The owners of the Merritt House restaurant and nightclub in Dundalk, Maryland were faced with a big problem back in February 1975. They did virtually no business on Sunday nights. They needed to do something unique to bring customers into the place.
A Washington area promoter named Nick Simonetta suggested something that he had tried just a few weeks earlier at a nightclub in Camp Springs, Maryland: he brought in male go-go dancers to entertain the ladies. He claimed that the response was overwhelming and suggested that Merritt House do the same.
So, on the evening of Sunday, February 16, 1975, Merritt House imported one of Simonetta’s male dancers, paid him $35 (nearly $200 today) for the performance, and he sold out the place. He proved so popular that the owners had to turn away customers.
Robert Cane, co-owner of Merritt House, stated, “These women had a lot of fun last Sunday. They weren’t inhibited by their boy friends or husbands. I even had some of my clothes ripped off.”
The women may not have been inhibited by their significant others, but dozens of the men filed complaints with the Baltimore County Liquor Board. The men apparently weren’t upset with the dancers. What they didn’t like was that they weren’t allowed into the club. Couples would show up at the door, but only the women were admitted. All of the men were turned away, so they filed complaints claiming sexual discrimination.
After reviewing the regulations, Joseph J. Hess, chairman of the Liquor Board, determined that there had been several violations:
First, according to Hess, “Guys went there with their wives last weekend and were told their wives could come in and they couldn’t. You just can’t do that. It’s discrimination.”
Next, he pointed out that nightclub employees were forbidden from accepting any gift of money other than a “bona fide tip.” Hess determined that stuffing money into the dancer’s bikini did not qualify as a tip and was forbidden.
Lastly, state regulations required that all employees must wear clothing that “conceals the entire nipple area and the entire lower breast.” Clearly, this regulation was aimed at women, but Hess felt that if they didn’t apply that rule to both men and women, the Liquor Board would be subject to charges of discrimination.
His solution was simple: “He’s going to have to wear a bra or something.”
Merritt House co-owner Fabio L. Binetti told the Baltimore Sun that he had no intention of sending the male dancers out in pasties. “I guess they’ll have to wear a tank top or something.”
Of course, the Baltimore Sun needed to send one of their ace reporters to the club the following Sunday to see what all of the hullabaloo was about. Donald Kimelman was just the man to tackle this important problem.
Women began lining up at 4 P.M. for the 8 o’clock show. All 214 tickets, the legal occupancy for the club, were sold out by 7. Those who arrived after that were told to come back for the second show at 11 P.M. Men were being admitted, although their entrance fee was $8 vs. $2 for the women. ($45.50 vs. $11.36 today.)
And then the show started. The Mad Hatters band blasted out their rock tunes as each of the four dancers individually took to the stage, each typically dancing through three songs. After an intermission, they came back on and performed once more. Adapting to the new mandate of covering their breasts, the dancers emerged wearing sizable dermicel adhesive bandages, which eventually came loose as perspiration took its course.
Kimmelman described the reaction of the women. He said that they were “stomping on the table tops, shimmying on top of the bar, clapping, shouting, screaming, or just quietly staring at the glistening, undulating male bodies.”
He then proceeded to interview several of the women.
Joyce Crach, who was seven months pregnant at the time, stated that, “My husband told me to come. He believes in equality.” A woman seated next to her added, “The men have had women dancers for years at the Rainbow Inn. Now we have something.”
Kimmelman observed as another Dundalk housewife, also named Joyce, who asked that her last name not be printed, grabbed one of the go-go dancer’s legs. She explained, “He was just shaking there right in front of me. I knew I had to grab something, so I reached out and held on.” At another moment, she ran onstage and stuffed a dollar bill into the bass guitarist’s bikini bottoms. This was not as risqué as it sounds—he was wearing the bikini over black leotards.
Juanita Roth, who was in her mid-30s, said her husband was home watching their kids. She said, “I’ve got two words for you — ‘liberations great.’” She added, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”
When two sisters were asked where their husbands were, they responded in unison: “Home in the bedroom where they belong.”
April Fiedler, who was single, commented, “I never knew that the male body was so sexy.”
One of her married friends added, “Yeah. Husbands aren’t sexy. The problem is that they all look the same.”
Many of the ladies were disappointed that Jeremiah Shastid, who April described as being “The most gorgeous thing you ever saw,” didn’t dance in that earlier show, although he did arrive later.
Mr. Shastid told Kimmelman that “It’s great being a sex object. For years I used to beg for dates. Now I get offers all of the time.”
(One has to wonder what that hunk of a man, Jeremiah Shastid, looks like 48 years later…)
Within a month of being cited by the Baltimore County Liquor Board, business at the Merritt House seemed to be quieting down. In a March 28, 1975, article in the Baltimore Sun, about six weeks after he issued his original rulings, board chairman Hess stated, “I was down at the Merritt House this past Sunday, and there were no more that 150 to 170 women in the place the whole night.” He added, “It was a fad. Now the novelty is wearing off.”
In that same article, Mr. Hess described how the Liquor Board had consulted with several attorneys to determine the best way to move forward. “It was a ridiculous situation to be caught in. But we had to live within the rule until we could see if we could constitutionally change it.”
There was no need for a constitutional change. Instead, the lawyers concluded that there was “a difference in the anatomy of the male and female.” As a result, the Liquor Board ruled that male go-go dancers would no longer be required to cover their breasts. The headline of the article summed it up best: “But They No Longer Need Band-Aids.”
(This story was originally written and recorded for Retrocast #19, released on August 15, 2023.)