Nightclubs are risky businesses. Subject to the unpredictable currents of popular culture, they're considered historic if they enjoy the longevity of, say, an NFL coach.
But Classics is a notable exception. The Camps Springs nightclub near Andrews Air Force Base has appealed to pretty much the same crowd--mature African American professionals--since it opened its doors in 1981.
"No one out there has outlasted us," manager J.R. Calloway said. "We're a staple here. Other clubs have come and gone, but we're still here."
The club attributes its unflagging popularity to a combination of live performances, happy hours, oldies music and a weekly male revue.
Every week, hundreds of women heed the call of the sign outside the club touting "male dancers" and line up under its green awning to pay a $4 cover. Inside, a traveling posse of exotic dancers called the D.C. Bad Boys puts on a steamy show.
On a recent Tuesday night, the dancers emerged in a myriad of personae. There's the dreadlocked and dimpled Nubian Prince, bald-headed Wiggles and Slick the Ruler, Scorpion and Suave, who performed in a full Native American headdress.
"Eeeee-yay eee-yay," the announcer calls out periodically to warm up the crowd--to which the ladies respond in chorus: "Whooo!"
After the sculpted dancers conclude their routines, they make their way to the front of the stage. There, the ladies line up to make the gentlemen earn tips.
Cheering the spectacle from the sidelines, women at tables decorated with birthday balloons and cakes surround the dance floor, their arms waving in the air to a hip-hop, go-go and R&B soundtrack.
Scores of female college students and bachelorette parties also fill Classics to see the dancers. During the performance, there are only a handful of men to be seen, clinging to the edges of the room and watching the women drool.
But, like clockwork, once 10 p.m. hits, the male-female ratio evens out. As he has for the last 12 years, Miles Rawls arrives at 10 p.m. and not a moment sooner. "After the male dancers leave," the 37-year-old Landover man explained.
"The dancers are for the women. The party is for the men," he said. Rawls said Tuesday night isn't the only night he comes. In fact, he said, the variety of crowds on different days of the week is part of the club's appeal.
On Wednesday, the club opens for "Oldies but Goodies" night, playing R&B hits from the 1960s, '70s and '80s, with free admission all night and a buffet. On Friday, go-go legend Chuck Brown performs, and on Saturday, Magic 102.3 FM hosts another oldies night. Then there is Sunday night's concert by Maisha and the Hip-Huggers, which includes several former members of the District's seminal go-go band Experience Unlimited.
It is a combination that has made loyal patrons out of folks like Todd Canton, a 38-year-old financial analyst. Canton began frequenting Classics long before he settled in his Forestville home--about 10 years ago when he was stationed at Fort Meade.
"It's the music, the crowd. It's more mature, a little more upscale," Canton says, noting that he appreciates the club's old-school R&B. "It's the whole atmosphere. . . . Being older, I feel more comfortable here."
There did seem to be an air of maturity to the clientele at Classics on a recent Saturday. The deejays spun tunes by Chaka Khan, Janet Jackson, Chubb Rock and Digital Underground. Both men and women wore business attire.
The clubgoers, it seems, have been around long enough not to be worried about looking silly while having a good time. One man spontaneously breaks into a dance that resembles a backward push-up. Another hoists a woman into the air as though they were competing in the World Figure Skating Championships.
And then there's Mary Dorsey, who is arguably out-jamming everyone in the club. As she stands in the center of the dance floor, her head of silver hair bops from side to side while her high heels glide over the section of dance floor that she's carved out with her broad, flashy movements.
The strobe and flashing colored lights glint off Dorsey's double-breasted suit dress with gold stripes around the cuffs. She puts her hands behind her neck and juts her pelvis forward in short, quick thrusts while a man dancing behind her follows her lead.
After nearly an hour of such athletics, Dorsey steps off the dance floor for a quick breather. The 50-year-old Waldorf resident who works in environmental services says she's been a regular at Classics for the past two years.
When asked what her children, ages 32 and 28, say about their hot-footed mother, she smiles. She opens her mouth to respond, but a good-looking gentleman in a tan suit grabs her hand and implores her to return to the dance floor.
"They're just proud of me," she says modestly, as the man leads her back toward the music. "What can I say?"
Classics is open every day except Monday and Thursday. It is at 4591 Allentown Rd., Camp Springs. For more information, call 301-420-5353.
CAPTION: At Classics, deejay Disco Bird plays oldies for the Wednesday night crowd. The Camp Springs bar has been attracting a loyal clientele since 1981.
CAPTION: Belanda Roberts, left, Richard Jackson and "Lady JC" chat as oldies music fills the bar. The nightspot is also known for its Tuesday night male dancers.