The Return of Ziegfeld's

Closed due to stadium construction, a Southeast nightlife legend paves the way toward a grand reopening

Once a famous facet of the D.C. gay bar scene, all-male strip clubs faded into history when a new baseball stadium displaced the few remaining establishments.

But just because it’s history, doesn’t mean it’s past.

If things go as planned, male go-go dancers could be taking off their clothes once more. Allen Carroll, who owned the Ziegfeld’s/Secrets nightclub in Southeast before it was demolished to make way for baseball, is in the process of bringing the popular nightspot back. He hopes to have the club reopened as early as Memorial Day weekend in a new Southwest location, blocks away from the old site.

New Ziegfeld's location
The new Ziegfeld’s club location

”I’m in the process right now of waiting for the [transfer] license to be approved by the [Advisory Neighborhood Commission] board,” Carroll says. ”So far I don’t see any problems if I agree to this agreement. I think everything is going good.”

Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) are elected bodies representing local areas of the District, considering a wide range of issues in those communities, including liquor licenses and other business topics. Liquor-license businesses often sign ”voluntary agreements” with ANCs to ensure approval of their license by the city.

Once Carroll signs the voluntary agreement, which he says asks for procedures regarding parking regulations, crowd control and security, the wheels for the opening will be in motion.

Ziegfeld’s/Secrets will be discussed during an April 14 meeting of ANC 6D, which represents the neighborhood. Andy Litsky, a member of ANC 6D, says that the Ziegfeld’s/Secrets opening at 1824 Half St. SW, where Lime nightclub used to be, is ”favorable.”

”Hopefully I’m going to be in Washington on Monday to attend the meeting and vote approval, which is clearly what my intention is,” says Litsky, currently in New York on personal business.

Litsky says he let his fellow commissioners know ”from the get-go” that he favored Ziegfeld’s relocating to that address.

”I can’t think of a better place to have this reopen. It’s not in a residential area, it’s easily accessible to get to. And this is something that I think the gay community will be absolutely thrilled to have be a part of our community once again.”

Since closing the original Ziegfeld’s/Secrets, which he had operated for more than 30 years with Chris Jansen, Carroll had attempted to acquire a license to operate the business in other areas of the city, but was denied due to zoning issues, including the proximity of residential neighborhoods to the venue.

Jansen died on August 31, 2007 from heart failure. Carroll says his former partner is still a ”big part” of the new venue he’s planning to open.

”If he were here, he’d say, ‘Allen, you’re too old!”’ Carroll says with a laugh. ”No, I’m not.”

The two-story building that will house Ziegfeld’s will need renovations before playing host to both drag shows and go-go dancers. According to Carroll, ”downstairs is going be the drag, and then upstairs is going to be the nude Secrets,” adding that the venue is bigger than the original Ziegfeld’s.

”What I’m thinking of doing is a drag show on Friday and Saturday, and then I’m going to bring Secrets downstairs on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays.”

Carroll hopes to employ the same staff that worked at the original Ziegfeld’s, as well as bring in some new faces.

”We usually get [dancers] from around here,” he says. ”But we have dancers coming in from Florida and Texas.” On weekends, Carroll says there will be 12 to 15 dancers performing on each night.

While Carroll is cautious in discussing the voluntary agreement and seems pleased that things are moving towards an opening, local nightlife advocate Mark Lee says it’s a ”burdensome process” that delays the licensing ”for no reason.”

”There’s a troubling assumption on the part of Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration that somehow we fall into this trap of thinking that voluntary agreements are required to get licensing and they are not,” Lee says. ”The Alcoholic Beverage Control Board should clearly state that.”

Lee and Carroll are on the same page, however, regarding the absence that will be filled by bringing back Washington’s only male strip club.

”There’s been something missing, and I hear a lot of feedback from customers and everybody that I’ve talked to,” Carroll says. ”I didn’t like the way we went out. We had to leave. When you spend 30 years doing something, you just don’t want to go out that way.”

Carroll says he feels ”comfortable” because the police department and the ANC have both worked with him in his efforts.

”At first I was a little [pessimistic], but they’ve all come together and it seems like it’s going to work out,” he says. ”As soon as I get the okay there, then I will have everything I need to come back.”