Thursday, April 27, 2000

Strip joint can only be trouble

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        SPARTA — It's a classy joint, the owners say. Sparta should be proud.


        Out of the corner of my eye, I can see a topless woman dancing privately for a male patron. She plops her thong-covered bottom in his lap and thrusts her bare breasts in his face. He leans back to avoid a collision.

        Maybe that's the classy part: No groping allowed.

        Or maybe it's the free buffet of melon balls and veggies. Or the white shirts and bow ties worn by the bouncers. Nice, don't you think? While women strip, the staff stands around like caterers at a black-tie ball, and anyone who gets hungry can munch on crudites.

        “God almighty,” says Sparta resident Kent Jackson, who wandered in on Tuesday to check out the new place. “This is Sparta. We're locked in the middle of nowhere. Nobody ever bothers us.”

        On stage, a woman is dancing seductively around a pole. Disco lights flash and rock music booms.

        “This is Florence and Covington stuff, here,” says Mr. Jackson.

        Welcome to the big time, Sparta.

        With the Kentucky Speedway opening in June, local businessmen have launched the Racers/Pit Stop Bar and Grille, a combination adult nightclub and family restaurant.

        Sparta's conservative element is upset. Others, such as Mr. Jackson, are nonchalant about the stripping but alarmed by the price of a Budweiser.

        At Racers, a bottle goes for $3.75.

        Sparta has two other bars. They've been around forever, and newcomers might find trouble if they don't know which regulars to avoid. But at least the old places still sell beer for a buck, Mr. Jackson says.

        He and I met in the family half of the new club. Pit Stop Bar and Grille is a brightly lit restaurant serving burgers, fries and the like.

        The racing theme is everywhere. There's a cardboard cutout of Dale Earnhardt Jr., and bouquets of fake flowers are embellished with tiny plastic cars. The tablecloths are black and white, like the checkered flags waved at the track.

        At 7 p.m., the only diners are Mr. Jackson and a family of three. Through the walls, we can hear applause and loud music, but the strip club is accessible only through an outside door at the back of the building.

        Mr. Jackson, 38, is a former truck driver with a temporary job at the Kentucky Speedway.

        He predicts truckers will love the strip club, strategically located just off Interstate 71.

        “These girls are helping the guys out,” Mr. Jackson says. “They're lonely. They're getting a good show, a cold beer. This is heaven for a truck driver.”

        Club management promises the place will be safe and clean. I can't argue with the clean part, and I didn't see anyone getting sloppy drunk, stoned or assaulted.

        Still, this can't be good for Sparta.

        Brittle, bored-looking women who prance topless on the laps of desperate, pathetic men are not classy. It's insulting for the owners to pretend otherwise. This sort of sleaze only invites trouble to a town.

        Making my escape at 8:30 p.m., I glance into the family side of the business.

        What a surprise. This time, there are no diners at all.

        Karen Samples is Kentucky columnist for the Enquirer. Her column appears Thursdays and Sundays. She can be reached at 578-5584, or by e-mail at