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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Road to Super Bowl XLIII flanked by 43 strip clubs

Cars are parked outside an adult entertainment establishment in Tampa, Fla. on AP – Cars are parked outside an adult entertainment establishment in Tampa, Fla. on Thursday, Jan. 22, 2009. …

TAMPA, Fla. – There's Lip Stixx and Centerfolds and the Bliss Cabaret.

There's Diamond Dolls and Bare Assets and the Wild Gentlemen's Club. In fact, there are, by one count, 43 strip clubs in the Tampa metropolitan area — one for each Super Bowl. And the week of Super Bowl XLIII is to Tampa's naughty nightlife what Black Friday is to America's shopping malls.

All the exotic dancing joints have earned Tampa a bawdy reputation — the lads' magazine Maxim even put it on its top 10 list of best U.S. party cities a couple years ago, based mostly on the two score and more night spots to see naked or nearly naked women.

Now, with at least one spot planning to have a tent in the parking lot to handle the overflow of free-spending tourists, locals expect to profit mightily through kickoff Sunday evening.

"Based on what we did last Super Bowl (in 2001), the numbers will quadruple during that weekend," says Nick Polefrone, general manager of 2001 Odyssey, a landmark club known for the spaceship-shaped VIP room rising from the top of the building.

Across the street is Mons Venus, a joint that is listed among the best strip clubs in the world by users of a Web site called The Ultimate Strip Club List. The two upscale clubs — walking distance from Raymond James Stadium, where the Arizona Cardinals will play the Pittsburgh Steelers — have been fixtures for decades. Polefrone figures Tampa's naughty national image grew out from there.

"Tampa has a reputation for having the most strip clubs and the most girls who are a lot of fun," says a 25-year-old exotic dancer named Claudia, who left her usual gig in Las Vegas to work the Super Bowl week here. (She asked that her last name not be used to save her family any embarrassment.)

Claudia says she's worked four previous Super Bowls and expects to make as much as $2,000 a day performing at 2001 Odyssey. Most clubs treat the dancers as independent contractors who pay a flat fee to the house and keep the rest.

"It's so crazy, everybody is in a such a party mood," she says. "It's a whole new level of everything."

The clubs have been busy auditioning more dancers and upgrading their interiors. Some will stay open 24 hours.

The Tampa Tribune helpfully added a feature to its Web site listing the 43 strip clubs and allowing Super Bowl visitors to search for such information as the cover charge and dress code.

Tired of Tampa's sleazy reputation, local lawmakers passed an anti-lap-dance ordinance before the last Super Bowl here in 2001, making it a misdemeanor offense for dancers to come within six feet of patrons. The measure got a lot of publicity, but police didn't arrest anybody during Super Bowl week.

Police spokeswoman Andrea Davis says officers won't be patrolling the clubs looking for dancers who get too close this time, but they'll be obliged to investigate if someone calls in a complaint.

"Our primary focus during the Super Bowl is going to be public safety," she says.

Bob Buckhorn, a former city councilman who pushed the six-foot ordinance, laments that the adult entertainment industry is "ingrained in the fabric of this community." The point of the law, he says, was to attack prostitution and prevent other crime by trying to keep guys away from those places. He wishes it was more aggressively enforced today.

"It's like cockroaches," Buckhorn says. "If you don't stay on top of it, it will infect and run you over. And that's exactly what's happened."

To the city's promoters, Tampa's image as the Lap Dance Capital of America is not exactly something to tout in the glossy brochures. Travis Claytor, spokesman for Tampa Bay & Co., the tourism bureau, would rather point out other attractions, such as:

• Beaches. Some of the best white-sand beaches anywhere are a half-hour or so from downtown. Two of them — Fort DeSoto Park and Caladesi Island — have topped the list from Stephen P. Leatherman, a Florida International University professor dubbed "Dr. Beach" for his annual rankings of the nation's best coastlines.

• Ybor City. The historic former Latin quarter east of downtown is a thriving entertainment district whose nightclubs will host some of the glitziest, celebrity-heavy Super Bowl parties. (There's a strip club there, too, of course.)

• Cigars. In the early 20th century, more cigars were made in Tampa than anywhere in the world, by Cuban immigrants. The city retains a rich cigar heritage, and some shops are still rolling them right on the premises.

But in the end, a lot of visitors will still be packing the clubs at night.

"It's not necessarily a negative thing, it's just one aspect of this destination," the judicious Claytor says. "There is so much more to our area than that particular industry."