LESTERVILLE, S.D. — Swede's Bar in this little prairie farming town could pass for any other small-town bar. Proprietors Esther and Melvin (Swede) Lee look like typical grandparents and they know customers by name.
But there is that small hand-lettered sign in one window reading: "Shirt and shoes required. Panties and bras optional." And there are the nude dancers, which the townspeople voted overwhelmingly recently to keep.
This is small-town America, population 168.
So small you can find Swede's just down the main street from Donna's Cafe, across from the fire hall and the combination community center and American Legion Hall, in the shadow of the grain storage silos at the farmers' co-op at one end of the street.
Nude dancers have made Swede's famous for 26 years. People by the busload flock to the bar in Lesterville, about 25 miles northwest of Yankton in the southeastern corner of South Dakota.
"We get two, three buses on Friday and Saturday nights," said Melvin Lee, 69.
"We get people from all over the United States--especially during hunting season," he said. South Dakota attracts many out-of-state hunters, especially during pheasant season in the fall.
The couple opened the bar 36 years ago. Lee said he started bringing in nude dancers when town dances did not draw well.
"So I turned to something different, which is kind of hard to do in a small town," he said. "And it just kept on growing and growing and growing."
Lee started with one dancer. Now, he has three or four dancers a night, Mondays through Saturdays.
"This is the best club around," said dancer Rachel Johnson of St. Cloud, Minn. She has been performing for 10 years and appearing at Swede's for the last four as she works a 10-state circuit.
"Esther and Swede are really nice people," Johnson said. "They keep a close eye on everything. There's never any fights. The nudity is restricted to the stage only. When we're off it, we cover up. There's never any problems."
Swede's, and Lesterville, received national attention recently when residents voted 70 to 37 to throw out a City Council ordinance passed in April that would have banned nude dancing.
Forty-seven of the town's 122 voters signed a petition calling for the referendum less than a week after the council's action. The ordinance never went into effect.
"I pretty much figured that's the way it would go," Lee said.
Kathy Auch, who supported the ban, said backers didn't want Lesterville to be known for nude dancing.
Lee countered: "If it hadn't been for the go-go girls, no one would know about Lesterville."
Earlier this year, nude dancers brought public attention to the northwestern North Dakota town of Crosby, when the City Council refused to ban nude dancing at Jerry's Lounge. That bar tries to keep a low profile locally and caters to customers from Canada.
Lee said he hires bouncers and never admits anyone under 21. He has had to call the Yankton County Sheriff's Department for help only three times while he has had nude dancers.
"The trouble we have had, we've settled right in here, and that is very minimal," he said. "The crowds are real nice. They're middle class, upper class."
"We get doctors, lawyers, farmers," said weekend bartender Kevin Frangenberg.
Lee adds judges, politicians and businessmen to the list.
"I once had a politician from the state sign a law on a (dancer's) rear end," he said.