The last act was more sad than vulgar.
Crystal Ball, her eyes sparkling with silver glitter, could barely hide the tears as her silken gown slipped from her shoulders, clung momentarily, then fell to her ankles one more time. Arching her broad back, she faced the early morning crowd yesterday at the Silver Slipper with a melancholy smile, seemingly oblivious to the blue-tint spotlight that directed eye traffic over her curves and intersections.
"I have good news and bad news," the emcee told the patrons who sat over beer and bourbon in the Slippers's darkened red room at 815 13th St. NW. "The bad news is that this is our last night. The good news is we hope to open again. So you can laugh or cry."
By 3 a.m., the party was over, the girls dressed and gone. After nearly two decades as the city's most controversial burlesque variety show, the Silver Slipper was out of business.
An off-beat Washington landmark -- this one made famous by Wilbur Mills and Fanne Foxe -- is about to be replaced by a complex of office buildings. A boom crane is scheduled to do what city police and liquor license officials have been unable to do for years: shut down the Slipper.
But on this last night, some of the Silver Slipper's patrons wondered what on earth machines could construct that would be an improvement over women who were built like "brick houses," as one patron described them, live and on stage, with and without g-strings, sequins and feather boas.
At the end, there was Be Be Sweet and Gi Gi Lamour, who flexed muscles in places where some thought there were no muscles. There was Bubbles Seville, who could bend over backward and form a perfect O without bursting, thus earning her nickname. And at one time, there was Sandy Ruddick, a top woman gymnast in the 1956 Olympics, who worked out on parallel bars, did cartwheels and handstands clad only in bikini bottoms.
"It saddens my heart that a place like this would have to close," said Ray Yoo, a New Yorker who stops by the Slipper every time he comes to Washington. "This is not obscene, this is art.The girls can really dance, but who cares?" He grinned.
The Silver Slipper was opened in 1964 by Sam Shankar, who had managed various other nightclubs and who, after visiting the original Silver Slipper in Las Vegas, figured that Washington could use one, too.
Those were better days for burlesque -- a mix of bawdy comedy, stripteasers and exotic dancing. The Slipper was one of about six exotic night clubs in a city uneasy with openly advertised nudity. But behind Washington's stiff propriety, enough people -- mostly men -- patronized the parlors, and they flourished.
And the Silver Slipper gained the reputation as a highbrow practitioner of this earthy entertainment, sometimes featuring internationally known dancers and comedians.
On the Silver Slipper's final night, manager Ruth Dorman, who used to be a waitress there, kept patrons in line and cat fights between the show girls to a minimum.
"The girls can do what they want when they're not performing -- that's strictly their business. I've got too much other stuff to worry about," Dorman said, smiling at the show girls, some of whom wore sheer gowns, as they moved through the crowd of well-dressed businessman.
"Don't squeeze the Charmin', baby," Natasha, billed as a Hungarian dancer, admonished one patron. She burst into laughter and put her pursuer at ease. They retired to a secluded table.
No wonder that Dorman said daylight savings time hurt business at the Silver Slipper -- it is the kind of place many people prefer to enter after dark.
In 1974, the city's Alcholic Beverage Commission started getting tough with nightclubs. And after observing one show at the Silver Slipper, an officer from the city's morals squad testified that the performance was "obscene, indecent and filthy."
In was in October of that year that then-Rep. Wilbur Mills, D-Ark., was escorting Annabella Battistella, better known as Fanne Foxe -- a star stripper at the Slipper -- the night she jumped into the Tidal Basin.
"That was a million dollars worth of publicity," recalled Arthur August, 73, who bought the Slipper club from Shankar in 1976, sold it in 1978, then bought it again last year.
"It's like family," August said.
But August said he decided to sell when the owner of the building in which the Silver Slipper is located offered to buy out the remaining four years on the lease. It was a good price, August said, so he sold and began looking for another location -- preferably west of Connecticut Avenue, he said.
Located near a bus station and a city-run shelter for the homeless, the old Slipper in recent years was plagued by crime. Several patrons, including the club's drummer, were mugged. The Brass Rail, a gay bar next door, frightened away some of the Slipper's more timid patrons, Dorman said.
Painted in dark red with black trim, the Slipper resembled a samll movie theater. It had high ceilings, a light-projection room, a high stage and a bar. The decor was Old West burlesque -- lots of deep red velvet and silken material.Many of the woman performed in elaborate ostrich plums.
The Slipper catered to an older, wealthier clientele than most clubs of its kind, August said. Men were known to spend up to $1,000 a night wining and dining while the women performed.
Seated at a table near the bar on closing night, August received goodbys from a wide-range clientele that he said included lawyers, policemen, real estate salesmen and some of the girls who had been working for him since he opened in 1964. August has been in the nightclub business in Washington more than 40 years.
"I guess it's like owning a candy store," August said. "You see it so much you just get tired of it."
"My wife is not so crazy about the place," he said. "I guess she's been in here only twice since we've been open. But I've met many fine and talented people down here. They are real friends. It's wonderful. If you want a show that's different, where people can really make you feel at home, this was the place. You can take nudity and make it vulgar or refined. You can make it art or a slum thing.My club has class.