The strippers at Fantasy Lounge go two dances on-stage, two off. The first number is the warm-up, the second is the money shot. About 5 p.m., a slim-hipped dancer named Alexis loosens her bra straps and lowers her pants below the buttocks, then suddenly, as a loud techno-screech reaches crescendo, she kicks the garments away, and she's stark naked. That state law that prohibits removing your pants? It doesn't apply when you're doing your artistic thing.
Next is Kelli, a Rubenesque country girl who does strange things with her hips and ass while bending over. Tailpipe plants his tube next to Alexis at the bar, where, slightly breathless, she's putting those skimpy garments back on. She's a bony woman with a haystack of blond hair and a snaggle-toothed smile. Pushing her breast perilously close to Tailpipe, she invites him to stick a bill into the panties. Then she pulls the bikini top back on.
Drink? "Ooh, twist my finger," she says.
Laurie the bartender steps over quickly. "There's a bottle for $20 or a glass for $5," she says.
Bottle of what?
Let's start with a glass, Tailpipe says. Laurie disappears into a backroom and comes out with a stemmed glass full of yellowish liquid and ice. Alexis toasts with the "champagne," and Tailpipe swigs a Corona.
With clothes on, Alexis is just an ordinary gal trying to get by. Off the stage, the flash of tawdry glamour dematerializes into raw-boned angularity. "Most of my money goes to family," she says. "I drive a very modest car." When she's not stripping her way through disco numbers, she's bartending at yacht parties, she says.
Since eight employees of the squat, unsightly Dania Beach strip joint were busted by state agents on July 25, right there in the club, the place has become a pale remnant of its former self. It used to be that, at any given time, there were a half dozen dancers in the place, dangerous-looking women in heavy makeup, taking turns on the little platform stage and cadging expensive drinks from the customers.
Need a chemical high? That could be taken care of too. No prob. This square cement building on Griffin Road was party central.
The place was like a drug supermarket, says Capt. Pat Roberts of the Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco. Based on the experiences of state and county undercover officers, who made 15 drug buys during a week and a half in June and July, it would seem that drug dealers at Fantasy Lounge had thrown all caution to the wind.
"You'd belly up to the bar and order a drink," Roberts says. "A dancer comes over and wants to dance for you. You give her a tip and say, 'You got any party favors?' Tell her what you're looking for, half a gram of cocaine or a couple of joints, and she says, 'Sure, let me take care of you. '"
Selling drugs when you're working as a stripper/lap dancer -- that would seem to present something of a, well, logistical problem, Tailpipe notes. The clientele is right there at arm's length, but how do the women carry the stash when all they've got on is a bikini bra and a thong?
Roberts snorts. "The dancers were pretty much nude, but they'd carry little black purses," he explains.
After the raid, in which seven dancers and the manager were hauled off and charged with possession of drugs with intent to distribute, the state shut down the club for 30 days. Even now, the place seems to be in a dark funk.
When Tailpipe himself bellied up to the bar last week, the club had reopened just two days before. It took a few minutes to adjust to the darkness. Some thin neon strips along the ceiling barely penetrated the dense twilight on the dance floor and the stage, and we squinted to make out the dancer going through her paces.
In fact, it was Alexis. As Barry White neared the climax of "You're the First, the Last, My Everything," she propelled herself around the stage's brass pole and, in the old stripteasers' pièce de résistance, clutched it between her thighs and circled it several times without touching the floor.
Three or four men watched joylessly, each with a bottle of beer in front of him and a look of glazed distraction. One finally got up and, standing unsteadily next to the stage, fumblingly pushed a dollar bill into Alexis' panty strap.
Now, Tailpipe has always been partial to the ladies and -- why not? -- having a good time. Life is short. But this sad display of public licentiousness, with a couple of warhorse veterans on-stage pleading for dollars ("Got a dollar for the jukebox, sweetie?"), was an insult to the venerable American tradition of sinning in your spare time.
Sadly, Fantasy Lounge has gotten caught in a new get-tough-on-party-drugs sweep by federal, state, and county authorities. Just last month, a couple of weeks after the Dania Beach bust, agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration marched through a bunch of nightclubs in Broward and Miami-Dade, arresting 27 people on a variety of drug charges.
Maybe the Sunshine State's burgeoning reputation as the Ecstasy capital of the nation is becoming too much of an embarrassment to ignore any longer. In the first five months of this year, DEA says, 1,113 people have been arrested in Florida for possession or distribution of X, almost twice as many as were collared during the same period in the next highest offender state, California. This signifies either that Floridians are using a lot more Ecstasy than anybody else or the cops just care more here. Either way, South Florida authorities are united in the drive to stamp out party drugs.
The Fantasy Lounge raid turned up an array of drugs: 39 half-gram baggies of powdered cocaine, 29 baggies with marijuana, and a quantity of pills, including Ecstasy. "There were a lot of little baggies on the floor after the raid," Roberts says.
Roberts is one of the great multi-taskers. He's actually talking to Tailpipe on his cell phone while conducting an arrest. There's a commotion on the other end of the line and a woman's voice saying, "Hey, I wasn't going anyplace." Roberts excuses himself. "Hold on," then, raising his voice, he commands, "Put your hands on the car!" Then he comes back on the line. "What were you saying?"
Tailpipe wanted to know if the wide-open drug commerce at Fantasy Lounge was unusual.
"Depends on what you mean by unusual," Roberts says noncommittally.
The recent DEA raid hit nine clubs, most of them higher-echelon strip clubs in Broward, like Cheetah and Synn City. But authorities also nailed Space 34, the mega-dance club in downtown Miami, where 11 people were arrested for selling drugs. Things are pretty much back to E-normal there, according to New Times' sister publication in Miami, which last week noted "the liquid movements of many dancers and the chemical shine radiating from their eyes."
The Fantasy Lounge raid, though, seems to have taken the juice out of the party. Few customers, fewer dancers, no little black purses. Owner Al Deluca is trying to round up some new talent, according to his lawyer, Charles Curtis, and the staff has been replaced with people who have sense enough to avoid the company of illegal narcotics peddlers.
The women in the club -- they're bored. They smoke a lot of cigarettes and talk a lot about clothes, busted relationships, and, yes, the law.
"You have to know what you're doing here," drones Laurie, the short pugnacious bartender. "You can show your tits while you're lap dancing. That's the law here. We're in Dania Beach. Tits but nothing below the belt."
"That's Florida for you," Alexis says. "You can go stark naked on one side of the street and have to put clothes on on the other side. It all depends on what city you're in."
Tailpipe considers asking Alexis her age but thinks better of it. It's time to get down to serious business.
This rusty old cylinder isn't much for commercial partying, but he has to ask. Using his smoothest Barry White tones, he questions whether Alexis dates the customers.
"That's strictly contrary to policy," she says frostily.
Any party favors available?
Alexis gives Tailpipe the fish eye. "You never know who you're dealing with in a place like this," she says.
There's the clincher. Fantasy Lounge has become the cleanest and most boring strip club in Broward or Palm Beach.
Tailpipe slips another couple of dollars under Alexis' panty strap, and the stripper, with all the warmth of a mourner at a funeral, kisses his metallic cheek goodbye.
-- As told to Edmund Newton
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