- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 1, 2001

The defunct 1720 Club, a nudie bar that sparked an uproar when it opened two blocks from the White House in the early 1990s, is poised to resurrect with the help of a bill passed by the D.C. Council last week, The Washington Times has learned.

Club owner Benham Zanganeh once again is seeking to move to 1716 I St. NW, angering and alarming nearby business owners who thought they vanquished the club in court several years ago.

"That crowd is not desirable in this area," said Moe Fayyad, who has owned Art Gallery Grille at 1712 I St. NW for almost 30 years.

"We're just trying to protect the neighborhood and the business that we've spent our lives in," said Mr. Fayyad, who added that a strip club would "definitely" drive away customers.

Opponents of the 1720 Club became alarmed after the club's attorneys filed a recent court motion, and because of a real estate deal in the works between Mr. Zanganeh and the owner of 1716 I St. NW.

"That nasty strip club? It's just not good for business," said Kathleen McDonald, whose restaurant, Cafe Soleil, is half a block from where the 1720 Club wants to move.

Ms. McDonald said she's "shocked that [the club] is able to come up again."

"I think it's discouraging," she said.

"The strip-club owners are represented by competent counsel, and they will no doubt immediately seize upon the city council's actions and start his business up all over again, which is a shame," said John J. Brennan III, an attorney fighting the 1720 Club on behalf of businesses in the I Street area.

"That's deadlock certain," he said.

Mr. Brennan said he and his clients intend to fight the club's plans "to the death."

Mr. Zanganeh's attorneys filed a motion in the D.C. Court of Appeals in December asking that the club's appeal of a ruling by the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Board be put on hold "pending final enactment" of the D.C. Council's liquor-regulation bill.

When the liquor bill takes effect, club attorneys will ask the court to send the case back to the ABC board so they can argue for the move to 1716 I St. NW under the new law, according to the Dec. 24 court document and sources familiar with the case.

Charles L. Reischel, the District's deputy corporation counsel defending the board's ruling, said the motion's "clear intention" is to send the case back to the ABC board so club attorneys can fight for a transfer to 1716 I St. NW.

The liquor-regulation bill, which passed last week, retains a moratorium on new nude-dancing establishments applying for liquor licenses, but allows existing clubs to move.

The strip-club amendment also makes moot the legal argument before the court over the meaning of the word "establishment", and could allow the 1720 Club to open at 1716 I St. NW.

"Now they can do what they couldn't do before," Mr. Reischel said.

Redevelopment at 1720 H St. NW forced the club to close in 1998, but Mr. Zanganeh retained his liquor and nude-dancing licenses under the name 1720 H Street Corp.

His attorneys must still convince the ABC board that the club would be "appropriate" for the location meaning it would not hurt property values or peace, order and quiet, or be too close to schools, libraries and other such facilities.

The new liquor bill also would place other requirements on a club's application to open, such as being at least 600 feet from a residence, proposed residence or another strip club.

Attorney Stephen J. O'Brien declined to comment about the club's plans, and attorney Frederick D. Cooke Jr. did not return telephone calls placed by The Times.

The other indication that Mr. Zanganeh is planning to open at 1716 I St. NW is a real estate deal with the building's owner, Warren Ratner, son of the late beauty salon magnate Louis Ratner, who founded what is now the national Hair Cuttery chain.

Mr. Ratner recently retracted a lease agreement with Dick Heidenberger, whose lease of the first floor for his restaurant, the Bottom Line, runs out in May 2003.

Mr. Heidenberger said he's been asking about renewing his lease for a year and a half, but has been told "it's too early" and the owner has "other options."

Mr. Ratner began negotiating a lease with Mr. Zanganeh about 2 and 1/2 years ago, according to Mr. Heidenberger and sources in the real estate and legal communities.

More recently, Mr. Zanganeh signed an option to buy the building for $3 million, Mr. Heidenberger and others said, even though sources say the building is only worth between $1 million and $2 million.

Either way, Mr. Heidenberger said, he will lose his business.

If Mr. Zanganeh moves his club onto the floors above him, "it would put me out of business, clearly," Mr. Heidenberger said.

"My customers have told us, 'You won't see me in here anymore' if a strip club opens."

If 1720 H Street Corp. buys the building, "Zanganeh will kick me out," Mr. Heidenberger added.

Mr. Ratner would not answer questions from The Times on Tuesday and instead said he would "have somebody call you back," which he acknowledged would mean his attorney, Les Mardicks.

Mr. Mardicks told The Times he and his client "are marketing the building right now … primarily trying to lease it, but we would sell it if we had the right offer."

When asked about Mr. Zanganeh's offer to buy the building for $3 million, he would not comment.

Reaction to the 1720 Club's plan is almost unanimous, as many companies and businesses in the area pooled together to fight Mr. Zanganeh in court. Others simply think a strip club is bad news.

"Eewww," said Tanya Ameen, the manager at Lawson's Gourmet Provisions, a deli down the block from the site, when asked about a strip club moving in.

"I think it will bring a lot of bad nighttime people traffic, especially when people are trying to go home around here," said Ms. Ameen, who shivered as she talked about the club.

John B. Mason is one of several real estate developers who oppose the club because of its negative effect on the area and helped fund the legal fight.

"Why bring this into a neighborhood that's being renewed?" asked Mr. Mason, president of Intrepid Real Estate, which owns 1720 I St. NW, next to where Mr. Zanganeh wants to put his club. "This used to be a dead street and now most of the buildings are renovated.

"A lot of people have spent a lot of money and time and effort bringing this street back, and this club takes it back in the opposite direction," he added.

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