Victor Richardson, an owner of Celebrity Hall, one of the District's most popular go-go dance spots, would be perfectly willing to close before 1 a.m., except for one thing. He'd have no customers, he told a public forum last night.
Even though Celebrity Hall's shows appeal largely to minors,
go-go -- Washington's own brand of dance music -- has developed a hard-core tradition as late-night entertainment. Make that very late: Many go-gos do not open until midnight and keep rocking until nearly dawn.
Those hours, along with rowdiness and occasional violence that have sent police scurrying as go-gos let out, led D.C. Council member Frank Smith (D-Ward 1) to introduce a bill that would require club owners such as Richardson to keep out all minors after 11:30 p.m. on weekdays and 1 a.m. on weekends.
The bill, which is to be the topic of a public hearing Oct. 28, drew a vociferous crowd of 80 people last night to a forum in the council chambers. Teen-agers defended their right to have fun, while neighbors of go-gos argued that they have a right to sleep free of go-go-related rowdiness, vandalism and drug sales.
"These kids want to be in charge of themselves," said Richardson. "If I started the go-go earlier, I'd have nobody there. We start late because the kids come out late."
Teen-agers from around the city said Richardson was right. They would not patronize dances earlier in the evening, said Ralston Hall, 17, a senior at Ballou High School in Southeast. "People go to the go-go to escape from stresses at home. If it's earlier, people have responsibilities at home. You can't just walk out and say, 'I'll be back in a few hours.' "
Complaints from residents and police about Richardson's upper Georgia Avenue NW hall led Smith to suggest his bill, the councilman said.
Plenty of Celebrity Hall's neighbors went to the forum to detail the sleepless nights, vandalism and rowdiness they have experienced as the partygoers disperse onto the streets.
"They tear up my car, they tear up my property," said Shirley Butler, who lives two blocks from Celebrity Hall. "It's a serious problem, and something has to change."
Smith said he proposed his bill as a less-restrictive alternative to the idea of a curfew making it illegal for minors to be on the streets after a certain hour.
"That's what most big cities are moving to," he said. "But I don't want to give the police that function. I don't want to put young people in jail. Young people have rights. But you do not have the right to rock some little old lady out of bed at 3:30 in the morning."
Go-go promoters and club owners, however, say that Smith's bill would kill their industry without curing the real problems -- drugs and crime.
By releasing dance customers onto the streets a few hours earlier, the city could find itself with even worse problems, said Shashaunia Green, 15, a student at Fletcher-Johnson Educational Center in Southeast. "If you put the kids out on the street at 1 o'clock, they're going to stay there and cause a disturbance because they are upset that the go-go closed," she said.
To which Ahmed Nurridin, a civic activist and parents association officer in Ward 1, responded: "I refuse to be held hostage to young people saying, 'If you don't let us stay out all night, we're going to tear up your neighborhood.' "
Go-go promoter Peter Dean said he would be willing to close his shows earlier, but only if all other promoters agreed.
By evening's end, the generational split over the need to stay out and party through the night remained deep, but organizers of the forum were already planning their next session, a meeting of go-go promoters, club owners and politicians.