The sign outside the blue-and-white, garage-style building advertises a carwash and banquet hall. The proprietor, at least according to Prince George's County records, is Grandma's South Carolina Catering.
Yet in the year since it opened on Central Avenue near the District border, no car has been scrubbed and no meal has been cooked, the owner acknowledges. The place doesn't even have a kitchen.
And "Grandma"? He's Daniel Irving, 41, an unabashed promoter of adult entertainment who drives a Mercedes-Benz and lives in a sprawling Capitol Heights home. Every night, he draws a crowd of patrons who pay $20 to watch women simulate sex and dance topless on a stage.
"They love it," Irving said of his customers, who often find their way to his dimly lit garage through fliers, palm cards and word of mouth.
"They come from right here in Capitol Heights. They come from D.C.," he said. "They call from the highway -- 'Yo, we're coming down from New York. How do we get to you?' "
Prince George's authorities are not as enthralled. The county has long been home to licensed clubs, places such as the Stardust Inn in Landover Hills and Three Captains in Bladensburg, where customers drink beer and whiskey and watch dancers swing on a pole. These businesses can be a magnet for crime, officials say, citing the fatal shootings of three men in front of the Stardust in April 2003.
But a new kind of establishment concerns state and county officials: makeshift clubs such as Irving's, where promoters take over garages, warehouses and storefronts and charge patrons to watch strip shows.
Irving is among the beneficiaries of a loophole in county law that allows the late-night clubs to feature strip shows if alcohol isn't served or consumed. While technically within the law, however, these businesses are also hot spots for crime, according to state and county officials.
In May, a 27-year-old District man was shot and killed in the parking lot outside Sinsaysionals, a club in a garage on Lanham-Severn Road. In 2002, a 17-year-old man was shot to death outside Music Studio 63 on Ritchie Road, a spot formerly owned by Irving. Another teenager was killed outside the club the year before.
"It's not something we want in our community because of the problems it attracts and the elements and persons it attracts," said County Council member Camille Exum (D), whose district includes Capitol Heights, where Irving's club is located.
Although no definitive list of the region's after-hours clubs exists, Prince George's appears to host most of them, investigators say -- at least a dozen. Authorities report that they have found at least one in Anne Arundel County, and a District police officer was charged last year with operating Club Bliss, an unlicensed venture in a warehouse in Northeast.
"They operate very late-night, people gather, there's alcohol, there are stabbings and on and on and on," said John Horney, chief inspector for the Maryland state comptroller, which enforces laws against the unlicensed sale of alcohol. "It's a nuisance to the community."
The emergence of the clubs prompted a meeting this summer of officials from the state, Prince George's police and the state's attorney's office, who agreed to share information and coordinate efforts to monitor the businesses. Barbara Hamm, a police spokeswoman, would not comment, citing an ongoing investigation.
A post-midnight tour of Prince George's on Thursday found at least four open for business.
A strobe light flickered inside an unmarked brick building on Old Silver Hill Road in Suitland, a one-time car rental agency next to a used-tire store. By day, the place is shuttered. After dark, a banner over the door announces it as the Blackout club. "Female Dancers Tonight" read the sign at the entrance, where a small crowd gathered.
A few blocks away, on St. Barnabas Road, patrons trickled into the Culture Club, a darkened storefront next to a barbershop in an otherwise desolate strip mall.
In Bladensburg, the D2 club was open in a warehouse-style building at the end of a dead-end street, across from an auto body shop. The man at the front door said admission was $20 for nonmembers and described a VIP room in which strippers performed private dances.
Irving's club is among the best known, perhaps because the owner has been promoting strip shows in the county for a decade. Despite complaints from civic leaders, he is unapologetic, describing himself as a legitimate businessman who is the target of unceasing scrutiny from state and county inspectors.
"They treat me like I'm Al Capone," he said.
His club, he said, offers a valuable service to the community. "I'm providing an outlet that takes killers off the street, a safe haven," he said. "I'm providing jobs, and I clean up my neighborhood."
He said he takes pains to ensure that his club conforms with the law, forbidding alcohol and requiring that the dancers provide identification to prove that they are not minors.
He also said that he prohibits any form of public sex, but that is questioned by Arthur Turner Jr., a civic activist who has visited clubs to shed light on the need for regulating such places. Turner said he witnessed a dancer performing oral sex on another dancer on the club's stage one recent night.
When told of Turner's contention, Irving said that the dancers often simulate sex but that no contact is made.
Irving described his earnings from the club as modest, although he appears to lead a lavish lifestyle. His two-story, five-bedroom house with an indoor swimming pool off Sheriff Road dwarfs his neighbors' homes. He also owns at least two Mercedes, one equipped with seven television screens.
"It's about status," he said. "I've got status in the community."
Prince George's has long sought to impose controls on the adult entertainment industry, a quest that took on new urgency in April 2003 after the triple homicide outside the Stardust Inn.
Last year, the council passed legislation banning full nudity and requiring that dancers remain at least six feet from patrons. But the council repealed the law in February after club owners sued, contending that the ban violated the dancers' constitutional right to free expression. The council plans to consider a new version of the law in the fall.
Council member Thomas R. Hendershot (D-New Carrollton), the bill's sponsor, said the legislation was at least partly aimed at the after-hours clubs by requiring that the owners be licensed.
As it is, the owners often obtain permits to open banquet halls, auditoriums or entertainment centers without revealing to the county that they plan to include nude dancing.
"They would have had to pay fees, and requirements would have been imposed to limit and prohibit lap dancing and that sort of thing," Hendershot said of the legislation.
Referring generally to strip clubs in the county, Hendershot said: "Right now, there are no rules. The only prohibition is against public nudity, and it has never been enforced."
Michael Herman, chief of staff to County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D), said police and zoning inspectors are monitoring the clubs and that illegal activity, including lap dancing, will be penalized. "Lap dancing is prohibited conduct," Herman said. "People will be charged with a misdemeanor if that behavior is observed."
A recent visit to Sinsaysionals, where a man patted down patrons before they entered the club, suggested that the dancers are not too concerned. As a parade of female performers stripped down and gyrated on stage, more than two dozen other women -- all clad in G-strings and bikini tops -- performed lap dances. No alcohol was served, although a number of patrons arrived carrying large plastic cups.
Sinsaysionals is across the street from a residential community in Lanham, where homeowners complain about late-night traffic and booming music.
"I keep my windows closed now," said Debra Martin, a loan officer with three children who lives across from the club. "That type of element is an accident waiting to happen."
Harvey Blonder, a part-owner of the building that houses Sinsaysionals, said the club's operator, Reginald Holly, told him that he planned to open an assembly hall. "It certainly wasn't going to be a strip joint," Blonder said. "The man has a lease. If the county wants to put him out, they can put him out. I can't just arbitrarily throw him out."
Holly would not comment, referring questions to Irving, whom he identified as the club's spokesman.
Irving, who grew up in Landover and who is married and the father of five children, opened his first club in Prince George's in 1994. He has had skirmishes with county officials ever since, battles he seems to relish as much as he dreads.
His club was the target of a midnight raid by state inspectors, who brandished a search warrant when they arrived on the evening of Aug. 20. The agents confiscated $225 and a single beer before departing.
The club, Irving reported, reopened by 2:30 a.m.
Staff writer Ovetta Wiggins contributed to this report.