take everything out of the place . . . that would destroy the place . . . that all the walls, floors, carpets, cashregisters, funiture and dother fixtures which could not be removed would be ruined" and that alcoholic beverage control regulations would be violated intentionally.
Zanganeh, unable to secure court protection, said he hired private securityguards to protect the Good Guys, a neighborhood bottomless bar similar in atmosphere to the Shepherd park. The alleged threats were not carried out.
Backed by a $16,000 loan from Zanganeh, Taiedi, Petrossian and Mohammad (Sam) Habibi, another Bastille shareholder, undertook another venture in late 1974. The group opened "The Breedge," a restaurant in Rossyln near Key Bridge that folded after one month. Zanganeh then sued Taiedi, Petrossian and Habibi for the $16,000.
Habibi, formerly part-owner of the Brass Tacks, a Georgetown restaurant that is now Le Canard under different ownership, has since become a part-owner of the Bachelors II, a disclotheque in Fairfax City.
Things did not get easier for Danny Taiedi. In 1975, Taiedi worked briefly for Wheaton Dodge, selling new cars. Then he moved to Pittsburgh, where he and his then former wife, opened a dry cleaning business together.
"Danny helped many Persians out," his wife said in a telephone interview from Pittsburgh. "When he was here and he was down, no one came to help him."
Barely back on his feet, Taiedi returned to Washington early this year, looking for another club to buy.
Now, he is buying the Godfather, where lone men sit at individual tables and occasionally stuff dollar bills into the garters of bottomless dancer.
"It's not really a good business," said Tommy Motlagh, who is selling the Godfather to Taiedi, of clubs in general. "It's a gamble, of clubs in general. "It's a gamble. There's too much aggravation and headache."
Zanganeh, however, is now looking to buy yet another club and has just moved his office from the basement of the Good Guys into a fashionable, gray brick town house at the eastern edge of Georgetown.
"Most of these (Iranian) people," Zanganah said, "tried to make something of themselves. Like any small community, they were together. Danny was the first one to get a restaurant. They all looked up to him. If it all had worked, they would have been best of friends. But it didn't work, so they cut each other up."
Zanganeh noted with obvious pride that he employs 80 or 90 people and added, "I don't associate too much in Persian society. We might come from the same country, but we just don't think the same."