EDITOR'S NOTE: An update to this story has been appended below.
PORT RICHEY — For nearly four years, Club Elite lured singles and couples to erotic parties behind its dark tinted windows.
It opened only on weekends, from "8 p.m. — whenever." Special occasions called for events like a Tiny Toga Party and a Naughty Native Thanksgiving Party.
"Erotic memories will be made at this prestigious club," its website promised.
But the party at Club Elite, which sat above a bakery and deli in an unglamorous strip center on U.S. 19, ended last weekend.
A lawsuit filed by Pasco County officials in 2009 challenged the club's location in a commercial district. Club owners fought the suit for a while and the two sides reached a settlement recently that would have allowed it to stay open as a regular bar. But rather than continue doing business minus its racy edge, Club Elite threw a final blowout party and closed its doors.
A letter on the website thanked members for "all your love and support and e-mails letting me know how much you will miss the club and how much you loved the club."
Club Elite opened in September 2007. County officials soon began investigating the business in response to a trickle of complaints, but managers insisted it was just a private bottle club.
The County Commission worked to better define "sexually oriented businesses," which are relegated by county ordinance to industrial parks. Meanwhile, sheriff's investigators went in undercover, purchasing memberships under fake names.
They discovered private rooms with beds where people had sex while others watched, as well as erotic performances on the dance floor.
All that culminated in the lawsuit alleging a straightforward zoning violation. The county said Club Elite was indeed a sexually oriented business and therefore could not operate in the building on U.S. 19 with commercial zoning.
The suit named as defendants Club Elite owner Susan Panesso; managers Eric and Angie Kubb; landlord WJ Investments; and S&G Investments of Hernando County, which holds the liquor license. They later countersued, claiming the county's actions infringed on the constitutional freedoms of the swingers who frequented the club. Depositions were taken as late as last month.
In a meeting Tuesday, county commissioners approved a settlement agreement requiring Club Elite's owners to dismantle the small private rooms inside and remove all mattresses, sheets and pillows.
It would have to become a "mainstream place of public assembly," according to the settlement.
Kristi Wooden, an assistant county attorney, said the agreement allows the business to operate as a normal bar, but it can't be marketed to "swingers or anybody of that nature."
Those requirements appear moot now. Anthony "Buddy" Jaquinto, a Clearwater Realtor who was Club Elite's landlord, confirmed Tuesday that the club closed last weekend.
Luke Lirot, the attorney representing the club owners, did not return a call seeking comment Tuesday.
Commissioner Pat Mulieri praised the staff's professionalism in this sensitive matter.
"When she (Wooden) came to discuss this at one point, I had a face red with embarrassment because I couldn't imagine what they did in these places," Mulieri said.
The farewell message to members hinted at a possible reincarnation of Club Elite.
"I don't think anyone could love the club as much as me of course hehehe … but thank you! I have met soo many wonderful friends who helped make this more of a family style club rather than 'just a club,' " states the letter, signed by a woman identified as Angie. "YES I Will Be Seeing You All Again Soon!"
Molly Moorhead can be reached at email@example.com. Lee Logan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
UPDATE: Susan Panesso, who was president of a corporation called Club Elite Florida, filed an affidavit in April 2009 saying Eric and Angela Kubb opened the Port Richey club under that name without her permission or involvement. The Kubbs also told county officials that they, not Panesso, operated the swingers' club. County officials determined Panesso was not the primary focus of their litigation, which was settled in 2011 when the Kubbs agreed to close the Port Richey club.