I think the last time I was in a real strip club was in 1998 in Tampa. I was with some male friends, attending baseball spring training. One night, after dinner, someone suggested we stop by the Tonga Room, a "gentleman's club" that was on our route back to the hotel. Seemed like a great idea at the time.
Inside, there were a lot of men and a lot of mostly undressed women parading around collecting folding money for dancing on the tiny stages and sitting on people's laps. After an hour or so, we left, having each dropped at least $50 for drinks and tips. Nobody did anything stupid, and we had a few laughs about the adventure the next day.
Memphis had a bunch of thriving strip clubs for decades. Journalist Suzi Parker wrote a book called Sex in the South. Her chapter on the now-defunct Platinum Plus club was pretty juicy. Then, in 1996, attorney Larry Parrish, under the auspices of the district attorney's office, and funded by money contributed by a local Christian group, went after the clubs. (The photos of the cops doing the "investigating" were priceless.) The Flyer ran a bunch of stories about the crackdown, and there was eventually a ruling that the district attorney couldn't use private money to conduct a public investigation.
But that was then. Now, as readers of this week's cover story will learn, you'll see more flesh at your local swimming pool than you will at a Memphis "strip club." The clubs are hurting, business is down, nobody has any skin in the game, so to speak. Some folks, of course, think this is peachy. They want to put the strip clubs out of business. It won't happen. There will always be a market for sex, whether it's via strip clubs, prostitution, or the Internet. If clubs can't operate in Shelby County, they'll set up across the state or county line, or they'll become "private" clubs.
Strippers will strip somewhere, and people will pay to see it. It's a rare city that doesn't have clubs. In New Orleans, for example, strip clubs are integrated into the Bourbon Street scene. Councilman Shea Flinn has proposed that Memphis create an "adult-oriented business" district, where the clubs would be regulated and confined to a particular area. (I think one of our many abandoned "strip" malls would be an appropriate spot.) This idea, however, makes entirely too much sense to ever get passed in today's political climate. For now, the clubs will just have to grin and not bare it.