Battle of the Bulges

If it seems like a buck doesn't buy as much of a booty-shaking good time as it used to during stripper night at your favorite local gay bar, you're right. Denver police have warned bar owners that their go-go boys had better fill in their cracks or face the consequences. The result is that some beefcakes are wearing nothing less than flesh-toned, wide-back briefs underneath their trademark thongs.

So what's the fun of wearing the superfluous butt floss at all?

"It helps show the definition of the body," explains a man who answered the phone at D&D Entertainment, the agency that supplies dancers for the Brig on South Broadway and other bars in Denver. Though he refused to give his name, the man says D&D dancers now wear the flesh-colored briefs under their thongs -- T-bars, as they're known in the male-stripper industry -- during their weekly Saturday performances at the Brig. It gives the illusion of a more revealing show, he says, while remaining in the good graces of the law.

That is, until the law looks the other way.

"Vice will get off of it in six weeks," says the man at D&D, and the T-bars will be snapped snugly back in place sans the bothersome briefs. It's a pattern that's "nothing new" in the history of Denver's gay bars, he adds, noting that the more attention that's paid to the situation, the longer it will take for the dancers to return to their cheeky selves.

The Brig was one of two gay bars recently singled out by Denver vice officials for supposedly violating the rules pertaining to appropriate attire for live dancers; both bars also received warning letters from the city's Department of Excise and Licenses.

Like most local gay bars that offer performances by male strippers, the Brig features a lineup of dancers one night a week who -- with varying degrees of rhythm proficiency -- take turns strutting across a narrow runway or dancing on a platform as they peel off everything but a stringy thong.

Brig owner Larry Engle says dancers have been performing at his bar since it opened three years ago, so he questions why police, who he says have been nothing but helpful and respectful since he opened, decided that now was the time to strike. Police have seen his dancers in the bar before but never took issue, he says. He suspects it had something to do with the bust at BJ's Carousel, another gay bar on Broadway, several weeks earlier.

On July 15, undercover detectives at BJ's watched a stripper clad only in chaps -- "with buttocks exposed and a flimsy covering over his genitalia," according to police -- circle the bar and brush up against male patrons as they sat at the bar after his time on stage was finished. Although no patrons complained about the dancer's effort to press the flesh -- in fact, some happily pressed right back, police say -- the cops cited him for lewd and lascivious conduct. They also told bar owner Bob Engle (no relation to the Brig's owner) and Mark Lundy, the owner of Buzz Entertainment, which supplies BJ's dancers and is D&D's rival agency, that the T-bars were too revealing for BJ's type of liquor license.

When compared with the bare-chested women featured at adult cabarets such as Shotgun Willie's and the Mile High Saloon, the exposed bottoms at BJ's seem tame. But the bar's standard cabaret license says bare bottoms are too much.

"Any portion of the female breast below the top of the areola or any portion of the pubic hair, anus, cleft of the buttocks, vulva or the genitals" is verboten under a standard cabaret license, according to Colorado's Liquor and Beer Code regulations. And although the back strap of a T-bar technically covers the objectionable area, when patrons pull out the strap to slip in a tip, they're copping a contraband eyeful.

An adult cabaret license is more liberal in what it allows than the $200 standard cabaret license, but the $3,000-a-year fee is beyond the budget of small neighborhood bars like the Brig, says Larry Engle.

Lundy says he had always assumed that T-bars were not a problem, since that's what he had always seen male strippers wearing. To steer clear of trouble, though, he says he immediately notified BJ's and the other bars he works with that strippers would now be clad more modestly. "I run a clean show," Lundy says.

Meanwhile, the boys at the Brig -- unaware of the drama down the street at BJ's -- were still dancing cheek to cheek. But on August 4, police received an anonymous complaint that the dancers were "improperly clad and involved in public indecency." The following Saturday, Engle says, four or five cops entered his bar and, although they didn't issue any tickets to the dancers, told him he would have to meet with Denver vice the following week.

Engle refuses to point the finger at Buzz Entertainment or any of the bars who employ Buzz dancers for tattling, but, he says, "it is suspicious that we never had a problem here with vice."

Lundy says he didn't squeal. "I'm not a vindictive person. I'm not one to sabotage someone else's business." He doubts that any of the bars he supplies dancers to would be "petty enough" to turn in the Brig, either, adding that a little bit of extra flesh shown there would hardly be enough to draw patrons away from a rival bar using Buzz's dancers.

D&D's representative, however, says that similar situations are not unheard of in the sometimes combative world of Denver's gay bars. "It's just human nature," he says. "It's like little kids: 'If I can't do it, then you can't do it, either.'"

Detective Patrick Fitzgibbons of the Department of Excise and Licenses offers an alternative explanation: "Maybe it was a partner who thought a dancer was paying too much attention to his significant other."

Neither Fitzgibbons nor the Denver police are able to provide information as to why undercover agents entered BJ's in the first place or who ratted out the Brig, but the detective admits that the attire issue is not a priority for his department. Once officers become aware of it, however, they react before the situation gets out of hand.

Regardless of how the crackdown began, the dancing stage is now level, but the new, less-revealing outfits have upset some patrons. "People tripped!" says Lundy, whose dancers now rely on boxers, briefs and other suggestive clothing to generate heat. "A lot of patrons are upset because they don't understand the differences in cabaret licensing. They say, 'Why can the straight clubs do it?'" Nonetheless, all parties agree that this is not a case of police homophobia but simply a matter of government red tape.

And though Lundy says that the new attire has negatively affected the number of dollars that patrons deposit in the dancers' pouches, it has also had the unexpected bonus of discouraging overeager customers from lingering or manhandling the merchandise.

Despite the D&D representative's prediction that the situation will blow over in six weeks, Lundy insists that his dancers will never return to wearing just T-bars. "If there's a rule set, then it should be followed."

The Brig's Engle doubts his bar would be able to survive without the Saturday-evening floor show, but he says he simply can't afford to pay the extra money for an adult cabaret license.

"We're just paying the bills right now -- that's it," he says. And besides, "for $3,000, they should take off everything."