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CLUB'S GLITZ, GLAMOR JUST SURFACE DEEP

Chateau Prive, a private club, closes two months after a launch party, leaving plenty of questions.

Philip Glassman spared no expense to transform a venerable South Tampa restaurant into an exclusive private club: custom furniture, artfully faux-finished walls, specially commissioned abstract paintings.

At the club's launch party in May, he even showcased a white Bengal tiger inside a cage, not far from sharks swimming in the club's 2,500-gallon tank.

All told, he spent $1.7-million creating Chateau Prive at St. Bart's Island House, according to an ad agency that represented the club.

But the eye candy may have concealed severe financial problems.

On July 13 - just two months after the party - Chateau Prive abruptly shut its doors, leaving behind clients who paid at least $5,000 for memberships and about 25 employees waiting for three to four weeks of pay, according to the former sales director. And at least one charity that was supposed to get a portion of the membership fees has yet to receive a dime.

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Chateau Prive's short life span began in early 2006 when Glassman, now 36, arrived in Tampa from Ocala where his family lives. He talked up a private membership concept that targeted the wealthy, fairly young and hip demographic. Amenities would include a private locker, a $2,000 food and beverage credit and a private entrance.

He bought the St. Bart's Island House business from prominent restaurateur Gordon Davis in January 2006, although Davis retained ownership of the property.

Business wasn't new to Glassman. He had helped launch an Ocala club called Posh 27 in 2005. (The club has since closed.)

He spent lavishly on his latest venture. In addition to custom furnishings, Glassman revamped the building's electrical and plumbing systems, said Kathy Reed, the club's former sales director. He also redecorated the interior several times, she said.

Meanwhile, the restaurant and bar portion of the building remained open to the public and often was a hopping nightspot.

In February 2006, a month after Glassman took over, police were called to the restaurant to shut down after-hours partying.

Glassman was arrested that night for "allowing illegal after-hours consumption of alcohol," according to police records. Charges were dropped.

Interest in the private club remained low, with the launch party being put off several times, Reed said.

After it finally occurred in May, his ad agency touted that some membership proceeds would go to the Joshua House center for abused children in Lutz.

But Joshua House never received any donations, a spokeswoman for the organization said Monday.

In time, the club had about 50 members, some of them corporate, former membership director Nichole Sylvester said in an e-mailed response to the Times.

According to the Web site, the initial membership fee was $5,000 for individuals and $15,000 for corporations. Reed said Glassman did not collect fees for most of the memberships.

"They were given or traded for service," she said. "My guess is there were 12 people that paid."

As for Reed, she said she's still waiting for a month's worth of back pay, an amount she declined to disclose.

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Davis still owns the property at 1502 S Howard Ave., which had been an elegant South Tampa mainstay for 18 years as Le Bordeaux. It remained popular after Davis converted it into St. Bart's in 2002. Now the future of the site is unclear.

All signage is down at Chateau Prive, and Davis could not be reached for comment. He also owns the popular tapas spots Ceviche in Tampa and St. Petersburg and was away in Orlando this week preparing to open a Ceviche there.

Glassman initially agreed to talk to the Times but later didn't return calls. A woman who answered the phone at his parents' home said, "I think his membership didn't work in Tampa."

Reed said she wishes Glassman the best.

"He really wanted it to work but it just didn't," she said. "His family has made the statement that they're going to (pay) the staff. Let's just wait and see if they do."

Information from researcher John Martin, staff writer Alexandra Zayas and Times files was used in this report.

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