TAMPA, Fla. — The music was blaring, the dancers were gyrating and there was a glimmer of hope in a few gentlemen’s clubs Tuesday as Super Bowl 55 approached.
In a city that has been hailed as “the strip club capital of the world,” nothing has energized the industry and made it rain cash like the Super Bowl has. That is until there was the coronavirus pandemic.
How the two dozen or so clubs in Tampa will fare this week seems to be as much of a mystery as who will prevail when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers play the Kansas Chiefs Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
“We don’t have the slightest idea of what’s coming next,” said Don Kleinhans, the operating partner of 2001 Odyssey along with his brother Jim. “The odd part … is that we don’t have an influx of out-of-town entertainers. Typically what would happen on a Super Bowl time, which we’ve gone through three of them now, we would have an influx of entertainers about a month before the event.
“The calls would start coming in and then the week of the event, the calls would really pile in. You know, they’d fly in from Vegas and Atlanta and New York and California, and so far we’ve had a handful contact us. It just seems the same for all the rest of the clubs. So I don’t know what kind of a sign that is.”
Among the challenges:
Because of social distancing requirements, the NFL capped attendance for the game at 25,000.
COVID-19 concerns have fueled speculation that Chiefs fans will make the trek to Tampa but in much smaller numbers than hoped. And yet vaunted strip clubs such as Mons Venus already are catering to a crowd that has not yet arrived.
Joe Redner, owner of Mons Venus, opened his club at 2 p.m. Wednesday, six hours earlier than usual to accommodate the Super Bowl crowd. A dancer named Kitty, who arrived early, said she planned to increase her rates for a VIP dance to $200 from $150.
‘BEST OF A BAD SITUATION:’ Tampa tries to cash in on Super Bowl held amid pandemic
Yet at 9 p.m., she was in a mostly empty club, with only six customers having paid the $22 cover since it opened.
”The COVID’s kind of hurt us,” said Redner, adding that business has been “terrible. Which it should have been. People are supposed to be concerned about (COVID-19). Not everybody is as conscientious about it as we are.’’
Redner said one of his security guards at the club got COVID-19 but said he thinks he got it offsite.
Warren Colazzo, owner of Thee Dollhouse, said 10 to 12 of his employees tested positive for COVID-19 before the shutdown in March. He and his wife also tested positive, Colazzo said.
Jim Kleinhans said 12 of his employees tested positive for COVID-19.
“It was in the clubs,’’ Jim Kleinhans said.
Now at 2001 Odyssey, famous for its spaceship atop the building, patrons must have their temperatures taken and wear a mask before being allowed in. The mask requirement was strictly enforced during a visit to the club Wednesday night.
Yes, dancers also wear masks.
“I know, everybody laughs about it,” Don Kleinhans said. “They’re fully nude but the one thing that’s covered is their mouths and nose.’’
Kitty, the dancer at Mons Venus who requested her real name not be used, said she tells complaining customers, “If I can wear it, you can wear it.’’
During a visit to Thee Dollhouse, Colazzo at one point motioned for a dancer to pull up her mask. But a handful of others did not wear masks.
There is risk in flouting the city’s indoor mask ordinance. City employees enforcing it have checked on clubs with greater frequency as the Super Bowl approaches, Colazzo said.
Some clubs have investments at stake, too.
The owners of the Penthouse Club, owned by Kirkendoll Management, spent almost $2 million renovating their club and hoped to recoup a chunk of that money during Super Bowl week, according to the company. They’re still aiming to make $450,000 this week, up from $100,000 the club makes during a regular week, said Chuck Rolling, COO at Kirkendoll for the night club division.
He said they received a shipment of 120 bottles of alcohol Tuesday, would receive a shipment of 100 bottles of alcohol Friday and were planning to create a tented area to seat more customers.
“With COVID, the high-dollar customer may not be coming in,’’ he said. “I know Kansas City is in it again this year, so I’m not expecting a lot from Kansas City.
“But I still feel like those people who are diehard fans are going to come regardless, and some of those people from Kansas City are going to come because they’ve been locked up for nine months and there’s nothing open there. So they may want to come out and roll the dice and hope they don’t get COVID.’’
Taylor, a dancer based in Biloxi, Mississippi, said she is one of about 50 dancers who work for Penthouse and are traveling here for the Super Bowl — which Taylor said is a potential bonanza.
She made her dancing debut at the 2012 Super Bowl in New Orleans.
“I bought a car, a house with a swimming pool and still had money left over,’’ she said.
But the pandemic has shut down New Orleans strip clubs since December and tempered her expectations for this week. Unable to dance in New Orleans, she said she’s been making ends meet by driving a limo and now training to become a corrections officer.
“I’m just happy to even have an opportunity to be working this weekend,’’ she said. “I’m not coming in with large expectations. Just the opportunity itself is amazing to me.”