By Susan Thurston, Times Staff Writer
As the Super Bowl approaches, dancers at clubs such as Deja Vu in Tampa hope to draw big crowds and make big bucks.
TAMPA — Mons Venus strip club dancer Bernie Notte knows the cash a Super Bowl can bring. It flew at her like confetti during Tampa's 2001 game. She earned $6,000 in four days.
She danced so much that her feet bled. Customers didn't flinch at paying $100 for a $25 lap dance.
"It was crazy,'' she said. "Money was everywhere.''
Notte, 43, packed up her stilettos seven months ago to wait tables at the Mons. But the lure of Super Bowl XLIII tickled her toes.
She's headed back to the pole.
The Super Bowl is a command performance for a city defined, in part, by its international reputation for lap dancing. Tampa has 30 licensed adult dance clubs, adult theaters, live model studios and adult bookstores on record at City Hall. That's roughly 1 per 11,300 residents, among the highest rates nationwide.
The infamous adults-only scene gives Tampa part of its luster, some say.
"I don't think it's a stretch to say that the adult entertainment industry helps us get things like the Super Bowl,'' said Paul Allen, publisher of NightMoves magazine, one of the oldest adult club publications in the country.
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy scoffed at that.
"That's ridiculous," he said.
But come next week, expect a steady stream of out-of-towners lined up outside a small, shoebox-shaped building on Dale Mabry Highway, in the shadow of Raymond James Stadium.
Each will pay a cover charge of maybe $60, up from the normal $20, though Mons Venus owner Joe Redner says demand will dictate price.
Inside, five or six dancers at a time gyrate around a pole, catching cash as it flies at them. A jukebox blares. Customers sip water, soda or juice — no alcohol at Tampa's all-nude clubs — until a spot opens on padded benches along the club perimeter.
Technically, lap dancing is illegal in Tampa. Technically, nude dancers are supposed to stay 6 feet away from customers.
"People need to be aware of the laws that apply," warns Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy.
Redner will keep the Mons open around the clock all week, closing it only for housekeeping. (Now and then, someone must polish the pole.)
Longer hours require more dancers. Weeks ago, the Mons started getting calls from out-of-town women wanting work.
"We tell them to come on down, and we'll take a look at them," said Redner, who often drops by the club to say hello, slap a butt or get a hug or two. "If we have extras, we'll send them to other clubs. We take the cream of the crop.''
Dozens will simply appear at the door, ready to go on stage.
Local dancers, told to welcome the carpetbaggers, will do so, hoping Super Bowl brings riches to share.
But the weak economy looms large. Redner said business is half of what it was two years ago. Lorry Kasner, a manager who danced at the Mons during the 2001 Super Bowl, warns that girls may have to work more hours to bring in the same tips.
"I think the money is still going to be there, but it's just not going to be as easy,'' said Kasner, 43.
They'll know better Wednesday, when the first flights of fans arrive. Last time, the surge continued a day after the game, sustained when customers stopped by for parting gazes on the drive to nearby Tampa International Airport.
Nichole Romagna, a.k.a. Nakita Kash, started thinking about the Super Bowl months ago. A pole dancing instructor who appeared on NBC's America's Got Talent, she posted ads on Craigslist seeking strippers to work Super Bowl week.
They had to get to town on their own dime and then try out. She promised to set them up at clubs during game week and find them places to stay.
About two dozen tried out, including one who Romagna said is a student at Dartmouth College. The dancer said she wanted to "get away" and didn't care how much money she made. She brought a suitcase full of makeup, 6-inch heels and high hopes.
In the end, she decided not to come back for game week. But six others start arriving Tuesday.
They will come from as far away as Washington state and California, Romagna said. They'll perform at the Tampa Gold Club and at Mermaids in St. Pete Beach, both of which reduced the dancers' house fee. Clubs typically will charge dancers $100 to $150 just to walk through the door.
Escort services also hope for a profitable week. Scott Outland, a manager for Florida's Hottest Escorts, said he's optimistic.
"I heard that there are unbelievable amounts of money to be made,'' he said. "But I'm holding my breath that it will be that good.''
His service charges $250 an hour but offers a 10 percent discount for Super Bowl clients. An overnight package goes for $1,800.
He said one customer who will arrive Sunday hired an escort for seven days straight at a cost of $24,000. His company's cut: half. The customer hinted that he might take the escort to the game.
Outland insists that his six escorts provide companionship only.
"It's all legitimate,'' Outland said. "All my girls sign a seven-page contract saying they won't do anything illegal."
Tampa police say they'll keep an eye on adult businesses, although keeping the public safe will take priority. This is Tampa's first Super Bowl since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and security will be extra tight.
Two women have already landed in jail on prostitution charges, arrested Jan. 16 near Raymond James Stadium. They told police they were in town for the Super Bowl. One listed her employer as the Moonlite BunnyRanch, a Nevada brothel.
Before Tampa's last big game, the National Football League warned players to avoid adult clubs. The city had been cracking down on lap dancing, most visibly with the arrests of two National Hockey League players.
This year? No memo.
"People figured out that lap dances do not advance the decline of western civilization,'' interprets Luke Lirot, Redner's attorney.
So, the party will go on.
Dancers will put on their Lucite heels, naughty smiles and little else for what may be the most lucrative days of their careers.
Tiffany Schrader will dance as long as her legs allow.
The 26-year-old from Clearwater joined the Mons Venus crew a few months after the last Super Bowl.
She has heard all the stories, and game week can't come fast enough.
"I'm not going home for a few days,'' she said. "I'll stop when it's over.''
Susan Thurston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 225-3110. Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report.