At 2 a.m. last Saturday the disco hall at The Bastille in College Park announced it would play music for one more hour. "But because of the law in Prince George's County," a band member told the crowded house, "no one is allowed to dance."
Hisses and boos came from the young middle-class singles crowd.
"What difference does it make about dancing," said Robin Crane. "You can drink. Do they think if you can dance we won't drink? It's so stupid. It's utterly ridiculous to think we'll go home."
But they did start to leave; in twos and threes they put on their coats and went out into the crowded parking lots and side streets in the area of Rte. 1. They got in their cars and went home.
Two years ago the Prince George's County Council passed an ordinance halting dancing at 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. According to Maryland law, patrons of bars and restaurants with live music can continue to drink until 3 a.m., but many of the club-owners say most people just go home.
"It hurts business. You can't play music and get people to sit down and not dance to it," said Bob Leduc of Chasons Ltd. in Camp Springs. "So you have to stop the music."
Next week, council member David G. Hartlove will try one more time to get a bill through the County Council to extend the hours for dancing to 3 a.m.
The "public dance hall" bill, permitting that extra hour, "will go through this time," said Hartlove last week as he presented the bill to the council.
Hartlove already has pushed the bill once, when he tried last session to pass similar legislation at the prompting of several local businessmen.
At that time, scores of citizens came to protest extension at a public hearing on the bill, prompting a majority of the council to defeat it.
This time around Hartlove has inserted a caveat, which, he thinks, will garner support from council members who helped defeat the bill in December.
The main focus of citizen dissent is The Bastille. Area residents, led by Joseph Cotter, who lives on a nearby side street, have complained bitterly that patrons of the Bastille are rowdy, drunk and disorderly as they come to their cars, usually parked along residential streets.
Last Friday night, Prince George's County police ticketed and towed several cars parked in the tow-away zones along Autoville Road behind the Bastille.
"We're not opposed to dancing and liquor," said Cotter, "but there is a limit to what goes on. That used to be a family tavern. But now there are all kinds of heinous things happening in the neighborhood."
These residents and the mayor of College Park vigorously opposed Hartlove's bill last year. But the new caveat, which would permit a municipality like College Park to enforce or adopt additional time restrictions, may change their minds.
Council member Parris N. Glendening, a resident of nearby University Park and an opponent of the earlier bill, said he would support Hartlove's bill "if it is legal. There is some question whether we can pass along powers to the municipalities that were granted to us by the state. We don't know whether we have the right, under state law, to let them make restrictions on dancing."
Several patrons of the Bastille think the Prince George's law is "silly."
"It's crazy," said Mark Brown, a resident of Howard County who comes to the Bastille because "it's too far to go downtown. If there was a parking problem or too many people in this area, they should have thought of that when they gave them the zoning for this place."
One of the Bastille's owners said he knew the opposition to the bill stems from Cotter's complaints about his place.
"But there are five or six places within walking distances of here. We have had unreasonable restrictions placed on our liquor and dance license because of it. That ordinance was originally passed to get revenue. How can you legislate against dancing?
"We have a nice crowd here, it's not a teenybopper club. We limit the type of people who come in, and if you talk to the county police, you'd find they have less problems with the Bastille than many other places on Bte. 1."
Recently 25 club owners took the county to court on the restrictions - and lost. And Sen. Thomas O'Reilly said he will introduce a bill in the General Assembly to change the restrictions unless something is done on a county level.
After Hartlove's bill is introduced, council members will have a chance, at a public hearing, to hear more testimony from residents and businessmen.
Until then, as lead guitarist Bill Page told the crowd at the Bastille last weekend, "Write your council members and you can wriggle your toes to the next songs."