- Associated Press - Monday, August 20, 2012

TAMPA, Fla. — More than sunshine, cigars or the roller coasters at Busch Gardens, Tampa is known for its strippers.

Tampa and strip clubs are often mentioned together, like New York City and the Statue of Liberty. Or San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. Or St. Louis and the Arch.

And the man in the thick of this spectacle is Joe Redner, who almost single-handedly made Tampa’s adult entertainment world famous. He’s a wiry 72-year-old with an amused smile and skeptical brown eyes who owns what is arguably the most notorious of Tampa’s all-nude clubs: Mons Venus.

The club — located less than six miles from where the Republicans will gather to nominate former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney as their presidential candidate — isn’t much to look at. The blue-and-purple building sits on a busy stretch of road next to a Taco Bell and near where the NFL’s Buccaneers play home games. There’s a sign outside that says “Home of the Most Beautiful Women in the World,” and another: “Live NUDE Shows.”

“I don’t expect the RNC to be as busy as Super Bowl,” Mr. Redner said, with a dismissive wave of his hand. “I don’t think those people are coming to party.”

Mr. Redner started the club 30 years ago. Back then, according to him, his main pursuits were “drinking, philandering and snorting cocaine.”

He knew nothing about business or politics. But over the decades, he stopped drinking and doing drugs, became a vegan, a businessman and a politician. Like-minded progressive activists have called him a “folk hero,” while his enemies have called him a “pimp.”

Over time, he’s opened three other nude clubs (he no longer owns them), a fitness club (he sold that, too), and has run for various local offices nine times (he’s never won, although he did offer free lap dances to anyone who showed up at the Mons with an “I Voted” sticker as part of his campaign).

Mr. Redner doesn’t talk much about the actual Republicans coming to town; he considers himself a very liberal progressive. He doesn’t like the Republicans’ politics, but is hopeful that will bring money into the community. His club’s business is down by 50 percent since its heyday in the late ‘90s, he said. Tampa is in a recession.

Jason Lange, an adult industry promoter, agrees with Mr. Redner that Tampa-area clubs probably won’t receive a windfall because of the RNC.

“A lot of people are thinking it’s going to be a super home run, but it’s not,” said Mr. Lange, who has booked some private parties for RNC-goers and is bringing in porn stars as entertainers at certain clubs during that week. “The Mitt Romneys aren’t going to go into adult entertainment clubs.”

Nonetheless, police have cracked down on strip clubs recently. During a recent sting at several area strip clubs, Tampa officers arrested 16 women on prostitution charges. A news release said officials were trying to deter prostitution and human trafficking during the upcoming convention.

Other strip club owners in Tampa are more optimistic about seeing more customers. Don Kleinhans, the co-owner of 2001 Odyssey, a strip club across the street from Mons Venus that’s notable for its large, silver spaceship where patrons can obtain expensive, and more personal, lap dances said he’s put in a VIP area for the RNC, complete with a private entrance around the side of the club, so anyone who wants to sneak in unannounced can do so.

Mr. Redner refuses to do that for his customers.

“I can’t play to that part of human nature,” he sniffs. “If you gotta hide from what you’re doing, you shouldn’t be doing it.”

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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