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ATLANTA - As crews hoisted Super Bowl banners along Atlanta’s streets and plastered the reflective facades of downtown hotels with Bud Light ads, preparations of a different sort were underway half a mile from where the big game will be played.
Adult entertainer “Dior” fixed her florescent-red hair inside Magic City. Here, and at several other fabled female strip clubs in Atlanta, they are preparing to welcome throngs of visitors to an entertainment industry unique among cities.
“You meet so many people,” said the 24-year-old Stone Mountain native. “The clientele that comes in, the amount of money that’s being thrown, the vibes are amazing.”
They have been around 20 years longer than the Georgia Aquarium, but you may not see Magic City or Blue Flame Lounge listed as destinations on any official Super Bowl literature. Even so, many Super Bowl visitors are expected to engage with this Southern city’s proprietary impropriety. Blue Flame alone is expecting upwards of 30,000 guests this week.
Atlanta officials are not eager to talk about the strip club’s role in the city’s hospitality industry. The mayor’s office has neither answered emailed questions nor made anyone available to comment for this story. The offices of Atlanta City Council members Cleta Winslow and Dustin Hillis, whose districts include some of the city’s most notable clubs, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
The Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau, the city’s tourism chamber, said it does not track the strip club industry’s economic impact. When asked for comment, the agency said: “Major cities across the country have adult entertainment clubs, and Atlanta is no different.”
Despite the city’s silence, the strip clubs will surely benefit from city council’s decision to allow all bars in Atlanta to pour 2 hours later during Super Bowl week.
For decades, the clubs have helped make Atlanta a premiere convention destination — a draw that has continued even as business conventions have become less male-dominated. And local rappers have made strip clubs here more visible in recent years by using them to promote their music.
Atlanta rap star Killer Mike sees only upside. “As a city, we should make sure we protect the integrity of our juke joints. We’re still a convention city. We have created so many jobs and commerce around our strip clubs.”
Atlanta’s strip club scene, known to hip-hop lovers around the world, had an unexpected start: The hippie rock musical “Hair.”
In Atlanta’s “gentlemen’s clubs” in the 60’s, dancers wore pasties and G-strings — the maximum nudity allowed under the law.
When “Hair” was booked for a run in 1970 at the Atlanta Civic Center, the city cited obscenity laws and pointed to its first act, which ends with an infamous nude scene. In 1971, U.S. District Judge Newell Edenfield ruled that nudity and obscenity were not the same thing, so the show went on.
Alan Begner, an Atlanta attorney who has been representing strip clubs for decades, said the ruling had an unintended consequence: The city’s adult clubs “went nude right away.”
At the time, completely nude dancing wasn’t the standard everywhere, and convention organizers from around the country took note, booking businessmen’s gatherings in Atlanta. When Atlanta officials tried to regulate what they considered a seedy scene, the free market responded.
“Atlanta Chamber of Commerce quietly — and the city of Atlanta — supported the industry because two or three of the main conventions wrote and said that if there wasn’t nude dancing” they wouldn’t come, Begner said.
In the mid-90s, Begner estimated 40 clubs with female dancers operated throughout metro Atlanta, stretching to suburbs like Cobb County. The clubs served the city during the 1994 Super Bowl, the 1996 Olympics and the 2000 Super Bowl. Now, there are 16 clubs in the city of Atlanta, according to the police department.
Unlike Atlanta, some metro cities have decided they can bare no more.
Since becoming a city in 2005, Sandy Springs wanted to ban alcohol sales in clubs with full nudity, claiming the combination drew prostitution and fighting. The city’s war recently ended by seeing its three strip clubs close. Chamblee’s only strip club, Follies, is suing the city in federal court claiming the city is trying to shut it down by revoking its liquor license.In September, Brookhaven’s Pink Pony — forced to cut hours — filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, meaning it was looking to reorganize.
While Atlanta hasn’t explicitly set out to close down the clubs, zoning regulations have put so many constraints on where they can do business that it has been impossible to open new ones. Begner said an Atlanta strip club hasn’t opened in a new location since 1984 because no one has been able to find a space that meets all of the requirements. “It’s a no-growth industry,” he said.
American strip clubs are usually subject to three kinds of regulations: Whether patrons can touch dancers; full nudity versus toplessness; alcohol licenses versus dry clubs.
Not in the city of Atlanta.
“Atlanta has survived and made its clubs the most famous in the country because of the nude and alcohol combination, which is rare,” Begner said.
More nudity means more money for dancers and the city alike. Clubs are bringing in dancers from other cities for the Super Bowl. Nyla White, house mother for West Midtown’s V-Live owned by Atlanta rapper T.I., said they are bringing in 100 additional dancers for the Super Bowl.
The visiting dancers will pay their own expenses while they’re in town, but White said it’s still worth the trip: “It only takes a couple of seconds or minutes to get $1,000,” she said. “… It’s expected for them to make bags of money.”
Dancers pay $270 a year for their adult entertainment permit, said Atlanta police spokesman Officer Jarius Daugherty, and that money goes to the city. So for just V-Live’s additional dancers, Atlanta will collect $27,000 in fees.
The total amount that strip clubs pay the city every year isn’t readily available because, according to city officials, the online database of adult entertainment licenses was lost in the March cyber attack.
What is clear is that clubs have contributed to the tax base through liquor taxes, alcohol permits and property taxes for years.
But for some, the money isn’t worth it.
“If I could wave a magic wand, there would be no strip clubs,” said former Atlanta mayor Shirley Franklin, who said she feels the clubs are degrading to women. “…When you degrade women, you degrade everyone in society.”
Franklin — who served as Atlanta’s first black female mayor from 2002 to 2010 — hasn’t kept up with the current state of the clubs, but she said that during her administration some clubs were known to law enforcement as hotspots for drugs and prostitution.
Though she said she hasn’t been to strip clubs in Atlanta, she has been elsewhere.
“I’m not proud that I went along with going as my entertainment,” Franklin said.
Atlanta’s rappers have used strip clubs as both muse and megaphone.
“Our strip clubs, I would argue, are the fuel for our (Atlanta’s) current artistic dominance all over the world,” said Killer Mike, whose real name is Mike Render. He told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “Some of our leading music comes out of the Blue Flame, Magic City, (the recently-closed) Stilettos, the Office.”
He said Atlanta United made it obvious how acceptable the clubs have become when they won the MLS Cup and brought it to Magic City to party.
Brittany Carpentero, better known as the Atlanta rapper “Diamond,” said she appreciates the role that dancers have had in popularizing her music, including as a teen member of Crime Mob with their 2004 megahit “Knuck If You Buck.”
How dancers and patrons respond to a song in a strip club shows music executives which tracks are commercially viable. Dancers perform better if they like the song, then patrons feel the energy of the room and start to throw cash, giving executives a clear sign of potential.
Carpentero said she is reminded that Atlanta’s music and strip culture is unique when people in the music industry from the West Coast are shocked to hear that she regularly goes on dates at strip clubs.
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