Business

New strip club opens, but skips sexually oriented business license

MANATEE -- A Greek-themed strip club operating out of a building owned by the wife of a Sarasota gynecologist is bringing more competition to the Manatee County adult entertainment scene.

It may also soon run afoul of a county ordinance blessed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Atlantis Gentlemen's Club, a 3,600-square-foot, full-liquor bar featuring seminude female dancers, opened at 3824 U.S. 41 in May. It will hold its grand opening June 26-27.

The club opened in the building months after a previous strip club, Pandora's Box, closed in 2014. The building has also been home to another strip club, Cleopatra's.

Atlantis is in a high-traffic area where U.S. 41, Interstate 275 and U.S. 19 meet. One of the new club's owners, Gary Walczak, said that helped the business get a steady start during the slowest part of tourism season.

"Geographically we couldn't ask for a better location," said Walczak, who also owns Pub 88 in downtown Bradenton.

Built to look like an ancient Greek temple and adorned with neoclassical columns and statues, Atlantis is one of three strip clubs in the county. To the south, DaVinci's Gentlemen's Club operates on Cortez Road, while the Peek-A-Boo Lounge does business on 14th Street West.

The 38-year-old building is owned by a corporation controlled by Amy Easterling of Sarasota. Public records show she is married to Sarasota OBGYN Gary Easterling. Contacted at his office this week, Easterling denied he has an ownership stake in the building.

County officials said they have been watching Atlantis since it opened. Like Peek-A-Boo and DaVinci's, Atlantis has not applied for a county permit required for sexually oriented business. That permit and the ordinance behind it were affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2011 after 12-year legal battle with a local strip club owner.

Jeff Bowman, code enforcement chief, said the county inspected Atlantis shortly after it opened. At the time, he said, it was operating only as a bar.

Since then, Atlantis has added 10 "independent contractors" who dance at the club. Even so, Walczak said he and his partners do not believe they require the license.

"We believe we are not a sexually oriented business," he said.

Jim Minix, a chief assistant Manatee County attorney who worked on court challenges to the sexually oriented business ordinance, said Atlantis is the first strip club to open in the county since the ordinance was legally confirmed. The county is in litigation with Peek-A-Boo and DaVinci's concerning their licensing status.

"That's usually the problem. They don't apply for the license," Minix said.

Manatee County's code does not allow full nudity or physical contact between patrons and entertainers at adult establishments selling alcohol.

If Atlantis was to pay for a license, it would cost almost $3,300. The business must buy a license for itself and for each dancer who works in the club, Bowman said.

Walczak said Atlantis differs from previous strip clubs at its location. It has instituted a dress code that forbids patrons from wearing tank tops and T-shirts. Khaki pants and shorts are also a minimum standard under the code. Jeans are not allowed.

The new owners, who operate as 3824 US 41 LLC, remodeled the interior of the club and purchased new furniture.

The club is also exploring the possibility of having club entertainers dance using aerial fabric suspended from the ceiling to tumble and twirl midair, as well as to climb and descend to the stage.

Atlantis operates a bar, but does not serve food. Unlike the smoke-free Pub 88, the strip club does allow smoking.

Although other strip clubs operate in Manatee County as well as neighboring Sarasota and Hillsborough counties, the business has not had trouble attracting entertainers, Walczak said.

Atlantis is open 2:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. weekdays and Saturdays. It is closed Sundays.

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