Masked entertainers, plastic partitions, a proliferation of money guns and at least one tunnel of glowing, disinfecting mist — welcome to the new strip-club experience in South Florida.
As state and county governments shed multiple layers of COVID restrictions on Friday, the region’s famed adult-entertainment industry found salvation fall unexpectedly into its lap.
At the end of a chaotic day of decision-making across the state, all Palm Beach County businesses were cleared to open immediately, while Broward County strip clubs are permitted to open on Monday. Clubs in Miami-Dade County were allowed to open on Wednesday.
Greg Jarmon, general manager at Cheetah Hallandale, hasn’t worked since March 17, but said he’s been plenty busy during that time trying to help his staff find jobs, housing and food. On Friday, he texted the reopening news to a co-worker who had gone through an emotional breakdown since the closing.
Jarmon said the man responded: “OMG, you just saved my life.”
Cheetah Hallandale was the site of a Friday meeting of several South Florida club owners and managers — in person and remotely — who tried to untangle messages from the governor’s office and evolving guidelines announced by mayors in Broward and Palm Beach counties.
In a Friday press conference, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the end of all remaining state-level COVID-19 restrictions on business, including bars and restaurants.
The executive order, effective immediately, also prohibited local governments from closing businesses or collecting fines related to COVID-19 mandates, including mask requirements. It also stipulates that cities and counties could not impose their own restrictions without an economic and health justification.
But at the same time, DeSantis acknowledged, “You’re probably going to see a different approach in Southern Florida.”
On Thursday, Palm Beach County announced that bars and entertainment venues could open on Oct. 5 at 50% capacity and strips clubs could reopen Monday, Oct. 2. By Friday, the county decided all businesses could open immediately.
In Broward County, a Friday morning announcement said it would lift some mandates on banquet halls, pools and sports facilities, effective Oct. 2, but left most restrictions on bars and restaurants in place.
Later Friday afternoon, Cheetah owner Joe Rodriguez said he had received an email from the county giving him permission to open Cheetah Hallandale and Cheetah Pompano on Monday, Sept. 28.
The short notice prompted Rodriguez to delay opening his clubs — he also owns a Cheetah in West Palm Beach — until Wednesday to allow for extra cleaning and training.
Rodriguez said he has lost $800,000 since the closing of his three clubs.
“I took it in the shorts,” he said.
Masks are required to enter the club, which will operate at 50 percent capacity, and patrons must remain seated at their assigned table except when entering, exiting or going to the restroom.
Customers must maintain 10 feet of space from the entertainers. Hence, no lap dances. Tipping also must be hands-off.
“Maybe we’ll use some pool sticks with chewing gum on the end,” Rodriguez said, laughing.
Monroe’s of Palm Beach will open Monday, when patrons, performers and staff will enter through a booth that emits a fine mist of a solution similar to hand-sanitizing liquid, illuminated by a germ-killing UV light, said company president Jennifer Cartwright.
Inside, social distancing will be ensured with a Plexiglas barrier on the edge of the stage. Tips can be tossed over the edge of the glass or sent in a fusillade with a money gun loaded with a stack of bills.
Cartwright said Palm Beach County strip clubs presented a detailed safety plan to commissioners, which she thinks helped convince them to allow the reopening.
She was still waiting for feedback from the county on some of the plan’s details, including ideas on how dancers might safely deliver a lap dance.
“We offered them a way that would keep any type of face-to-face contact from happening. Obviously they’d wear their mask, the guest would wear their mask. It could be forward facing. That’s one of those details that we’re waiting on,” Cartwright said.
Monroe’s is also a steakhouse, which has been open with limited hours, but Cartwright had stories of bartenders, servers, chefs and dishwashers in dire straits, including one who was left homeless, sleeping with his wife in their car.
“We’ve barely been surviving as a restaurant and come Monday entertainers can join the building again,” Cartwright said. “We are very excited to put over 100 employees back to work.”
A sister club wasn’t so lucky: Located in the former Double Dee’s Ranch on Southern Boulevard, Epic Palm Beach was closed by coronavirus restrictions six weeks after its debut. Its reopening remains up in the air, Cartwright said.
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