Philly strip club owner plans to expand, hoping for more nights like Bad Bunny’s Made in America visit

Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio, the Puerto Rican musician who plays the role of Bad Bunny and landed this year best-selling album and Spotify streamstopped by the Sin City Cabaret on his way to the Made in America show in Philadelphia on September 4. That night, he offered his entourage $50,000 to spend on dancers, dinners, and booze at the Passyunk Avenue strip club.

It was a publicity stunt for the club’s founder, Konstantine “Gus” Drakopoulos, who was quick to draw pro athletes and singers from the former family club Sin City in the Bronx. This club, which was in a gentrifying neighborhood, closed in 2018 after the state discovered it “did not exercise adequate oversight” and that its name, not just that of his partners, should have appeared on his liquor licence. Pennsylvania gave it a license the following year, and Sin City Cabaret opened in 2020, just in time for pandemic restrictions.

Philadelphia “has been behind a lot of other cities” when it comes to the state of its locally owned strip clubs, and that’s created openings for fancier newcomers “à la New York”, says Kali Morgan, owner of Passional Boutique and Sexploratorium on South Street, which sells clothing and accessories to club performers. Their pay was better before the 1990s, she said, when clubs moved from paying by the hour to charging dancers a fee and treating them like contractors.

Drakapoulos sat down with The Inquirer to talk about his club. His answers are edited for clarity and conciseness.

With Sin City in the Bronx, we had a great club, nice people, but the city made it difficult for us. I felt it was the politicians and developers gentrifying the South Bronx, they wanted us out. It’s like a new city now.

I still have a club in New York, the Show Palace in Queens. The dancers are fully nude and it’s alcohol-free, so you can get in at 18.

The club we had in the Bronx, a lot of people from the music industry used to come there, it was their meeting place, and now they come here when there’s a concert in Philadelphia.

People used to go to a Hispanic club, or an African American club, or a white boys club. In our first club, we created a place where you get everything, and that’s what we’re doing here. A diverse outlook is the recipe for our success. I thought to myself, why take care of some people when you can take care of everyone?

About 32% of our clients here are women. Bachelor parties, or with their friends or husbands, or in groups. When I got into the business, there was this unwritten rule: No women were allowed into clubs unless accompanied by a male companion. So I started noticing these girls queuing up asking the bouncer if he could impersonate their date. I thought about it and I started, on Thursday nights, what we called Stripper Idol, like american idol. Ladies before midnight get a free drink. Now women come here, like men.

There was a club here, the Vanity Grand. We bought it with cash. We put a wrecking ball in there. Construction was 90% complete when the pandemic hit, and we had to shut down until August.

We opened in September [2020] with masks, sneeze guards and a promise that crowds would not exceed 50% capacity [which totals 1,500 people]. It’s good when you’re a restaurant and you can deliver, but it’s horrible when you have a club that relies on the human touch, the momentum, the energy. And they closed everyone from December to February [2021] after the spike in COVID cases.

So in 2021, we did a soft reopening by word of mouth. They lifted the restrictions in June. Normally you would open with a lot of noise, publicity, radio, filler because people feed off people. But we kept things calm.

We fill up on weekends. Weeknights maybe 40% capacity. We will start opening for lunch this fall. We are discussing with the health department our plans for a cigar lounge. We are even better known in New York than in Philadelphia.

We were very lucky to find people to work for us. We have 50 people working here [on a busy night]300 or 400 on the list altogether.

You know, dancers are independent contractors – they come when they want, wear what they want, dance with whoever they want. Our dancers earn from around $400 per night to over $2,000. [They pay the club up to $100 a shift.] I tell them it’s not the real shot; it’s a stepping stone – do it for the next few years to earn money and get out. You don’t want to make a career out of it.

We also outsource security. Then the bottle servers, they get hourly wages, tips and bonuses. They can earn $200 a night, mostly from tips. I’ve seen these girls win over $1,000.

We have a white collar clientele. They will come here to celebrate a birthday, a bachelor or bachelorette party, the conclusion of a deal or to flirt with a client. Auto dealerships on Essington Avenue, vendors come here to have a few beers and relax before heading home.

My parents had the club in New York. But I was a stockbroker on the New York Stock Exchange, I started that when I was 19. It was like that movie, The wolf of Wall Street. I was recruited young, hungry and with a work ethic.

They trained me to be that bull, who went and sold a stock. [Drakopoulos was found guilty of conspiracy to commit securities fraud in an insider-trading case in 2003 and was sentenced to probation. New York authorities in 2008 agreed to waive a ban that prohibits people with convictions from operating a bar.]

I met a client in Texas – he was a fellow Greek; he knew my dad – we ended up becoming best friends. He owned strip clubs. And he took me to clubs owned by other Greeks. I’ve come to find these Greeks at Texas’ own strip clubs, like Greek restaurants in New Jersey and New York. [The customer, Lampros Moumouris, was a partner in the Bronx club and became a partner in the Philadelphia club; he died in 2021. Frank Antonio Aleman, a photographer and a senior manager at Sin City in the Bronx, is also a partner in the Philadelphia club.]

My wife is Greek too. His family is from Crete, mine is from Kalamata, where the olives grow. We met in the old quarter. She is my balance. She is a speech therapist and a very conservative person.

Writer Ryan Briggs contributed to this report.

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