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Velvet Lion arrives with a roar

Why do other gents’ clubs go out with a whimper?

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Photo: Benjamen Purvis

The Details

In this business of skin, the past few years have seen more changes than a dancer can shake her silicone at. There are decades-long successes in town, while other clubs repeatedly turn over, such as the recent acquisition of Scores (which used to be Jaguars) by Rick’s Cabaret. Even as Velvet Lion charges onto the scene this week, its address previously belonged to Striptease and Eden. Why do some Vegas strip clubs remain strong while others fail? And does Velvet Lion have what it takes?

“I don’t know if changeovers negate success or not,” says Dolores Eliades, general manager of Olympic Garden, which will celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2009. “But I think the success of some of the clubs that are long-standing is the fact that they understand the Las Vegas market.”

Not yet open and already claiming to understand today’s market, Velvet Lion is helmed by a combination of experienced nightclub and strip-club employees. Aiming for a nightclub vibe, Velvet Lion recognizes the importance of customer service and building a following. “It’ll be like how I created Drai’s, on steroids, topless,” says nightclub veteran Tony Verdugo. Guy Wilson, who spent almost nine years working at Spearmint Rhino, has joined Velvet Lion as well. “You have to keep thinking outside the box, because there are so many strip clubs,” he says. Wilson believes clubs in Vegas fail mainly due to poor management and ownership and explains that the experienced team at Velvet Lion participates in roundtable discussions and votes to decide on the best course of action for business.

“I think the operators these days have to decide if they’re going to be a true strip club, or if they’re going to be an adult cabaret with more of an entertainment side to it,” says Mark Wiley, owner of W Squared Media. Wiley has worked directly and indirectly with adult clubs around the country, including Sapphire, OG, Treasures and Scores in Vegas, and currently works with Club Paradise and Penthouse. Whether it’s with burlesque, an afterhours or a male revue, the overall experience is important to keeping an adult club’s doors open, Wiley believes, although he adds that the older clubs with working capital and financial backing will likely survive.

But for the newer clubs, it appears that more than just T&A is necessary for continued success. Sapphire, which just celebrated its six-year anniversary, throws Monday Night Football parties and has karaoke to create a broader entertainment experience. “Having different events seems to be well received,” owner Peter Feinstein says, and credits their comprehensive marketing program as part of their success. Treasures VIP host Jacko Smiley cites strong ownership and management staff as integral factors, though again, diversity is essential. “Having a fine-dining restaurant helps us tremendously,” he says.

“Now, because it’s such a competitive market, new operators … have to offer more than just girls,” Wiley says. “The new operators I think are out of necessity, and I think they’ll do well, but they’re not the same kind of operators that ran the Crazy Horse or Olympic Garden or the Rhino. Those will always be known as ‘strip clubs,’ not adult clubs.” According to Wiley, Gino LoPinto (another Vegas nightclub veteran) just partnered with Penthouse to complete a long-anticipated build-out of that property. “Gino has some great concepts that he’ll be announcing over the next couple of week,” Wiley says. “Definitely something big’s going on.”

“Just like nightclubs, it’s an ever-evolving industry,” says Wilson. “You’ve got to keep thinking of new ways to attract the customers.” Set to soft-open this weekend with a grand opening set to coincide with January 9’s Adult Video Network Awards, Velvet Lion appears to be taking the right steps toward appealing to today’s clientele. Promising the hottest dancers and best drink prices in the adult-cabaret industry probably won’t hurt Velvet Lion either.

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