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Liquor board considering complaint about male revue show

June 17, 2009|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN -- Washington County's liquor board is considering whether regulations covering adult entertainment, attire and lewd behavior were violated at a recent male dance revue show in Hagerstown.

A hearing held Wednesday examined an April 25 show at Hager Hall Conference and Event Center on Dual Highway -- including an act of simulated sex, which authorities said might violate terms of the establishment's liquor license.

The show was billed and described as a Chippendales performance, although a Chippendales agent said his organization wasn't involved.

Hager Hall's owners and managers said when dancers were forced to keep their distance from the all-female audience, patrons expecting more interaction grew angry and left.

But Robert L. Everhart, the liquor board's chairman, pointed to state regulations governing alcohol licenses, which, he said, were made clear in advance.

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The liquor board didn't decide Wednesday whether to take action against Hager Hall. Everhart said the board usually decides within 10 days or so.

Liquor board inspectors Richard Koontz and Robert Shoemaker separately testified they saw tables pushed up against the stage and male performers mixing with the crowd, accepting money stuffed in their clothes.

Some fans were called to the stage. A performer dressed as a police officer approached one woman who was facing away from him, bent over a chair, and joked about searching her for crack. Then, he made motions as if he was having sex with her, Koontz said.

The inspectors gave different descriptions of the men's attire. Shoemaker said they wore "swim trunks," while Koontz called them "G-strings."

Mike Malone, Hager Hall's general manager, testified he offered to pull tables away from the stage, but inspectors told him not to because the show had started.

Malone said performers were told the rules in advance, but didn't follow them. When inspectors complained at the show, he directed dancers to stay on stage, he said.

Jen Hare, a Hager Hall manager, suggested canceling the show, Malone said. The show continued, but women upset by the newly enforced limits left.

"All the women want to stick them dollar bills down the guys' shorts," said Joe Rouse, an attorney who co-owns the Hager Hall building and is part of the business.

Citing a state law on "nudity and sexual displays," Rouse said performers didn't expose buttocks or breasts while within 6 feet of patrons, so the show didn't violate the law.

But Everhart stressed a provision banning "acts or simulated acts of sexual intercourse."

Rouse objected. He said the patron bent over a chair on stage had her back to the man dressed as a police officer, so the simulated act wasn't sex.

"You can't have sexual intercourse with somebody that's turned around," he said.

Maryland's law limiting sexual conduct at businesses serving alcohol has two local exemptions -- the Washington County Playhouse and "A theater holding a Class B beer, wine and liquor on-sale license ...," referring to The Maryland Theatre.

Rouse argued Hager Hall's male revue performance and others it might host belong in the same category as plays at the playhouse or the theater.

The male revue puts on a Las Vegas-style theatrical show, not a strip show, said Tony Toskov, who co-owns the Hager Hall property with Rouse.

Toskov estimated 800 women attended the April 25 show.

Rouse said he might lobby Washington County's state legislators to expand the exempted class, saving Hager Hall from future scrutiny.

During a phone interview Wednesday afternoon, state Sen. Donald F. Munson said the local exemptions were added many years ago so The Maryland Theatre could have a liquor license and continue having "strictly artistic" shows.

Asked about Rouse's proposal to exempt Hager Hall, Munson said, "I don't think anything of that idea and it is not something I'm willing to discuss."

Ted Lowe, the agent who books Chippendales' touring acts, said during a phone interview Chippendales didn't put on the Hagerstown show. He said other male revues try to steal Chippendales' name and reputation.

The last actual Chippendales show in Hagerstown was Oct. 19, 2007, at the Grand Venice Hotel, Lowe said.

Rouse disputed Lowe's explanation, saying the show was presented to Hager Hall representatives as Chippendales.

Lowe said local laws on nudity don't matter as much as leaders' sensibilities; if they don't want a male revue show, they'll find a way to prevent it.

Usually, at a Chippendales show, dancers interact with the audience and strip down to almost nothing, if only briefly.

"Most markets allow it," Lowe said, "and most women demand it."

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