STRIPPED?

EditorMarch 26, 2014 

A couch dancing sign hangs on a wall in a local gentleman's club. Photo by Scott Smallin for Weekly Surge.

You and your boys are hanging out - a night on the town.

It starts relatively tame with dinner and drinks, then you go catch a rock show at the House of Blues in North Myrtle Beach.

After the concert, you’re amped up, have a good beer buzz on, and you don’t want to go home because it’s the weekend.

Somebody in your posse makes the inevitable suggestion: let’s go to the titty bar.

Well, OK, you say, you don’t have much cash, but it’s been awhile since you’ve had a lap dance…

You arrive at said gentlemen’s club, tell the attendant you’re a local, flash your I.D., get in for free, and get escorted to a table by a bouncer that dwarfs an NFL lineman.

You sit down, order a drink from the smokin’-hot cocktail waitress, and focus on the stage.

Under the spotlights, a barely-legal looking blonde dances and writhes on a pole to the sound of Buckcherry’s “Crazy Bitch.”

“Baby girl

You want it all

To be a star

You’ll have to go down

Take it off

No need to talk

You’re crazy”

But the bikini top hiding the dancer’s voluptuous rack never comes off.

WTF?

You thought this was a titty bar - where’s the bare breasts and nipples you saw last time you were here?

“Myrtle Beach strip clubs are not what they used to be…” tweeted @TheeDollHouseSC on Jan. 16.

Ta-ta to tatas?

A crackdown on the adult entertainment industry in Horry County has left many former topless clubs at a distinct disadvantage to those inside local municipalities that can still bare tatas - and more - creating confusion for patrons - no doubt for spring breakers and out-of-town golfers who are used to seeing more skin - and hard times for some gentlemen’s clubs dancers and operators searching for creative ways to stay in business. In addition, it’s no longer an all-night party as the new regulations force adult entertainment establishments in unincorporated Horry County to close at midnight and remain closed until 6 a.m.

“They’re hurting,” said John Gaik, owner of Badd Kitty, the self-described “Purrrfect Store for Couples,” where many local strippers shop for their stage gear. “They’ve all become bikini bars now.”

In essence, the new set of laws, which took effect Dec. 3, have rendered Horry County’s portfolio of titty bars not-so-much titty bars.

Adult-themed businesses are restricted to one of three zoned areas in the county - heavy industrial, limited industrial and highway commercial - and must also be 1,500 feet from residences, churches, daycares, etc., and dancers “while semi-nude, (must) remain at least six (6) feet from all patrons and on a stage at least eighteen (18) inches from the floor in a room of at least six hundred (600) square feet,” according to the ordinance, which means many existing strip clubs were effectively in violation once the laws became official - unless they changed their business models, i.e., covered up the boobies and the booties.

But you can drive a short distance, from say the Gold Club, barely outside Myrtle Beach’s city limits, which, sure enough, features dancers performing in bikinis and lingerie (we saw it with our own two eyes on a recent Thursday night) to Chez Joey on Seaboard Street inside the city limits where bras, bikini tops and bustiers come peeling off.

Why would any red-blooded male choose to hang out in a strip club where the girls don’t actually strip down to reveal anything that you couldn’t see while lounging on the beach or at the pool? Have we gone back in time to the heyday of cabaret and Prohibition-era speakeasies?

Fear not, however, all is not lost if you have the yen for more skin. The new rules don’t apply to strip clubs inside Myrtle Beach proper and the town of Atlantic Beach, where Thee Dollhouse relocated to recently, and where one of the Grand Strand’s two all-nude clubs is also located, Pearl’s Gentlemen’s Club (although both clubs have North Myrtle Beach addresses). “While other local clubs are being restricted to just bikini dances or topless dances and have required distances between dancers and customers our performers are allowed to get completely naked and as close to you as they like,” reads an excerpt from Pearl’s Web site.

In the world of ogling naked, or semi-naked women, a very lucrative world indeed, it appears Horry County has forced a line between the haves and have-nots.

