John Specht: The man who spends all day in strip clubs

Spearmint Rhino is one of Britain's most controversial businesses. But its burly boss tells Simon English he can't see what the fuss is all about

Chris Rock does this stand-up routine about being in a strip club in the middle of the afternoon. The gist is: if you are, you need to take a look at your life and have a severe word with yourself. Today that man is me, and I'm wondering how best to signal to the women who are all over the place that I am, while respectful of their work, not looking to spend money. What I come up with is this: shuffle feet. Look at floor.

Spearmint Rhino is, it claims, "the world leader in upscale adult entertainment". The venue on Tottenham Court Road is one of 20 in the UK, Europe, Canada and the US.

John Specht is the boss of the UK arm, a New Yorker who joined the military, retired with a back injury and started working as a bouncer on the door of the Spearmint in Los Angeles. Ten years later, he's vice-president of the company. He has moved from club to club – New Mexico, Texas, the Czech Republic – earning a reputation as a lap-dancing troubleshooter. He arrives at struggling venues and turns them around.

The London club is glitzy and inevitably a little cheesy looking, but then it is two in the afternoon so I'm in no position to be judgemental.

He calls me back into his office, deep in the guts of the building. The women wave and pretend not to be bored.

The first thing you notice about John Specht is that he has massive arms. Not in a this-guy-does-push-ups way. More like, "How does he get through doors? He must have to turn sideways".

"I like to work out," he says. No kidding. According to his PR puffery, Mr Specht is a "phenomenal guy who can turn everything he touches into gold".

I dunno about the gold bit, but phenomenal might be a stretch. He is actually one of those straightforward all-American guys that you'd need to be deeply uptight not to like.

You know he just wants to crack open a beer and watch the Superbowl (assuming he's not playing, which he looks like he could).

He's finally warming to London, finally getting used to Brits. But he thinks we could all chill out a little. His philosophy is roughly this: some things are complicated. Like a war. That's worth getting upset about. Women dancing provocatively for cash is not. If you don't like it, hey, don't come.

"People have this perception that these girls are trapped or from broken homes or on drugs. It is such bullshit," he says.

So who are they? "They are teachers, lawyers, moms. The lady from the bank. They work here for fun, exercise. To meet people."

Exercise? To meet people? What do they make? "You'd be shocked, Some girls have been here for 10 years," he says. "Some of them make £100,000 a year. That's a heck of a good salary."

It is, but only some of them make that much. Most make much less, considerably so, I'd say.

The economics go roughly like this: The dancers pay a fee to the club to appear. The club makes money from that fee, from drinks, from food, and a slice from credit card transactions on payments to the dancers.

A single dance is £20. One hour in the VIP lounge is £100.

The way Mr Specht sees it, the dancers – entertainers he prefers – lease space. "They pay rent. We are the vehicle for them to make money," he says.

I ask why it isn't possible to hire them as proper employees; offer them pensions and health care. He cringes at the idea. This is a freelance game, clearly.

A popular entertainer makes £500 on a decent night; when a City type or millionaire from out of town comes in and drops a bundle, she might make £5,000. These nights are rare, increasingly so, Mr Specht concedes. The sluggish economy has affected strip clubs as much as anywhere.

"You gotta push harder, got to earn every pound," he says. "We are not the only strip club in town, but if you have a good product people will come."

His typical customer is over 30, has a few quid, but is not necessarily loaded.

"You don't have to be a billionaire to get in here. For £45 you can get a decent plate of food, a lap-dance and a couple of beers – it's great value for money."

Revenue at the club is up by a third since he arrived, although it hasn't always been profitable.

Mr Specht caused some controversy a while ago by suggesting that stripping was a good way for female undergraduates to pay their way through college. Newspapers pretended to be outraged.

Here's more from Chris Rock: "You know the stripper myth? There's a stripper myth that's being perpetuated throughout society. The myth is, I'm strippin' to pay my tuition. No you're not! There's no strippers in college! There's no clear heels in biology!"

Mr Specht might think this is funny, but he insists Chris Rock isn't right.

Recent research by the Economic and Social Research Council backs him up. It found that 23 per cent of lap-dancers had a degree, and that there was "no evidence or anecdotes of forced labour or trafficking".

Every now and again Mr Specht says something cringeworthy. Don't say that, you think, I'm trying to be on your side. When I ask about those who object to strip clubs, those who see lap-dancing as somewhere on a line that ends in prostitution, he replies: "Who says that? Some lesbian group or something?"

Clunk. Rewind.

He continues: "There are operators who do bad things, but to those worried about it on moral grounds, I say, come and spend an evening with me. I can't control what other clubs do, but the girls' job satisfaction is high. There are so many worse things going on in the world. Why are you bothering with us?"

If you're going to object to strip clubs, he reckons, you'd better have been inside. At least once.

Mr Specht would be a good host. He asks: "Where else in this town can you get a fillet mignon and a bottle of champagne at 3am?"

Suggested Topics
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Business Support - Banking - Halifax - £250 pd

£150 - £250 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - HR - Halifax - £150 - £250...

Geography Teacher

£24000 - £33600 per annum + pre 12 week AWR : Randstad Education Manchester Se...

Marketing Executive

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Charter Selection: A professional services company ...

Project Manager - Bristol South West

£400 - £450 per day: Orgtel: Project Manager (PM), Key Banking Client, Retail ...

Day In a Page

Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor