From Thongs to Rock `N' Roll

Article excerpt

ORANGE PARK -- Haney Sweda, owner of the Gentleman's Club, vowed

earlier this year to take Clay County Sheriff Scott Lancaster

"to the wall" in an effort to keep his scantily clothed dancers

strutting.

Now, the only bikini-clad women in the club off Blanding

Boulevard hang on a wall calendar in an office. Harmonica and

guitar players have replaced undulating blondes wearing high-cut

thongs.

On Dec. 4, the Gentleman's Club -- Clay County's only erotic

dance spot -- switched its format to rock and blues. That means

more time for talent like Joe Sample, Spanish-influenced

guitarist Ottmar Liebert and former Jefferson Starship guitarist

Craig Chaquico.

The raids and arrests in January had little to do with the

change, Sweda said.

"It was a straight business decision," he said. "We just

decided to take the club in a new direction."

Nearly a year ago, undercover sheriff's deputies raided the

Gentleman's Club and arrested 12 dancers plus Sweda, his partner

Bernie Smith, and the club manager on charges of lewd and

lascivious behavior and violating Clay County's adult

entertainment ordinance.

Lancaster said the dancers' costumes revealed their breasts and

buttocks and said the dancers had erotic physical contact with

customers and simulated sex acts on stage.

Sweda characterized the raid as a witchhunt. He still insists

his dancers' dress and behavior complied with the adult

entertainment ordinance.

"It was not much different from a bikini contest," he said.

Since then, Sweda and his colleagues have pleaded to

misdemeanor charges and been sentenced to probation and fines.

The club still faces administrative fines from the Department of

Business and Professional Regulation.

But the real impact has been on his business, Sweda said.

"Customers would ask: `What happened here? It was more fun

before,' " he said.

They would leave and go to Jacksonville, where they had a

choice of erotic or nude dance clubs, he said.

The raid could have jeopardized Sweda's liquor license, the

cornerstone of the Gentleman's Club and its companion lounge,

Shades Nightclub. …