The Gold Club on Jason Boulevard has taken a huge hit in terms of lost revenue, according to its owner, and some dancers forced to cover up or risk getting busted by the po-po at other clubs on U.S. 501 and U.S. 17 have fled to the places where they can still take it off and earn more tips.

“Of course we are at a disadvantage but in the long run I think the county will regret this,” Gold Club owner Mike Rose, who also owns Broadway at the Beach nightclub Rodeo Bar &Grill, said via e-mail. “We are (in) constant communication with golf tour companies as well as transportation companies and golfer(s) will steer clear of Horry County over time. It’s going to be worse than when the city ran off bikers. Every business within the city and county are already feeling the pain of (the) decision made by elected officials. We have lost bikers, spring breakers, partygoers and now we will begin to lose golfers. It’s not just our businesses that are affected, it’s an entire community. I’m here for the long haul but it has definitely affected my business. We have reduced staff and spend less in other areas. All of that directly affects other businesses.”

Asked to clarify his statement about spring breakers, Rose responded: “Crowds are much smaller overall. Celebrity Square (at Broadway at the Beach) as a whole is off 30-40 percent. I just think that spring breakers and party-goers are choosing other destinations that offer more entertainment in terms of nightclubs. The city has banned nightclubs on the Boulevard and that affects every business in the city. The beach of Myrtle Beach has become boring. There is nothing that really draws those kind of tourists to the beach anymore. Tourists like a variety of things to do and walking up and down Ocean Blvd. looking at T-shirts isn’t their idea of a vacation.”

As Rose alluded to, there is a symbiotic relationship between the golf industry and strip clubs - even if tourism boosters don’t want to talk about it - and the spring golf season is now in swing.

Chris King, with Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday, a marketing cooperative which promotes several area golf courses, says his company is not concerned with what golfers do when they’re not on the golf course. “There’s thousands of restaurants, bars and clubs here,” said King. “We’re not actively engaged in that debate. We’re not taking a position on that.”

Rose, who is opening another Gold Club location where Thee Dollhouse used to be on Restaurant Row, is at the epicenter of the storm. Rose and the Gold Club have filed a federal lawsuit against Horry County claiming violation of the company’s rights to present “constitutionally protected dance performances.”

According to court documents, that suit “is subject to being called for jury selection and/or trial on or after April 1, 2014.”

To keep up with the Joneses, Myrtle Beach’s City Council adopted a revised ordinance governing adult and sexually-oriented businesses on Tuesday, but officials claim the new rules won’t effect existing strip clubs in the city, specifically The Masters (topless), Chez Joey (topless) and Derriere’s (fully nude). The measures are intended to keep strip clubs from locating on any parcel abutting U.S. 501, Grissom Parkway or Mr. Joe White Avenue.

That move parallels what the county politicos are trying to achieve, and it’s really no secret - keeping strip clubs off of the main entryways into and out of our precious lifeblood - i.e. the beach, and the array of family-friendly tourist attractions.

Game of Cat and Mouse

It’s not uncommon for metro areas with overlapping governmental entities to have different laws and ordinances, especially when it comes to adult entertainment and sexually-oriented business. For instance, the center city of an urban landscape might have an anything-goes type of red light district while the surrounding, soccer-mom suburban areas clamp down with strict zoning laws and ordinances, or vice versa - the main, brand-name municipality might be the standard bearer for so-called “quality of life issues,” while the outlying areas become a Wild West of relaxed regulation.

But how did we get to get to this confusing state when it comes to the Grand Strand’s strip clubs?

Horry County Councilman Marion Foxworth, whose District 3 encompasses the majority of the gentlemen’s clubs affected by the new regulations, said the trouble started 20 years ago with a super-strict ordinance championed by former council chair Liz Gilland that was “constutionally questionable.”

