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Some Look Askance at New Topless Club in Posh Area

August 30, 1992|MATHIS CHAZANOV | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CENTURY CITY — The opening of a strip club in the starchy surroundings of Century City's ABC Entertainment Center has aroused objections from the landlord, police and the local Chamber of Commerce.

Going Hugh Hefner one better, the new operators of a restaurant at the site of the old Playboy Club introduced topless dancing two weeks ago, just a stroll away from Cineplex Odeon's first-run movie screens and almost next door to the Shubert Theatre--home of "Cats," "Les Miserables" and other family fare.

A disco since the departure of the Playboy Bunnies in 1986, the club has been transformed into Bailey's 20/20 Gentlemen's Club, a black-walled, mirrored environment where sylphs doff their tops behind a brass rail that keeps patrons beyond the legally required arm's length. Between acts, the dancers slip into slinky cocktail dresses and mingle with the customers, who tend to fall into categories commonly found in Century City--lawyers, businessmen and elevator repairmen.

"This is a very, very classy establishment," said dancer Debbie Johnson, who goes by the stage name "Tuesday." She finds the work so pleasant and the tips so generous that she plans to give up her other job--dancing nights at a club in Upland.

But the opening of Bailey's was an unpleasant surprise for the investors' group that owns the entertainment center, a spokeswoman for the building's owners said.

"It's just not something we'd have in this vicinity," said Julia Edwards-Mayo of Westside Entertainment Center Associates. "We don't have a moral judgment, but it's not right for Century City, and they're operating outside the terms of the lease."

At the Century City Chamber of Commerce, president and director Golda Freedman-Epstein issued a statement saying the chamber "neither supports nor condones" the opening of the topless club. The management of the nearby Century Plaza Hotel feels the same way, a spokeswoman said. Officials of the Shubert Theatre and Cineplex Odeon had no comment.

Although the club has a license to run a bar and serve food, said Sgt. Jim Wakefield of the West Los Angeles vice squad, "unclad dancers wasn't part of the program." In a letter this week, police called on the club's owners to "cease and desist all adult entertainment." Despite the objections--legal and otherwise--an attorney for the club's owners, Mark and Connie Bailey, said they are on strong legal ground.

"We did extensive research into the city codes, and it's well within the proper limits, and the state requirements too," said attorney Roger H. Licht.

As for the landlords, he said, "they have withheld their consent (to the transfer of the club's lease), and we believe unjustifiably."

The challenges could take months to resolve, said manager Phil Johnson, and for now the club is not hurting for customers.

He touted the food--pizza, salads, sandwiches and California Italian entrees, up to $23.95 for rack of lamb--and said it's a good place to bring a business contact.

But what if that contact might be offended by all the skin? "It's a judgment call," Johnson said. "You could take them to the wrong restaurant too, like what if you take a nice Jewish client and it's pork night?"

A few of the 120 dancers are secretaries from nearby high-rises who abandon their word processors to earn the equivalent of a week's salary in one night of tips, Johnson said.

But most of them are professional entertainers, screened to make sure that they have no criminal records and that they can carry on a conversation with well-educated customers during the breaks between their dance routines.

"Don't be afraid to tip that beautiful young lady," the disc jockey urges, but dancers cannot take the money directly from their fans. Instead, the cash is placed on the stage.

"I stand for all the college grads who do this to stay alive in these tough economic times in California," one dancer said. She did not give her name but said she just graduated from UCLA with a degree in history and pre-law.

"It's not a sexist thing or men exploiting us," said another. "It's a matter of choice about what we want to do."

For at least one group of businessmen, the choice of a strip joint for a business meeting was not controversial.

"From the waste-hauling point of view, this place is OK," said Haig Papaian Jr., a trash hauler who met there for lunch with business associates Dan Agajanian and Burt Rocklin.

"It's a nice distraction," Agajanian said. "I'd bring my wife to this place."

"Maybe I'll find a wife here," Rocklin said.

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