The owner of a North Laurel nude dancing club has agreed to require that his performers wear G-strings -- at least until he gets a legal opinion determining whether the establishment is a private club.
But Benham Zangenah, the owner of Good Guys Bar & Grill, accepted the compromise after state and county officials said he was violating a state law prohibiting the consumption of alcoholic beverages in public establishments that offer nude dancing. He also agreed to keep patrons at least 6 feet away from performers.
"I sort of feel like I'm being blackmailed," said Mr. Zangenah. "I either pay $5,000 a day in fines or do this. What are you going to do? What this is about is one group of people imposing their views on an other group of people."
"There will be no nude dancing. Dancers will be just topless and wearing G-strings," said Thomas Meachum, an Ellicott City lawyer who represents Mr. Zangenah.
Dancers began performing under the new dress code yesterday, said Mr. Meachum. Howard County police will visit sporadically Good Guys to ensure that the restrictions are being followed, said Michael A. Weal, an assistant state's attorney involved in the negotiations.
As a result of the agreement, worked out during the last two days among the Howard County State's Attorney's Office, the state Attorney General's office and Mr. Meachum, Mr. Zangenah will not be charged with violating the law that was sponsored by Howard County General Assembly delegation in 1992.
Mr. Zangenah was given a written warning from county police earlier this week, saying that his club appeared to be in violation of the law, said Mr. Weal.
"We believe they are in violation but felt it would be in everyone's best interests to give them a warning without arguing right now over the issue of whether they are public or private," said Mr. Weal.
The flap over Good Guys began late last week when Mr. Zangenah announced that he was turning in his liquor license and would launch what he contended would be a private club.
To enter Good Guys, patrons would have to purchase an annual membership for $10 and would be charged a $10 "usage fee" at each visit. Patrons are allowed to bring alcoholic beverages, since the club no longer is licensed to serve liquor.
Mr. Zangenah ran into trouble Monday when state Del. Martin Madden, a Republican representing Howard County and the Laurel area of Prince George's County, asked the attorney general's office to research the issue.
Assistant Attorney General Kathryn M. Rowe said in a letter Monday to Mr. Madden that the Good Guys membership requirement apparently does not qualify it as a private club since there is no evidence that any member of the public would be denied membership."
Mr. Meachum said his client still contends Good Guys is a private club and has asked the state's attorney's office for a letter outlining what would distinguish a private club from a public establishment. He said Mr. Zangenah may challenge the law in court.
"Good Guys is no different from a neighborhood pool or tennis club," said Mr. Meachum. "There are a number of clubs and organizations that permit anyone from the public to join if they pay a fee. The thing we didn't understand in the letter from the attorney general's office was whether we are supposed to discriminate against people interested in joining the club. My client isn't interested in discriminating."
Mr. Zangenah said he has received phone calls of support from people who have purchased memberships, though he believes some patrons will be unhappy when they find dancers now wearing G-strings.
"Some members are going to be unhappy, and I've lost 30 to 40 seats because of the 6-foot restriction," he said. "I was there all last night redesigning the inside. The thing I don't understand is, this kind of thing is all over America, indeed the world, and in just one week I have 1,000 members. And here you have one small group saying it's wrong."