Las Vegas Sun

June 19, 2021

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At Las Vegas strip clubs, dancers hope to shed pasties as pandemic rules are eased

Little Darlings Still Open

Steve Marcus

An exterior view of the Little Darlings adult entertainment club on Western Avenue Thursday, March 19, 2020.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, Sasha was making up to $2,000 a night as an exotic dancer in Las Vegas.

But since the club where she worked — Little Darlings — closed about a year ago, Sasha (her stage name) has been living off her savings, which are nearly gone, she said.

Sasha, who also had to quit taking classes at UNLV because of her financial situation, is hoping the club reopens soon so she can get back to work.

“It’s been really hard to keep afloat,” she said. “ I’m ready … I’m past ready.”

While casinos and other businesses reopened after the March 2020 coronavirus shutdown with restrictions, strip clubs have struggled under state rules that prohibit its core attraction — nude or topless women and lap dances.

Starting May 1, the state ban will be lifted, under a plan by Gov. Steve Sisolak to pass more control over reopening to counties.

While a Clark County “mitigation plan” would allow for topless dancers, it would still prohibit lap dances, as entertainers would have to maintain a 6-foot distance from patrons. Commissioners are scheduled to vote on the plan Tuesday.

Monroe, a dancer at the Palomino Club in North Las Vegas, said she hoped the county eventually would drop the remaining restrictions on strip clubs.

“I think business is going to skyrocket once we get back to being fully open,” said Monroe, which is her stage name.

Some strip clubs are open, operating mainly as bars and restaurants. Dancers can work onstage but must wear bikinis or pasties. Customers and entertainers must also wear masks.

The clubs essentially have been turned into “bikini bars,” said Ryan Carlson, director of operations for Déjà Vu Services Inc., which oversees Déjà Vu Showgirls and Little Darlings in Las Vegas. They also serve as consultants for Hustler Club on Dean Martin Drive near Allegiant Stadium.

“Patronage has obviously fallen,” Carlson said. “I think what’s been done has damaged the reputation of Las Vegas, damaged what’s made Las Vegas great.”

Since the Hustler Club and Déjà Vu reopened with capacity restrictions in September, they have done from 50% to about 70% of the business they were doing before the pandemic, Carlson said.

With capacity now capped at 50%, “we kind of get screwed on the nights where we’re really busy and we have to turn people away,” Carlson said.

Little Darlings, located just northwest of the Las Vegas Strip, has remained closed because its main attraction was totally nude dancers. The club, which doesn’t sell alcohol, tried for a short time to stay open by offering drive-thru peep shows but is boarded up for now.

Carlson estimated up to 2,000 adult entertainers in Las Vegas have been hurt by the pandemic and business restrictions. Some have moved away, he said.

A lot of dancers “have turned to other work or become destitute. It’s not a good situation when the government tells you that you can’t go earn a living,” he said.

Adam Gentile, owner of the Palomino Club, said he hoped local officials would start allowing nude dancers back onstage next month.

The number of independently contracted dancers employed at the club has dropped from about 200 before the pandemic to about 70 today.

Before the pandemic, the Palomino Club was the rare Southern Nevada establishment that featured totally nude dancers while also serving alcohol.

The club reopened in June as a bikini bar, and dancers must, at a minimum, wear pasties on their breasts.

“Allowing only adult entertainment venues to not fully function while they are completely legal businesses is very unfair,” Gentile said. “I’m hoping we’re allowed to finally be open again as an adult club, instead of a G-string club.”

A dancer who goes by the stage name of Raven started working at the Palomino a couple months ago and has heard from other dancers about the big money they made before the pandemic. She’s hoping to get in on it if the restrictions eventually are lifted.

“They tell me I have no idea how different it is,” Raven said. Instead of offering personal lap dances — their biggest money-makers — dancers are limited to working for tips onstage.

At Sapphire Las Vegas on Sammy Davis Jr. Drive, George Wilson, the director of marketing, said the club had been hiring back more employees as capacity restrictions have been eased.

“We’re doing our best to follow all the rules,” Wilson said. “What we’re going through is unprecedented.”