Twenty years ago, the city of Tampa went to war against strip clubs. The fight is often remembered by a 13-hour city council meeting that was followed by hundreds of stripper arrests in the months that came after.
While researching this bizarre chapter of Tampa’s history, we came across all sorts of interesting facts. They didn’t quite fit into our story, but were too intriguing not to share .
Here’s what we learned.
1. We’re not the strip club capital of the country.
Like it or not, Tampa has something of a reputation thanks to its many clubs. About 20 of the area’s nearly 40 strip clubs are located in the city.
But if you go by national studies, Tampa isn’t even close to being the top city for strip clubs. PolitiFact even fact checked it.
Year after year, the winner of the most strip clubs per capita is Portland, Ore. The biggest strip club in the country is found in Florida — but not Tampa. The 75,000-square foot Tootsie’s Cabaret is in Miami.
2. Our strip clubs are known around the country.
Hundreds of thousands of travelers have visited Tampa’s strip clubs over the years, said Luke Lirot, a Clearwater-based First Amendment lawyer who has spent decades working with dancers and strip club owners.
“We’d be in a cab in New York and they’d ask us where we were from and they’d say, ‘Hey, Tampa! The Mons Venus!’” Lirot said. “It was just uncanny — it’d happen in San Francisco, in Washington, D.C., without them knowing who we were."
Tourists, businessmen and sports fans make up the bulk of visitors. Club attendance surges during football and hockey season.
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Wrote St. Petersburg Times columnist Howard Troxler in 1999: “When the Tanga Lounge caught on fire, I am told, there was mourning among the Detroit Lions’ traveling press corps. Tampa’s reputation has been the subject of knowing jokes on ESPN.”
3. The RNC didn’t help Tampa’s strip clubs as much as we thought it would.
When Tampa was announced as the headquarters for the 2012 Republican National Convention, national media outlets glommed onto the fact that the politicians were heading to the land of strip clubs. While sites published lists of the top clubs, dancers bought patriotic costumes and club owners installed private entryways and marble tile.
But all the national coverage actually hurt business at the Mons Venus, said club owner Joe Redner. The Mons was filled with reporters, waiting to pounce on horny delegates. But the politicians never showed up.
“I don’t care. I don’t want those frickin’ Republicans in here anyway,” he said in a recent interview.
The Tampa Bay Business Journal reported that most of the clubs saw double the guests during the convention, but club owners they interviewed were still disappointed. They had expected to see up to four times as much business.
4. It’s just not strip clubs — Joe Redner has been involved in a lot of businesses around Tampa.
Strip club king Redner got his start in the ’70s. He started by working at a go-go bar and then opened the first full-nude club in Tampa. But that’s not all he has been up to.
Redner loaned his son Joey the money to open Cigar City Brewing and went on to found Brew Bus, which distributes beer under the name Florida Avenue Brewing Co. Other business ventures include a lighting company (he still owns it, though he isn’t really involved), a pizza parlor (closed) and even a gym (also closed).
Redner also ran for local government seats more than half a dozen times. He made headlines during one election for offering free admission to the Mons with an “I Voted” sticker, but he never won a race.
5. Redner is a health nut now.
Redner, who turns 79 this year, is a raw vegan who walks two to three miles a day. While he struggled with substance abuse early in his career, he no longer uses cocaine and only drinks the occasional beer if he’s at a business event for the brewery.
6. The battle to implement the 6-foot rule wasn’t the first time Tampa tried to stop stripping.
Redner’s troubles with the law began after he converted an existing Tampa bar into Dorio’s Night Gallery in 1976. Police raided his club nearly two weeks after it opened. At least 500 arrests were made for dancing in a “vulgar and indecent manner” during the first five months.
The city council tried to pass an ordinance outlawing nude dancing in 1977, but a federal judge ruled it unconstitutional. And by then it was too late to stop the clubs.
7. The strip club fight quickly spread to Pinellas.
In the ’70s, Gulfport’s Sand Castle Restaurant stopped serving food and started flaunting topless go-go dancers. The beachside bar was run by a husband and wife duo, and one of their daughters even danced there (she kept her top on, though).
The owner was arrested multiple times, including the night the bar introduced the nudity and the night after that. The mayor called it an “insult to the people of Gulfport.”
By 1979, the Pinellas County Commission passed an ordinance to ban nudity in businesses that served alcohol.
8. Pasco County also had its share of controversy.
In 1976, New Port Richey became home to a topless drive-in hamburger joint called Jugs ’n’ Suds, much to the horror of many residents.
“Cops, government agencies, churches and everyone else in the business of worrying about who gets naked scrambled to come up with ways to keep the firm’s ‘Double Boobie Burgers’ (no I’m not making that up) from hitting the open (so to speak) market,” wrote a St. Petersburg Times columnist in 2001.
The drive-in was too salacious to last very long, especially after the city passed ordinances preventing women from “baring their breasts in any public eating or drinking place." The owner and several of his waitresses were arrested after ignoring the ordinance, and the restaurant ended up closing.
Just one week later, another Jugs 'n' Suds opened in an even larger location. This one did not have ”topless carhops," but it did have a platform where women could dance inside.
9. One fight against indecency made it into the pages of Playboy.
In 1983, three dancers were on trial for violating the anti-nudity ordinance in Pinellas. To prove that her bikini wasn’t too revealing, one dancer bent over in front of the judge. Freelance photographer Jim Damaske (who went on to work at the Tampa Bay Times) shot a photo capturing the moment. It made national news and even ran in Playboy’s “The Year in Sex.”
This report was compiled using Times archives. Times senior researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.