Forget pasties and G-strings. If Baltimore really wants to keep up with "a phenomenon around the country" it needs legalized nude dancing, a former gubernatorial candidate turned lobbyist is telling city officialdom.
Former state Sen. American Joe Miedusiewski, a lobbyist for an Atlanta strip club interested in expanding here and cultivating the tourist trade, has asked the city liquor board to allow nude dancing in Baltimore.
The proposal has excited business owners on The Block who say the measure might be the last hope for resurrecting the declining red-light strip. Some say their clubs have been stripped of their dignity by city liquor regulations requiring female dancers to cover their breasts and genitals.
"People from out of town come in here, and they can't believe it," said Tony Pulaski, the owner of the Stage Door show bar.
"They're very disappointed the dancers can't be nude. I have to tell them that in Baltimore, we're a little behind the times. It's an embarrassment for the city."
The owners and Mr. Miedusiewski say legalizing nude dancing would bring a major investment from the adult entertainment industry and tourist dollars. Atlanta, Houston, San Francisco and West Palm Beach, Fla., allow nudity, bar owners say.
"This is a phenomenon around the country," said Mr. Miedusiewski, who made an unsuccessful bid for governor in the 1994 Democratic primary.
To allow nude dancing, the liquor board would have to change its regulations and hold a public hearing. The Maryland legislature also would have to pass a new law governing adult entertainment.
Aaron L. Stansbury, the liquor board's executive secretary, said board members are considering the proposal, but have not committed to changing the rules.
In a letter last month to Mr. Stansbury, Mr. Miedusiewski wrote, "With the expansion of Baltimore's Convention Center and a need for the city to improve its image as a convention city with a pro-business climate, a discussion about upscale adult entertainment is warranted."
The downtown strip has been hit hard in recent years, and Block owners say business will improve if dancers can perform naked.
"I don't blame people for not coming in. There's nothing to see," said George Barzoucas, the owner of the Villa Nova nightclub. Around 10 p.m. Saturday, about a half-dozen people were at the bar, watching a woman in a red dress gyrate around the stage.
"They can see more at Hooters [a Harbor Place restaurant]," said Mr. Barzoucas. "It's crazy that this city finds nudity offensive."
Some of the clubs take their chances and defy the regulations. A reporter for The Sun went to several clubs and saw dancers bare their breasts at the Club Pussycat and the Dynasty Lounge. Dancers kept covered at the Stage Door and the Villa Nova.
A half-dozen dancers interviewed said they wanted to perform nude because they would make more money. A good night on The Block might bring a dancer $200, compared with $300 to $1,000 a night as a nude dancer, they said.
"There's the money issue. And to me, there's a freedom of expression issue, too," said Robin, 20, a dancer at one of the clubs.
"What the government has to realize is that nude dancing isn't about prostitution. Most guys who come here don't want prostitution, they just want to see beautiful girls."
Mr. Miedusiewski said Friday that if nude dancing is allowed in Baltimore or its suburbs, the Cheetah Club of Atlanta would be interested in opening here.
The club, he said, is "a very corporate-minded" establishment where business people can entertain clients with fine wine and cigars, valet parking and a theatrical strip show highlighting dancers in spotlights and stage smoke.
In a meeting Thursday with the city liquor board, Mr. Miedusiewski said, he and his partner, Maxine Adler, "tried to get a sense if Baltimore is ready for upscale adult entertainment regarding the convention center and the tourism market."
Mr. Stansbury said the board asked him several months ago to research adult entertainment laws around the country to determine "whether we were in sync with what is happening in larger metropolitan areas."
Mr. Pulaski, of the Stage Door, said Baltimore's future as a "Conventioneer's City" rests on the quality of its tourist attractions. Nude dancing would add spice to a city that seems to be looking for something to showcase, he said.
"We don't have a lot to offer people other than the Inner Harbor. We need more variety," Mr. Pulaski said.