Florida's Vice Economy
Vice: Strip clubs in Florida
The number of clubs isn't increasing, but the business is growing — and playing the ‘more acceptable' card.
Angelina Spencer, executive director of the Association of Club Executives, says Florida’s number of licensed clubs has held steady at about 110 for years. It will be hard for the number to grow because communities limit how close they can operate near schools, day cares and churches — and because of liquor ordinances, nudity ordinances and other regulations. Spencer says, for example, that if you want to bring a strip club to unincorporated Collier County, “you better have about $2 million for the legal fight.”
Florida’s only primary strip club market — in a league with markets like Las Vegas, Houston and New York — is Miami. It leads the state in the number of strip clubs, followed by Tampa. Overlooked hot spots in Florida include Jacksonville and Pensacola. “There’s quite a few clubs in that area, but they’re very quiet,” Spencer says.
The largest strip club in Florida and the nation is Tootsie’s, a 74,000-sq.- ft. club in Miami Gardens. It has 200 employees, 200 entertainers, 1,500 customers on a weekend night and 300 on average for Friday lunch, the busiest lunch of the week. The move toward upscale strip clubs dates back decades, but Tootsie’s owner, publicly traded RCI Hospitality Holdings, is taking them to another level.
RCI earlier this year purchased Scarlett’s Cabaret in Hallandale in Broward County five miles from Tootsie’s for $25.95 million. According to RCI, the 25,000-sq.-ft. Scarlett’s in the previous 12 months had more than $6 million in profit before taxes, interest and depreciation on $13 million in revenue. It instantly became RCI’s second-largest club behind Tootsie’s.
The clubs nowadays draw more couples, women and even bachelorette parties, says south Florida-based Ed Anakar, president of RCI Management Services, the subsidiary that manages RCI’s clubs. When dance clubs close for the night, Tootsie’s and Scarlett’s see a rush of people who want to party on. Scarlett’s stays open until 8 a.m. on weekends. “People find adult clubs more acceptable,” Anakar says. “Instead of going to a South Beach nightclub, you go into a similar atmosphere.” The sports bar within Tootsie’s lays claim to being Florida’s largest. It packs them in for events like the Mayweather-McGregor fight.
In keeping with the “more acceptable” face, south Florida strip clubs are joining forces this month for a golf tournament to raise money for hurricane victims. During Irma, Tootsie’s, which has a large parking deck, provided a safe harbor for first responders and their vehicles taking refuge from the peak of the storm. “We have a large, hospital-sized generator,” Anakar says.
He says RCI wants to acquire more south Florida clubs. It’s easier to buy an established place already allowed by law than to pioneer a new location. “We feel south Florida is a great market,” Anakar says.
A Broward community’s battle with two strip clubs lasted more than 30 years.
The busy intersection of Federal Highway and Oakland Park Boulevard is “Main-on-Main” for the city of Oakland Park, a Fort Lauderdale suburb. For decades, the area around the junction has been home to an iconic circular office building, a mall, the road east to the beach and, to the city’s chagrin, two prominent strip clubs — Pure Platinum and Solid Gold — controlled off and on by Michael J. Peter, a legend in the strip club industry.
A Cornell University hospitality school grad, Peter, according to the Association of Club Executives, a strip club industry group, is “considered by many to be the forefather of the modern gentlemen’s club.” At one point, he owned six clubs in south Florida alone. He was featured on “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” and had a yacht, jet, Ferrari and Rolls-Royce. He went to prison on federal mail fraud charges, only to win on appeal.
For 30 years, long before the eastern side of Broward even needed redeveloping, Oakland Park tried to shed itself of the two clubs. Successive attempts at regulation ended up halted in court until 2015, when courts backed new licensing regulations the city had enacted, finding the regulations advanced a substantial government interest in combatting secondary effects of sexually oriented businesses.
The sites of Peter’s clubs were sold to developers who plan to build a chain restaurant and a mixed-use, family-friendly project. Efforts to obtain comment from Peter weren’t successful.