TAMPA — Thee DollHouse had bought its entire waitstaff patriotic Wonder Woman style outfits. The official GOP elephant logo greeted customers at the door of the 2001 Odyssey nude club. Tampa's strip clubs had even advertised special deals for delegates.
They all braced for a windfall from the Republican National Convention — three times a Super Bowl weekend was the industry number thrown around — but at least early Sunday morning many wondered if conservatives were being, well, conservative.
"We're hopeful," said a dancer with the stage name Brandy — one of 98 entertainers ready to peel off their tube tops Saturday night at the 2001 Odyssey. "I think it's the quiet before the storm."
For months Tampa's strip club reputation has captivated the world, its 20 or so adult clubs becoming one of the city's most marketed products. Google News shows that the words "Tampa" and "strip" have appeared on the Web 34,900 times.
Saturday night, 2001 Odyssey president Jim Kleinhans showed off his club's preparations, which included two extra ATMs and a curtained white drive-up tent for VIPs. Just two limousines and a Lincoln had used the private valet Friday night while a Hummer limousine had pulled through Saturday.
Though not in the waves expected, Republicans were inside, said strippers whose small talk ferreted out personal information. Brandy, for instance, said she danced for a man who told her he was from Washington, D.C. "He said he was a plumber," she said.
At least one prominent performer seemed to get GOP members in the tent Saturday night. Wearing a gray business skirt and her hair in a bun, the winking woman at Thee DollHouse saluted the crowd before giving a politician's wave. It was not Sarah Palin, but actress Lisa Ann, who played Serra Paylin in adult films.
Before hoots and hollers, the impersonator unfurled her hair and played peek-a-boo with her 38DD breasts and black corset. She soon disrobed and gyrated on the floor, toward men and women raining dollars.
Some of them were here for the RNC, swore Tiffany Mitchell, the front attendant who checks drivers' licenses.
"The main people I'm seeing is Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C.," she said. "They are dressed nicer, more conservative. Business casual for the men and Ann Taylor Loft for the women, for sure."
At the Tampa Gold Club, no cars drove up to the private entrance the club built for the RNC. The night before, front desk attendant Casey Walsh said, the club "was off the chain" with several limos pulling up and tips coming in $20 and $50 bills.
But predawn Sunday, Khrystyana "C.J" Abaryan, a tall 27-year-old with koi fish tattoos, a see-through dress and a flower in her hair, found sparse business. She had come from North Carolina.
"I'm not going to get my hopes up," she said of the week.
At Tampa's most famous nude club, strippers walked out of the Mons Venus with garment bags over their shoulders well before close. Manager Vicki Baham blamed Tropical Storm Isaac.
"I'm sure it's the hurricane," she said. "People are freaking out about it."
Jill, 22, a stripper from Orlando, sat her leopard-skin bikini bottom on a leather couch, annoyed. In front of her, six nude women hung on poles in difficult acrobatic feats for very few tips. Other dancers pinched men's behinds, whispered in ears, anything to cajole a lap dance.
"The girls are frustrated," said Jill, who declined to give her last name. "When you come to Tampa, everyone knows the Mons Venus is the No. 1 strip club. So where is everyone? What is everyone doing? Are they sleeping? Republicans have money."
A Republican herself, she rose and headed on stage, campaigning for what she could.
Justin George can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3368.