US invades Britain in table-dancing wars

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The Independent Online

Spearmint Rhino, an American chain of table-dancing clubs, launches an attack on Europe this month when it opens the first of 20 venues planned for Britain.

Spearmint Rhino, an American chain of table-dancing clubs, launches an attack on Europe this month when it opens the first of 20 venues planned for Britain.

The group's founder, John Gray, who set up Spearmint Rhino and its sister business, the Gentlemen's Clubs chain, at the age of 18, believes the British market is ripe for transformation because of the small number of clubs currently in existence and, he claims, their lack of sophistication.

"All you have is Stringfellows, but Stringfellows only gets it about 70 per cent right," Mr Gray said last week. "What we want to do in the UK is bring in many of the aspects of the business that don't exist outside the United States."

The US clubs also feature women taking off their clothes, but, says Mr Gray, there is greater investment in theatrical entertainment, with a highly choreographed central floor show - virtually unheard of in Britain.

The clubs are designed to "look better than five-star hotels and restaurants" and provide high-class catering with extensive wine lists.

Mr Gray claimed that no other entertainment business, with the exception of the gaming tables, is capable of grossing as much money. He added that the effect of the investment was to produce returns far in excess of all the clubs Spearmint Rhino had examined in the UK, apart from Stringfellows.

Most British clubs charge a £10 or £20 entrance fee, with topless dancers performing at individual tables for an extra fee of around £10 per song.

Mr Gray said his clubs in the US grossed between $100,000 and $250,000 a week. In London, he expected a gross turnover of around $250,000 a week.

He claimed that only Peter Stringfellow was making that kind of money in the UK. For most clubs, he said, this figure would represent a month's income.

"The gentlemen clientele of the UK are very keen on this business. But everything we have experienced in the UK is like being in a time machine. It's where US operators were 15 or 20 years ago."

Mr Gray has 31 clubs in the States, employing 3,500 people, and with $60m gross sales. He owns further clubs in Russia and Mexico.

The first club operating under the Spearmint Rhino name has already opened in Birmingham but is undergoing renovation to bring it up to standard. Another is due to open in the former Embassy Rooms in Tottenham Court Road, London, later this month, to be followed by The Golden Eye near Heathrow.

However, Peter Stringfellow said that, on the evidence of the Birmingham club, Mr Gray would have to do better to impress.

"I started [table-dancing clubs] in Britain four years ago and, in my opinion, it has taken the full four years to develop, for people to understand what it's all about," he said.

"This man is doing a lot of talking. When people come into London, they always target Stringfellows. I would be more impressed to hear what he's got to say in a year's time."

Mr Stringfellow said Mr Gray was right to think that Britain was a growing market, but he was not convinced the American understood how the British clubs worked.

"I operated in America for eight years, and [the two markets are] totally different universes," he said. "What we have here is a much more sophisticated and organised industry by virtue of both our licensing system and the involvement of the police, which doesn't happen in the States."