Tampa strip clubs ready to cash in on GOP convention
The headliner at Tampa strip club Thee DollHouse during the Republican National Convention is expected to bear an uncanny resemblance to a certain ex-governor from a wilderness state, known for her devotion to guns and God.
The New York Times
TAMPA, Fla. — At the back door of the 2001 Odyssey, a limo-size tent with flaps — designed for camera-shy guests — is ready to go up. Déjà Vu is welcoming extra "talent" from around the country in its VIP rooms.
And Thee DollHouse is all Americana: Women plan to slip out of red, white and blue corsets and offer red, white and blue vodka. The headliner that week is expected to bear an uncanny resemblance to a certain ex-governor from a wilderness state, known for her devotion to guns and God.
"She's a dead ringer for her," said Warren Colazzo, co-owner of Thee DollHouse.
As Tampa gears up for the Republican National Convention, the city and its businesses are primping and polishing for the August arrival of tens of thousands of visitors.
Like it or not, Tampa's well-known strip clubs have joined the Welcome Wagon.
Club owners say they have schmoozed with counterparts in other host cities, such as Denver, and have been told that revenue pours in during conventions, sometimes quadrupling earnings from a Super Bowl week.
Angelina Spencer, executive director of the Association of Club Executives, which serves as a trade association for adult-entertainment clubs, said an informal survey of convention business in New York and Denver had determined Republicans dropped more money at clubs, by far.
"Hands down, it was Republicans," she said. "The average was $150 for Republicans and $50 for Democrats."
As further evidence of the clubs' appeal, Don Kleinhans, owner of the 2001 Odyssey, said that when the Promise Keepers, an evangelical group for men, came to town years ago, business was rollicking.
"We had phenomenal numbers all weekend, and they walked in wearing badges and name tags and weren't shy at all," he said.
James Davis, a spokesman for the Republican National Convention, declined to discuss Tampa's strip clubs.
To be fair, Tampa is known for other things: cigars, Ybor City — where Cuban and Spanish cigar makers first settled in the late 1800s — three major sports franchises, four Super Bowls and beautiful beaches a short drive away. It is the Florida Gulf Coast's economic engine.
But Tampa cannot shed its national reputation as the strip-club capital of the country. "It's not true," said Joe Redner, owner of the renowned Mons Venus and a man famous for fending off local attempts to close his gentlemen's club. "It would be nice, though."
The Tampa Bay Times has reported there are 20 strip clubs in Tampa and 50 in the Tampa Bay area. Per capita, it ranks behind Las Vegas and Cincinnati.
But it's hard to be sure because strip-club statistics are squishy, at best, and per capita numbers vary in a tourist town. Tampa does not have as many strip clubs as New Orleans, Atlanta, Houston, New York and Las Vegas, owners said.
Redner, who has repeatedly brandished the First Amendment, been arrested 150 or so times and run often for public office, may be one reason for the city's reputation. He took on the city in 2000 when it tried to cripple his club; instead, it bolstered his reputation.
The spaceship, a much-talked about private VIP room perched atop the 2001 Odyssey, has also helped burnish Tampa's louche label.
It is white, oval, with round windows, a rare prefabricated Futuro house designed by the Finnish architect Matti Suuronen in the 1960s and 1970s.
"It was named one of the seven wonders of Tampa Bay," said the Odyssey's manager, Todd Trause. The provenance of that distinction is hard to decipher.
Inside, Jazmin, 19, prepared to live chat on a webcam to a faraway customer. She is also preparing for the convention.
Given the opportunity to stand up before a politician, she will do her job, naturally, but also share her tale of financial struggle.
Laid off from a job in the Medicaid-billing industry, she scraped by as a grocery cashier. The paycheck scarcely covered her car payments, she said.
Then a friend of a friend told her about the strip club, and now she is saving her money — the most she's ever made — for nursing school.