The D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Board has voted to suspend the liquor license of gay nightclub Ziegfeld’s/Secrets for five days based on allegations that the club permitted its nude dancers to engage in “sexual conduct” prohibited under the city’s liquor law.
The suspension is scheduled for June 16-20, and will result in the closing of the club during that period.
A spokesperson for the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration, of which the ABC Board is a part, said the unanimous May 26 suspension vote was also based on charges that Ziegfeld’s/Secrets management failed to put in place sufficient security measures to prevent four separate “altercations” in which patrons became involved in minor scuffles inside the club.
Another charge that ABC Board inspectors saw customers consuming beer 13 minutes after the required 2 a.m. closing time became yet another ground for the suspension, said the spokesperson.
An ABC Board report about the after-hours drinking allegation says the management disputed the allegation.
“We wish to express our sincerest regret to our community, customers and staff,” says a statement the club’s management released Monday.
“We strive to operate under strict compliance with the ABC Board policies and requirements and to provide a safe and enjoyable environment for everyone who enters our establishment,” it says. “However, sometimes things happen that we or anyone is unable to control, and for this — or for some other reason — we have been issued this penalty.”
Cynthia Simms, the ABRA spokesperson, said that Ziegfeld’s/Secrets and the board reached an agreement in which the board did not file as many charges as it could have against the club and the club agreed not to contest the charges at a full hearing.
Simms said the board’s decision includes a $4,000 fine against the club and a 20-day license suspension, with 15 days of the license suspension stayed.
A report prepared by ABC Board Inspector Felicia Dantzler, who filed the sexual conduct charge against the club, says she observed “five to six nude male performers standing on individual pedestals, each performing a sexual act on themselves (masturbation).”
Her report includes a photo she took of one dancer, showing him with his hand gripping his penis. The dark, blurred photo accompanying the report captures the dancer from the shoulders down and does not show his face.
Dantzler’s report says she also saw “patrons, fully clothed, gratifying the performers by rubbing and massaging the performers about the body (not genital area) and the performers did the same to the patrons.”
Ziegfeld’s/Secrets owner Allen Carroll has said the club strictly prohibits any sexual activity by dancers or customers.
The incidents involving the alleged altercations and after-hours drinking took place in February and March of 2009 during the first few weeks after Ziegfeld’s/Secrets reopened at 1824 Half St., S.W. The reopening came three years after the city displaced the club from its home of more than 30 years on O Street, S.E., to allow construction of the Washington Nationals baseball stadium.
Ziegfeld’s/Secrets was the only one of several gay bars and nightclubs displaced by the stadium to find a new location in which to reopen. Strict zoning laws that bar adult entertainment have prevented the other clubs from finding a new home, a development that has prompted some of the customers to criticize city officials for not taking a greater role in helping the clubs relocate.
Two regular customers of Ziegfeld’s/Secrets, who spoke on condition that their names be withheld, said the management and employees made it clear that the club prohibited sexual acts of any kind by the performers and strictly banned improper touching between performers and customers.
The two customers said the incidents in question appeared to have occurred during the first few weeks the club was open, and that large crowds and “some confusion” during the opening weeks may have temporarily distracted staff attention.
“It’s incredibly unfair to blame the club for activity that violates their own rules and which they try to prevent,” said one of the customers.
Veteran D.C. gay activist Frank Kameny agreed with that assessment, noting that he was “outraged” over what he called a “Victorian-era” campaign by the ABC Board to crack down on entertainment performed by and for consenting adults.
“It’s about time we got off the anti-sex crusade here,” he said. “There’s a fundamental question that nobody asks: Were any of the customers offended by any of this? Did any of the customers disapprove? Clearly they didn’t.”
When told that ABRA officials said they are required to enforce existing liquor law restrictions against sexual conduct within licensed establishments, Kameny and other activists called for repealing those laws.
“My main point is we are living in 2010 and not 1910,” Kameny said. “And it’s about time they stop applying the standards of 1910. Queen Victoria has been dead for 108 years. It’s about time they realize that.”
Gay activist Tom DePriest, a retired attorney for the federal government and a Ziegfeld’s/Secrets customer, said he strongly objected to the ABC Board’s apparent assumption that customers and dancers of clubs offering nude entertainment “need protecting” by the ABC Board.
“It’s part of some sort of sex-phobic moral code enforcement that is determined by people who don’t enjoy these clubs,” he said. “If adults want to get together and have nude entertainment, then why is it anybody else’s business, especially people who aren’t there for that?”
Three of the reports by ABRA inspectors outline incidents they observed at Ziegfeld’s/Secrets during their visits there in February and March of 2009. The case reports became the basis of the ABC Board’s charges against the club, according to Simms.
