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A dancer twists around a pole, kicking her heels and arching her back for the men who watch with bills crumpled in their hands. Other women, dressed in almost nothing, glide around the club, chatting with clients and grinding on them in front of mirror-lined walls.

A rowdy bachelor party flings so much cash that one stripper has to retrieve a plastic shopping bag to scoop it all up. She high-fives each of her patrons as she dances off the stage. It once was the house of the future. There are no private rooms. No doors on the bathroom stalls. Across the street is Odyssey, a squat purple and white building topped with a retro futuristic UFO where girls give private lap dances. The Tampa Bay area has about 40 strip clubs, with half found in the city of Tampa.

Tampa has a reputation as the strip club capital of the country, part of its identity along with Cuban sandwiches and Gasparilla. To find the answer, flash back 20 years, to a heated battle over morality and money. Those were the days of lawsuits and undercover busts, when police dragged dancers out of clubs in handcuffs. When thousands crammed into the Tampa Convention Center to hear strippers and clients testify until the early hours one morning. When this city laid down the law. There were lingerie modeling studios and massage parlors acting as fronts for prostitution and residential sex businesses, like Voyeur Dorm, where college-age women streamed themselves on the web.

Dick Greco, then the Tampa mayor, was especially horrified at Taboo Tampa, a swinger house that opened in Old Seminole Heights blocks away from where he grew up. Managers were caught serving alcohol as women danced fully naked. In one club, dancers performed sex acts on each other in front of undercover officers. The proposed ordinance would require that distance between patrons and adult entertainers. Other governments in Florida had already passed ordinances deed to stop the spread of prostitution and disease.

A handful of places outside of Florida imposed foot rules. Luke Lirot, a Clearwater-based First Amendment lawyer who represented club owners and strippers, said they referred to it as the ring of death. Mons Venus owner Joe Redner led the resistance. Redner commissioned an economic impact study and took out a full- ad in the paper explaining the financial benefits of strip clubs. He and other club owners also spent tens of thousands on lobbyists and experts. The ban was introduced during a November meeting.

Redner told his dancers to humanize themselves in front of the politicians. Tell them about your kids, he said. Your lives. Strip club patrons and dancers packed council chambers on the third floor of City Hall. The line snaked down the stairwell and oozed out onto the sidewalk. That was nothing compared to a hearing a few weeks later. That meeting lasted 13 hours. Seven hundred people packed into a meeting room at the Tampa Convention Center.

About 1, others watched on a screen in an overflow room. The Tampa hearing was prefaced with a warning: no hissing, no booing. Anyone removed from the hall would be arrested. People watching the broadcast on public access television got out of bed and came to weigh in.

One woman showed up in her bathrobe. At the strip clubs, customers rushed in to get lap dances while they still could. At nearly 2 a. It was the longest council meeting in city history. The maximum penalty for violating the 6-foot rule? Redner sued the city after the ordinance passed, but dropped it soon after.

Three days later, the city sued five clubs, including the Mons, for violating the ordinance. Redner swore at Castor as her unit arrested strippers, screaming until he was taken away in handcuffs, too. It went on for months: The clubs defied the ordinance.

Police made arrests. As soon as the cops left, the remaining strippers d dancing on customers as if nothing had happened. In July , about 40 undercover officers conducted a raid across five strip clubs. Police made 70 arrests in one night. Twenty-eight were from the Mons. He told reporters back then that the raid had been planned for over a month. By the end of July , the 6-foot rule had triggered more than arrests. Lirot, meanwhile, asked for jury trials for hundreds of the women.

Tourists were afraid of getting caught by police mid-lap dance during their vacations. Judges went back and forth on whether the ordinance was too broad. Violators could spend up to 60 days in jail. When Greco was replaced as mayor by Pam Iorio, the city shifted its attention to other crimes. And no one really talks about it anymore.

Ironically, Redner, 78, now works with law enforcement, brainstorming ways to stop sex trafficking and calling the cops when customers get too rowdy during bachelor parties. People who work in the industry say things have slowed down over the last 20 years. Some clubs reported up to a 40 percent dip in business after police raided their clubs. Then the internet provided a cheaper and easier way to see strangers naked. In between dances, women freshened up in a fenced-off area outside.

They clustered around a purple picnic table covered in makeup brushes, Funyan wrappers and empty cans of Red Bull. They poured each other shots and helped one another glue on strips of eyelashes. They counted their bills in neat stacks.

One dancer, completely nude except for 6-inch, leather boots, devoured a microwave Marie Callender mac and cheese covered in Crystal hot sauce. Savannah Soule, a year-old who performs under the name Minnie, sipped kratom tea through a straw in between dances. She strips at the Mons until the early morning, then stays up a few more hours to take her year-old daughter to the bus stop.

Some of the dancers who were dragged out of Mons Venus in handcuffs 20 years ago now run the show as managers. This story was reported using Times archives. Times senior researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Subscribe Manage my subscription Activate my subscription Log in Log out. Regions Tampa St. Letters to the Editor Submit a Letter. Investigations Narratives Pulitzer Winners. Connect with us. About us. Obituaries Homes Jobs Classifieds. Careers Advertise Legal Contact. Log in. Manage my subscription Activate my subscription Log out.

Tampa strip clubs and the battle to bare it all: How the lap dance was outlawed 20 years ago Tampa police raided clubs and dragged strippers out in handcuffs. Lawsuits were filed. The nation watched. By Gabrielle Calise.

Published Jun. Gabrielle Calise Culture Reporter. Opinions vary. Got questions about kids, school and delta variant? Here are some answers.

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