Time was when women went to the Hangar Club in secret.
They never told their names. They never gave their addresses. In fact, they never let anyone know how many times they entered the place where the good-looking men did the bad, bad moves just down the street from the Jesus Book Store in Camp Springs.
Well, time was.
"My name is Alicia Joyner. That's J -- O -- Y -- N -- E -- R," said a curly-haired brunette, the mother of 1-month-old Jennifer who stayed at home in Silver Spring. "Why did I come," she muses, taking a sip from her wine glass and a long, cool look around a room where the waiters wear pants, cuffs, collars -- everything but a shirt or sleeves. "I came to see them take it all off."
Ten years after the Hangar Club first handed out sling shots, the male equivalent of G-strings, the phenomenon that was supposed to go out with go-go boots has become an institution. Club owner Nick Simonetta chuckles, gives a hoot at the audience of 200 waiting at the edge of the stage and calls them the Association of National Crotch Watchers.
Today is the official 10th anniversary of the male strip club, one of the first in the nation to hire male go-go dancers to strip down to everything but their leopard-skin bikinis.
Simonetta and his crew of 18 dancers, some of whom have danced their way through the entire decade, manage to practice a little restraint and shake only their heads when they try to figure out why the club has always drawn capacity crowds -- four hours a night, six nights a week.
"When we first started doing this, women would come in very demure, a little shy, not quite certain what they should do," Simonetta said. "It would be almost the end of the show before they would decide, 'Hey, we can act and react to these guys any way we like.' "
"Now, look at them."
To look is to leer in this hall made wild with flashing colored lights, jarring pop tunes, hundreds of alcohol-swilling women and one, tanned, broad-chested, muscular-to-the-point-of-looking-molded male who is kicking, pirouetting, gliding and shimmying his way across the dance floor.
First on stage is J. R. Then Prince Albert. Then the Philadelphia Flasher, a 23-year-old blond accountant named Skip McNichol, who tabulates by day and teases by night.
The Flasher quickly becomes one of the more popular dancers with the crowd. He sings along with the taped music, beckons to his audience and peels layer after layer of sequined costume from his body until he's down to the tiniest of sling shots. Even then, McNichol plays to the crowd. His slingshots, unlike the sexy sequined or satiny ones worn by his peers, are fashioned from stuffed animal heads -- Kermit the frog, ET, Mickey Mouse, little fuzzies he finds at a local toy store.
"This just gives women the chance to get together and act like they want to act with a group of men. Nobody's telling them they can't scream. Nobody's telling them they can't jump up and down. Nobody's telling them their boyfriend's going to get mad," says McNichol, who says he always wanted to be a performer. "We take pride in what we do. And that's why we've been around for 10 years -- and, hopefully, for 10 years more."
One of the oldest performers is Prince Albert, a goateed dancer who isn't shy about revealing anything but his real name -- just in case the cable company where he works during the day might find out about his nighttime occupation. There's nothing wrong with what he does, the Prince maintains. Sometimes, it's just a little difficult to explain.
"When I started, 10 years ago, people said anybody who did this must be queer, strange, a homo. I wasn't any of those things. I just always like to dance and, I guess be a bit of an exhibitionist. And look what you have now -- the Chippendales in Los Angeles and New York, the Crazy Horse in Miami, they're all over the place."
Oddly enough, the Hangar Club, with its garish lights and wild music, has become a kind of local gathering place for women to celebrate the high and low points of their lives. Marriages, birthdays, even divorces are the occasions that prompt a stop at the bar off the main strip of Branch Avenue. For some, it even gives them a last-minute chance to reconsider.
"Oooo," 21-year-old Pamela Fiske said after a twirl by the Flasher. "This is supposed to be my bachelorette party. It's a good one, but a great place to come and have second thoughts."