Republicans head to the poles in Tampa
It was always going to be a tough expenses claim to file. A gaggle of svelte waitresses, laced tightly into stars-and-stripes corsets, bustled past me to deliver drinks form the bar. I steeled myself, remembering the enthusiasm of my editors for me to be here, at Thee Dollhouse – one of Tampa's most (in)famous "gentlemen's clubs".
Before the Republican National Convention hit this city, a media storm had swirled around Tampa – often referred to as "the strip club capital of the nation" – as many of the city’s less-than-fully-clothed bars prepared for a windfall from convention-goers.
A report from the Association of Club Executives (ACE), which represents some 4,000 owners of "gentlemen's clubs", revealed that, while Republicans make a big fuss about cutting federal spending, they're happy to splash the cash in strip clubs. On average, Republicans in one of ACE’s clubs spend some $150 a night, compared with Democrats' $50 a head, said the trade association.
Here at Thee Dollhouse, owner Warren Colazzo had been bracing for a boost to business. He spent more than a million dollars on a full refurbishment of the club, one of the few in the city to serve alcohol. City statutes state that clubs that feature fully nude dancers must not serve any alcohol, so a modicum of modesty is in order here, amid the mirrored ceilings, polished poles and gyrating flesh.
So had the bump in trade arrived as expected?
"Business has doubled over our average this week," Colazzo told me. "We'd been hoping for it to triple, but I'm not going to complain."
Colazzo, whose deep Floridian tan is offset by the gleam of the rings upon his fingers under the flashing bar lights, told me how business had been helped by the arrival of adult performer Lisa Ann – famed for her Sarah Palin lookalike performance in the Larry Flynt-produced "Who’s Nailin’ Paylin?"
"She packed out the place, wall to wall, on the first two nights of the convention," he told this reporter. "I couldn't get any more people in here if I tried."
But could he prove the increase in customer numbers was directly due to the convention?
"Well, we've been really busy all week," he told me, as a dancer twirled upside-down above our heads, her legs wrapped around a floor-to-ceiling pole. "I think they were trying to be subtle at first," he said. "But, on the final night after it was all over, they packed in here again – and most left their passes on – so they were definitely convention attendees."
Now all eyes are turning to Charlotte, North Carolina, and the Democrats’ convention there this coming week. It remains to be seen if they can also get ahead in the poles.
Follow James Brownsell on Twitter: @JamesBrownsell