“County officials have known since 2000 that the 21-year-old ordinance governing adult-oriented businesses needed updating if it were to be effective. That was when the regulations of the clubs were thrown out in a lawsuit,” reads an excerpt from an editorial by The Sun News published Aug. 17, 2013. “That left nothing for enforcement except the zoning part of the code, which limits the venues to only a few locations. The county also uses nuisance laws, which require action after the offense has occurred rather than preventing it from occurring. These actions have been used, for example, to shut down places where prostitution was believed to have taken place, or violations of liquor laws.”

But for the most part, strip clubs sprung up and were allowed to operate as bars, nightclubs and restaurants that just happened to have exotic dancers in various states of undress - i.e. strippers - instead of being licensed as adult and or/sexually-oriented businesses, Foxworth said.

“We were kind of chugging along in a wink-wink situation and chose to let sleeping dogs lie,” said Foxworth, who is the only commissioner on the 12-member council who responded to Weekly Surge’s inquiries related to this story.

But the dog was awakened when Rose sought to open the Restaurant Row version of his brand, called Gold Club North, but was initially denied a business license, setting off the still-pending litigation.

The here and now

Inside the Gold Club on a recent Thursday night, dancers hit the stage, taking their turns entertaining the medium-sized crowd of mostly young men and a few women, as the deejay pumps out Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” and Far’s hard rock cover of Genuwine’s “Pony.” The dancers are clad in various forms of bikinis and lacy lingerie - boy shorts or bikini bottoms, no visible thongs, or G-strings - and the bra-like tops, while definitely sexy and revealing, remain in place.

Then the deejay spins “We Don’t Have to Take Our Clothes Off,” the 1986 ode to chastity by Jermaine Stewart.

“So come on baby, won’t you show some class/Why you want to move so fast,” croons Stewart. “We don’t have to take our clothes off/To have a good time, Oh no. We could dance and party all night/And drink some cherry wine.”

We chat with one of the dancers and ask her about the new regulations - surprisingly, she says she’s in favor of the more stringent rules. For starters, she’s glad she doesn’t have to take her clothes all the way off and reveal all of the goods. And secondly, she says the tougher rules have gotten rid of the sketchier dancers that also dabbled in prostitution and drugs, giving the industry a black eye, and politicians fodder to go after the clubs.

Among the new regulations, dancers are also now required to have adult entertainment establishment employee licenses, $50 for the initial license, $25 for renewal, obtained through filing in person at the Horry County Police Chief’s office. The application requires them to provide written proof of age (at least 18), asks about their criminal history, and asks if they’ve been involved and associated with “an adult entertainment establishment that, in the past five years (and while you had such influential interest), has been declared by a court of law to be a nuisance or has been subject to a court order requiring closure or padlocking of the business.”

We asked Sgt. Robert Kegler of the Horry County Police in an e-mail, “do the new rules put any added burden on the police force - ya’ll have to check repeatedly that they are shutting down at midnight as stipulated and also keep an eye on whether the dancers are not going topless, etc.? Police can’t be everywhere all the time, right?” But he didn’t respond by press time.

However, Horry County Police did flex some muscle when the ordinances went into effect and cited seven clubs in early December for staying open past midnight: The Bunny Ranch, Teezers Gentleman’s Club, Secret’s Cabaret, Bottoms Up Gentleman’s Cub, Tiffany’s Cabaret, Fantails, and The Gold Club, but not since, according to Kegler.

Meanwhile, on the same recent Thursday evening we visited The Gold Club, over at the cavernous Chez Joey on Seaboard Street inside Myrtle Beach city limits, the dancers seemed to outnumber the patrons, and the dancers we chatted with kept asking, “why is it so dead? It was packed last Thursday night.” Could Gold Club proprietor Rose’s prophecy of doom already be in action? Truth be told, Chez Joey wasn’t exactly a ghost town and we left shortly after midnight so it may have gotten busier, but it certainly wasn’t jam-packed - so maybe it was just the dancers’ icebreaker to get our conversations and wallets flowing...

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