ST. PETERSBURG — The bikini-clad woman writhes around the stage, arching her back and grabbing the pole.
Heather Rardin, the owner of Club Sinn, watches from behind the bar, where she was bartending Thursday night.
"It looks like we started something," Rardin said. "When we opened, I thought we were going to be the only game in town. I guess no one realized you could open a bikini bar in St. Petersburg."
Now they do. Since Rardin opened in November, another bikini bar, Bottom to the Top, opened eight blocks up on First Avenue N. Last month, the city approved another bikini club at the Mosley Motel on 34th Street N. And by June, the owner of Cafe Adagio at 1111 Central Ave. plans to open three stages — complete with requisite brass poles — so that, it too, can have barely dressed women dancing about.
For a city with no bikini bars heading into the stretch of last year's mayor's race, the emergence of bikini bars has officials scratching their heads.
"They seem to be multiplying," said City Council member Herb Polson. "It's important that we address this sooner rather than later."
Polson's colleague, Jeff Danner, asked for a meeting on May 27 to discuss the topic. First on the agenda: What's the difference between a bikini bar and an adult club?
"I have no idea what the difference is," Danner said. "The advertising for the clubs doesn't distinguish them."
There are at least two adult bookstores within city limits, said Chief Assistant City Attorney Mark Winn. But no adult clubs, he said. Tina's House of Angels on 34th Street N comes close. It has topless dancers, but they wear pasties, so their breasts are partly concealed. Although its dancers don't wear bikinis, its manager is worried about the new bars.
"You go from the only one to having all these places surround you," said Marcos Lima, a club manager. "We're powerless to stop it."
Unlike a bikini bar, a nude bar has a number of restrictions placed upon it. In St. Petersburg, any such establishment has to be 400 feet from churches, schools and day care centers. The restriction might explain why the city's zoning official, Philip Lazzara, said he can't recall the last time a bar applied for an adult use permit.
On the other hand, bikini bars face no such restrictions. If they serve alcoholic drinks, they need to meet only the general standards required of a bar. That explains why all four new ones opened in places already zoned for a bar.
Rardin's club was a former cigar bar. Bottom to the Top was a former jazz lounge. Cafe Adagio is an existing bar. The Mosley Motel has had several bars open and close.
As long as the bikini dancers don't reveal their privates or engage in any public fondling or erotic play, the bars don't merit more restrictions. Using sex appeal, without having to navigate extra red tape, is appealing to struggling bar owners.
"I was ready to close this bar down," said Feriz Boskovic, owner of Cafe Adagio. "I tried everything. Happy hours. Free drinks. But nothing worked. Now, I try this."
The smell of sawdust is thick as Boskovic and two friends work to refashion the 9-year-old bar into a player's paradise. He doesn't welcome the extra scrutiny the city might try to give his club.
"They dress here the same as at Hooter's," Boskovic said. "I will explain to every girl that if they do anything wrong, they will be fired."
Employees at the adjacent Savannah's Cafe, which promotes its "fine Southern cuisine and hospitality," aren't so sure the new bikini bar will mix with their patrons.
"It won't attract the best element," said Jeremiah Charles, the restaurant's general manager. "We're definitely concerned about what's going to happen when it opens."
But St. Petersburg had better get used to more bikini clubs, said the management of Bottom to the Top. The hip-hop club opened across from a home furnishings store on Feb. 5. Sean Bane, the club's head of security and promotions, said by then its owners already knew the city was considering extending drinking hours from 2 a.m. to 3 a.m. In fact, the council voted to do so earlier this month.
"It's the tax on liquor sales," Bane said, sitting with two club managers in a back room on Thursday night. "That's why they did it. This city is starving for money, and that's why. We're new here and we're struggling just like everywhere else. Now, with that ordinance, our customers won't go over the bridge to Tampa. Game over. Everything is going to be pushed into the downtown."
Nearly drowned out by the bass in the 69 Boyz song Tootsee Roll, Bane smiles.
"If you're not in, you're not in," Bane said. "We're going to be in. Whatever the city does, we'll be here. We're grandfathered in. We know what we're doing."
Michael Van Sickler can be reached at (727) 893-8037 or firstname.lastname@example.org.