We're getting down to the naked truth.
A St. Pete reader asked for our What Are You Wondering series: "Why are there so many strip clubs in the Tampa Bay region?"
- Great question. For all the news coverage Tampa Bay gets of its notorious nude scene, we still couldn't find the root of why there are so many here.
So we called Joe Redner, Tampa's strip club king. The 81-year-old takes credit for making the local scene what it is — there are about 40 clubs in the area, half of which are in Tampa.
Flashback: In 1975, Redner was managing a go-go bar called Deep South when he read a newspaper story about Erznoznik v. City of Jacksonville, in which the Supreme Court decided nudity was protected by the first amendment.
- That's when he decided to open the city's first all-nude club, Tanga Lounge.
- "I tried to get people around town that had clubs to go nude. All of them said no, so I started a club with a bondsman who had closed his beer joint. It was a good thing because I really needed the bondsman."
Yes, but: The industry didn't start booming until Redner opened the now "world famous" Mons Venus in 1982.
- "It was just crazy. That's when everybody else took notice in Tampa," Redner said.
- In 1999, the city responded to the bustling sex-work industry by banning lap dances — waging a war against Redner that he eventually won after about 150 trips to jail (by his count).
But, but, but: Tampa's strip club history goes further back than Redner.
- Tampa History Center historian Brad Massey tells Axios that Redner is indeed the reason Tampa has so many nude clubs. But our reputation for sex work actually started during WWII, when the industry formed around three airfields: MacDill, Henderson and Drew Park.
- During the war, so many sex workers were getting arrested that jail became known as the "women's stockade."
What he's saying: Morality is never policed in Tampa for long, Massey says.
- "Tampa isn't an immoral place, but an amoral place. People are concerned about making a buck, turning a profit. You don't really have the dignity police like you do in other places. So that's why strip clubs were able to thrive."
Redner's bottom line: "Strip clubs have been here, just always. As long as there's men lusting for women and women lusting for men, there's strip clubs. You can blame that on God."
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