The first incident occurred Feb. 15, 2009, two days after the club opened in its newly renovated warehouse building on Half Street, S.W.
According to the ABC Board report for that incident, a male customer was punched in the nose by another male customer as he walked out of the men’s restroom in what the victim and witnesses said was an unprovoked assault. The report says the attacker, who appeared intoxicated, later told police he punched the victim because the victim resembled a person who had bullied him while he was in elementary school.
Paramedics who responded to the scene treated the victim, who declined an offer of transportation to a hospital, the report says.
The assailant was arrested on a charge of simple assault, and the ABC Board charged Ziegfeld’s/Secrets with harboring a “physical altercation” that involved “misuse of licensed premises,” although the report quotes the victim as saying there was “no way” the club could have prevented a spontaneous assault like that from happening.
One day later, on Feb. 16, 2009, another assault occurred when two women who met in the club that night and became “intimate” with each other got into a fight, with one grabbing the other in a headlock and shoving her head into a wall, according to the report for that incident. Police who were stationed outside the club arrested both women after the club’s staff broke up the fight, the report says. Neither of the women was seriously injured.
That incident happened minutes before ABC Board Inspector Susan Mitchell said she observed two customers drinking beer at 2:13 a.m., following the required 2 a.m. closing time after which consumption of alcohol is prohibited, according to the board’s report of the incident.
Another incident cited by the board occurred March 6, 2009, when a customer described as intoxicated attempted to grab the penis of one of the dancers performing on a platform, according to an ABC Board report. The report says the dancer swatted the man’s hand away several times before the customer succeeded in touching the dancer’s penis. The dancer immediately alerted management, and a bartender and the manager escorted the customer out of the bar, the report says.
While being escorted out of the club, the customer shoved the bartender and later shoved him again outside the club. D.C. Police Lt. Brett Parson, the former head of the Gay & Lesbian Liaison Unit, was standing nearby and arrested the customer on a charge of simple assault, the report says.
The ABC Board, at the recommendation of Inspector Susan Mitchell, charged Ziegfeld’s/Secrets with two counts of “physical altercation” on its premises in connection with the incident.
Another ABC Board report says the “sexual conduct” incidents occurred Nov. 19, 2009. The report says two inspectors, including Danzler, visited the club that night “to investigate a complaint regarding employees engaged in sexual acts.”
The report does not disclose who made the complaint.
“In some situations, individuals that file a complaint with ABRA regarding an establishment request to be anonymous,” said Simms. “Since there is no mention of a name in the case report, I can assume that this is what happened.”
Simms said she inquired about the photo of the dancer in the case report and confirmed that Danzler took it with her cell phone.
The statement issued by Ziegfeld’s/Secrets doesn’t discuss the individual charges filed against the club.
“We’ve served our gay community for over 40 years without infractions with the ABC Board,” it says. “We were forced out of business for three years due to the city invoking eminent domain to take possession of our former home to make way for the construction of the Washington Nationals Stadium.
“After our three-year fight to reopen, which included a difficult search for a new building, we have been subjected to the utmost scrutiny from the ABC Board. Now we have been forced to close for the above stated period of time.”
The statement says that the situation is not a “punishment,” but instead an “injustice.”
Rick Rosendall, a local gay activist, called the ABC Board investigation and enforcement against the club a waste of tax dollars.
“If we have money to pay a single person to spend a single hour in those kinds of places looking for things to be shocked about, then we should abolish all of those jobs because this is completely silly from beginning to end,” he said.
“Anybody that doesn’t want to see these strippers, whatever they might be doing, is perfectly free not to go to these clubs and in which case there’s no chance that it will fall under their eyes.”
Among the members of the seven-person ABC Board that voted for the club’s license suspension was gay member Mike Silverstein, who is a member of the Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commission.
The full text of the Ziegfeld’s/Secrets statement follows:
ZIEGFELD’S & SECRETS
We wish to express our sincerest regret to our community, customers, and staff.
Due to circumstances imposed upon us by the District of Columbia Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, Ziegfeld’s & Secrets will be closed June 16 – June 22.
We’ve served our gay community for over 40 years without infractions with the ABC Board. We were forced out of business for three years due to the city invoking eminent domain to take possession of our former home to make way for the construction of the Washington Nationals Stadium.
After our three-year fight to reopen, which included a difficult search for a new building, we have been subjected to the utmost scrutiny from the ABC Board. Now we have been forced to close for the above stated period of time.
We strive to operate under strict compliance with the ABC Board policies and requirements and to provide a safe and enjoyable environment for everyone who enters our establishment. However, sometimes things happen that we or anyone is unable to control, and for this – or for some other reason – we have been issued this penalty.
PUNISHMENT – NOT
INJUSTICE – YES
The Management of Ziegfeld’s & Secrets