Sex and the City

Ah, downtown Phoenix. Home to Bank One Ballpark, the famous Luhrs Building, that stunningly awful Patriots Park. It's a tangle of high- and low-rise construction that has -- dare I say it? -- risen from the ashes of its former run-down self, reborn as a burgeoning almost-metropolis that might someday offer real shopping, public transportation, and lots of art and culture.

Just don't take off your top down there.

Seriously. Ask Stuart Char, who's spent the past several months trying to open the Palace Cabaret, an all-nude adult cabaret on East Washington Street. City planners are up in arms about Char's designs to introduce lap dances into downtown culture, and have heaped him with city code violations in an effort to at least stall the club's opening. Char, who owns two other topless dance clubs in the Valley, seems unfazed. He's done his homework, selected a spot (the former home of an adult bookstore next door to Majerle's Sports Grill and just up the street from America West Arena and the Phoenix Civic Plaza), and is staying his course. If Char has his way, sometime after the first of the year, we'll all be able to enjoy a nice set of jugs after an evening at the symphony.

New Times: I may be mistaken, but it seems as if no one wants you to open a titty bar in downtown Phoenix.

Stuart Char: Well, it is frustrating. But we're trying to work with the city as much as possible. We don't want to be a thorn in their side, and we think we can be an asset to the area. The city has subsidized some of the major sporting teams, poured millions of dollars into bringing arts and entertainment into the downtown area, and, to be honest, it hasn't gone all that well.

NT: You mean all that theater and symphony stuff isn't drawing as many people as your nude cabaret will? So why don't the city people want you there?

Char: They're concerned because [city planners] are trying to make it a family environment. We can fix that. And as far as family entertainment, if you watched the Pacers game the other night, there was an all-out brawl on the basketball court. Is that family entertainment?

NT: And it's not like you're opening up across the street from a grammar school. You're wedged between a bar and Sports City Grill, in the spot where an adult bookstore used to be.

Char: Yeah, and the city is subsidizing ASU to bring in a downtown campus. If you watch the news, ASU has the highest crime rate in the state.

NT: They also have a whole lot of frat boys. And I'm guessing those frat boys will like a place full of naked chicks shaking their cans.

Char: We hope so!

NT: I remember city planners yammering about how the new downtown would be "diverse." Maybe they meant "diverse but with no visible nipples."

Char: We're hoping everyone will have an open mind. We'll work with them to not cause problems at all. We'll make donations to charities. In fact, I'd like to join the Downtown Phoenix Partnership.

NT: Do they want you to join? Will they let you?

Char: I don't know. We want to bring entertainment to downtown, and who's to say what's right in terms of entertainment? We appeal to a different segment [of the population] that we can bring downtown.

NT: But others have tried to open nudie clubs in downtown and failed.

Char: They tried to open a topless club last year, and you need a liquor license to do that. And the city told the topless club they couldn't have a liquor license. They said, "Even if you get here, we won't give you a liquor license." We don't need one, because we're not serving alcohol. We're opening a juice bar.

NT: Instead, the city is dorking you around on all these little nickel-and-dime things, like your lighting is wrong or your magazine racks are in the wrong place or whatever.

Char: We're trying to be nice about it. We don't want to start anything, and we don't want to portray ourselves as bad guys. We just want a shot at bringing some diversity to downtown entertainment. We don't serve alcohol, so what kind of trouble can we really get into? If anything, we're making the area better because the person has the chance to sit [in our club] and sober up.

NT: Have you tried the argument about how the naked female body is a beautiful thing?

Char: We haven't had to. We're protected by the First Amendment. We have a constitutional right to be there. They may throw up roadblocks to slow us down. We're not open yet; we'll just have to wait and see.

NT: It's all so snooty. "The symphony is fine; baseball is fine. But please, no pubic hair!"

Char: Well, strip clubs today are pretty mainstream. Tony Soprano owns a strip club! It's not like the old days where it's hidden in the closet. People go there to negotiate business. It's come a long way, and it's socially acceptable today. But there are a few people who haven't come into the 21st century who are opposed to it.

NT: Can they actually prevent you from opening?

Char: They can't prevent us from opening based on any ordinance. What they can do is put up hurdles and make it difficult.

NT: What sort of entertainment will you have? Naked girls dancing in cages? Go-go boots? Lots of fringe?

Char: Your basic strip-club stuff: table dancing, stage shows. Well, eventually we'll have a stage show. You have to have a separate permit to have a stage. It's a piece of furniture, and you need a license for it.

NT: Go figure. Hey, if the big guys try to keep you from opening, you could have naked women stage a protest outside.

Char: Hopefully, we won't need to. You know, when Mayor Phil Gordon was elected, we really thought he would be for us -- he's a liberal.

NT: He's a Democrat.

Char: Well, he knows we're protected by the First Amendment. And we saw him on the news, and he was saying he's against us opening. I guess if we see him down [at the club], we'll know he changed his mind.

NT: It's not just Phil. A lot of local celebrities are speaking out against your club.

Char: I know. Dan Majerle owns the bar and grill next door . . . and his manager, AJ Sulka, was on NewsChannel 3 the other day with Mike Watkiss, and he came out publicly in opposition to us opening at this location.

NT: Maybe the guys at the Downtown Phoenix Partnership are all homos and don't like naked girls.

Char: If so, they could go to Dick's.

NT: Excuse me?

Char: There's a place on Van Buren called Dick's Cabaret. All-nude male dancers. They could go there.

NT: Okay. So, when do you open?

Char: Sometime after the first of the year. We'll send you an invite to the VIP opening.

NT: I can hardly wait.

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela