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How Tampa strip clubs are prepping for a pandemic Super Bowl

Club owners expect big crowds for Tampa’s historic hometown Super Bowl. Will new precautions be enough?
Cocktail waitresses greet visitors to Thee Dollhouse wearing face coverings on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021 in Tampa.
Cocktail waitresses greet visitors to Thee Dollhouse wearing face coverings on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021 in Tampa. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Feb. 2
Updated Feb. 2

Warren Colazzo started warming up for the Super Bowl six months ago. The 69-year-old working partner at Thee Dollhouse had state of the art lights and an upgraded sound system installed. With a new 250-inch video wall, he boasts, strip club guests will be able to count each blade of grass on the field during the game.

He already requires his wait staff at 1010 N. Westshore Boulevard to pore over training manuals as if they were preparing to work at the Ritz-Carlton. He’s picky with hiring dancers, seeking “clean, classy, elegant.” Before anyone steps onstage, they must sit through a 45-minute orientation.

“Every day is the Super Bowl for us,” he said. “We want to be the best.”

But even with four decades in the adult entertainment business and eight Super Bowls under his belt, Colazzo admitted this year comes with new challenges. He plans to beef up security both inside and outside his club. It’s not because he anticipates fights.

“The extra security is just to make a lot of these people from out of town understand how important it is that they wear a mask. You know, follow the guidelines,” he said.

“If they’re not following the rules outside, they’re not coming inside.”

Thee Dollhouse partner Warren Colazzo poses for a portrait inside of his club on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021 in Tampa.
Thee Dollhouse partner Warren Colazzo poses for a portrait inside of his club on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021 in Tampa. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

Across Tampa Bay, owners of about 40 strip clubs are making preparations for what was supposed to be the biggest party of the year. They know how to handle Gasparilla crowds and fans during hockey, baseball and football seasons. They’re skilled at luring big-name acts, like the time Colazzo booked Stormy Daniels to “Make Thee Dollhouse Great Again” in 2018. Some have been known to whip up grand diversions whenever the nation’s eyes settle on Tampa, like when Tampa Gold Room and 2001 Odyssey installed private entrances to sneak politicians inside during the 2012 Republican National Convention.

But no one knows exactly what to expect for America’s first pandemic Super Bowl.

“We are scratching our heads,” said Don Kleinhans, president of 2001 Inc and owner of 2001 Odyssey. “You have an impossible task of guessing what size the crowd will be.”

Related: 9 things you didn't know about Tampa strip clubs

Super Bowls of the past meant corporate parties booking out clubs for hundreds, if not thousands, of guests. By this point, dancers from around the country would have joined waiting lists for the opportunity to strip for fans near Raymond James Stadium.

“Three months before, you’d have the bands booked, the DJs booked, your catering arranged,” Kleinhans said.

An alien wearing a face mask is seen on stage at 2001 Odyssey on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021 in Tampa. 2001 Odyssey is one of about 40 strip clubs in the Tampa Bay area.
An alien wearing a face mask is seen on stage at 2001 Odyssey on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021 in Tampa. 2001 Odyssey is one of about 40 strip clubs in the Tampa Bay area. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

Kleinhans is in an especially tricky spot. In January he opened Riveters Tampa, a Rosie the Riveter-themed bar and restaurant, next to his 2001 Odyssey strip club on N. Dale Mabry. Daily meetings have revolved around the same questions: How much inventory, stock and staffing do we need? What if no one comes? What if they do and we don’t have enough?

“The last thing you want to do is order a bunch of stuff and have it not happen,” he said. “You’re driving blind.”

LED lights will illuminate the spaceship on top of 2001 Odyssey red to support the Bucs. But Kleinhans has mixed emotions about having the local team play.

“It’s fantastic to see that that’s a historic event with a hometown Super Bowl team,” he said. “But I think it’s going to greatly decrease the economic impact overall to Tampa Bay.”

The iconic spaceship sitting atop 2001 Odyssey strip club is seen with in red lights to show support to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Super Bowl appearance on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021 in Tampa.
The iconic spaceship sitting atop 2001 Odyssey strip club is seen with in red lights to show support to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Super Bowl appearance on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021 in Tampa. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Related: That spaceship on top of a Tampa strip club? It once was the house of the future.

Still, one bright spot has emerged: The pandemic has boosted membership to 2001 Odyssey’s live streaming platform. Over 500 monthly members now watch and tip dancers from around the world. Kleinhans hopes that Super Bowl visitors will become future members after returning home.

Related: Ditching clothes for a digital show: How a Tampa strip club is surviving a pandemic

On high alert for human trafficking

A dancer performs on stage at Thee Dollhouse on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021 in Tampa.
A dancer performs on stage at Thee Dollhouse on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021 in Tampa. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

Some Super Bowl prep hasn’t changed. Big events like WrestleMania and next week’s game put local and state officials on high alert for human trafficking.

Since the last time Tampa hosted the Super Bowl in 2009, the state has begun requiring law enforcement and medical personnel to get relevant training. New campaigns spread awareness across transportation and hospitality industries. In December, the Tampa Bay Human Trafficking Task Force rolled out a phone app to accept human trafficking tips.

Related: Hillsborough focuses on human trafficking before Super Bowl 55

“With the Super Bowl in Miami last year, I think the state really started getting it together to help educate all of these different industries,” said Dotti Groover-Skipper, who served as the Attorney General’s appointee to the statewide Council on Human Trafficking and founded a ministry to help women who are sexually exploited in strip clubs called HeartDance Foundation.

Adult nightclubs near the stadium attend annual meetings to learn best practices to detect trafficking, Colazzo said. Thee Dollhouse interviews dancers carefully, looking for signs of fearfulness. They copy all dancers’ IDs and take fingerprints.

“It’s like going through work with a security company,” he said.

Pandemic precautions await partiers

A message to regular customers of Thee Dollhouse is seen at the entrance to the club on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021 in Tampa.
A message to regular customers of Thee Dollhouse is seen at the entrance to the club on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021 in Tampa. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

Further down Dale Mabry, the famed Mons Venus plans to stay open 24 hours a day. Club owner Joe Redner said 50 to 60 dancers will work the night of the Super Bowl, compared to the usual 20 to 25.

Some competitors around town have installed machines to check temperatures or detect if someone is wearing a mask. When strip clubs were shut down in the pandemic’s early days, Redner jumped at the chance to add upgrades. Mons Venus now has hand-cleaning stations and UV lights in their air conditioning systems. All staff and visitors must mask up.

“We have rules and they’re strictly followed or we call the police for you,” Redner said. “We just don’t put up with that crap.”

Joe Redner, owner of Mons Venus in Tampa, poses on the club's stage Wednesday, April 17, 2019.
Joe Redner, owner of Mons Venus in Tampa, poses on the club's stage Wednesday, April 17, 2019. [ PENDYGRAFT ]
Related: Tampa strip clubs and the battle to bare it all: How the lap dance was outlawed 20 years ago

Though Redner said business has been pretty good lately, all things considered, running a smaller club poses challenges. Pre-pandemic, Redner could only fit 180 customers inside. This week, he could raise the capacity to 100 percent, but has decided not to.

“We’re going to have to raise the price because we just can’t pack people in there,” he said. “I really don’t want to anyway because I don’t want to put my employees that have to make a living in danger.”

The entry fee is subject to change based on demand. It’s too early to know how many sports fans will make a trip to the “world famous” strip club.

Redner isn’t too worried.

“I think people are going to be coming to town even if they can’t get into the stadium,” he said.

“I’m going to get every dollar that I think I can get.”

• • •

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