(Note: This story appears in the May 2021 issue of ED Magazine)
The Penthouse Club Tampa went from a deep clean to a complete overhaul, as new ownership by Kirkendoll Management has led to the merger of the nightclub and cabaret worlds following a massive renovation.
Eddie Suqi’s vision came into focus once the ink dried. When the previous owners of The Penthouse Club Tampa decided to sell the club to New Orleans-based Kirkendoll Management, Suqi knew he had free reign on a full-scale renovation — beyond just a fixer-upper.
“We were ecstatic over the opportunity to really turn this club into our vision,” says Suqi. And that vision included a shift to a more nightclub feel from its original incarnation as a Houlihan’s restaurant. “I’m most proud of the harmonious feel of the two concepts meeting, nightclub and cabaret.”
Suqi says one of Kirkendoll’s main objectives was to change the exterior to be drastically different than before. Another key goal was to change up the interior to dissuade the inevitable comparisons to the former setup.
“I didn’t want patrons to say ‘The old bar used to be here,’” says Suqi.
The Penthouse Club GM and industry veteran, Jon Harmon, says they knew they “had to treat this as a brand-new club and put the old one to rest.” And so far, their efforts have been rewarded. “I’ve been told so many times by a guest of the former club if they had been blindfolded and brought to the club they never would have guessed where they were,” Harmon adds.
“Eddie and Chuck Rolling (COO Kirkendoll Management) had the foresight to design and build an ultra-modern club that facilitates not only a cabaret but also a nightclub and prime steakhouse. Penthouse Club Tampa checks all the boxes.” — Jon Harmon
“I can verify that comment as absolute truth,” says ED Publications’ Associate Publisher Dave Manack who, along with ED’s Kristofer Kay, attended the club’s grand reopening event in November 2020. “Every inch of that club looks completely different from its previous incarnation. The look, the vibe, everything. It’s amazing.”
But the crux of the main change didn’t have to do with new structures, or LED screens or a new VIP area. Rather, it was completely changing the entrance. Now, guests are funneled in through the building’s south corner versus its center.
“By doing so, we drastically changed the interior feel of the building, so instead of entering into the center of the building where you would look left and then right, now you walk in and see the entire nightclub open up in its entirety,” says Suqi. “We consciously addressed that in the design aspect — we didn’t put up any walls up, we left it as a very open nightclub. I personally like stadium-style nightclubs (all the action is in the center pit and then you move outward and upward away from the center).”
When you walk into the club, you’re greeted with the front desk and behind it is the guest services area akin to a traditional cage in Las Vegas. Saunter past and on the right is a two-station bar.
“Our philosophy is that you need to get a drink right when you walk into a bar,” says Suqi. “Most people are looking for that bar right away; it makes you feel comfortable, settles you in and gives you the ability to walk around the club and find your sweet spot where you’re comfortable.”
On the left-hand side opposite the bar is a bone-shaped stage called The Pit, surrounded by eight tables and 20 chairs. The Pit has a 14-foot ceiling and is capped with a diamond- shaped transparent LED screen that provides a Venetian-blind effect — every other line of the LED screen is missing.
“The imagery is sort of distorted and gives us the nightclub feel,” says Suqi.
“We give you all the nightclub feel and for the guy who wants to play with the girls and enjoy VIP rooms and that experience, we still very much have that opportunity and offer that product. We’re able to garner both types of business.” — Eddie Suqi
Moving away from The Pit, on the right-hand side is the club’s formal dining room, which has been shifted away from the main restaurant and be on the cusp of action if desired.
Then you slide past The Pit and you come to a banana- shaped bench, and that’s the bottle-service bench.
“That’s what truly makes us a nightclub, between the lights and the bottle service and nightclub seating,” says Suqi. “What we’re finding on a financial plane is that the bottle service is taking the place of VIP rooms.”
Directly behind the bench is an elevated VIP area with tables, another stage and a bar.
“We’ve designed the room so you move around and it’s a little bit more interactive — that sort of describes the entire feel of the club,” Suqi adds.
Opposite the dining room is a long-curved wall and behind the wall are 10 VIP rooms, three of which are meant for high rollers and are appropriately decked out with furniture, TVs, surround sound and all the amenities of a first-class man cave.
“That’s the aspect where we’re still a traditional gentlemen’s club,” Suqi explains. “We give you all the nightclub feel, but for the guy who wants to play with the girls and enjoy VIP rooms and that experience, we still very much have that opportunity and offer that product. We’re able to garner both types of business.”
COVID was a blessing in disguise
Fortunately for The Penthouse Club Tampa, the club’s remodel coincided with COVID closures, and the city’s reopening protocols aligned perfectly with the establishment’s own reopening timetable. The Penthouse Club Tampa is currently able to operate at 100% capacity and has been entertaining guests since its (soft) grand opening on Halloween.
“For us, (Tampa’s reopening) was a blessing and it was probably a critical factor in the quick start that we had and that we’re experiencing still,” Suqi says.
It’s not only noteworthy that The Penthouse Club Tampa has had a blistering start in the face of a pandemic, but Suqi mentions that it’s the first club in the management group’s portfolio to truly exude a nightclub feel.
“I wouldn’t say any of the other Penthouse clubs had a nightclub feel that we could really measure success off of,” he says, pointing to The Penthouse Club New Orleans as the closest equivalent. “This was sort of our first real move past the New Orleans experience.”
That synergy between nightclub and cabaret atmosphere is culminating in a possible template for future Penthouse Club endeavors.
“Though the Tampa Bay area is known for having so many adult venues,the nightclub industry seemed to be a bit underserved here,” Harmon says. “We created a club that was cool and incorporated many nightclub features to attract that crowd and we have been very successful.
“Eddie and Chuck Rolling (COO Kirkendoll Management) had the foresight to design and build an ultra-modern club that facilitates not only a cabaret,” adds Harmon, “but also a nightclub and prime steakhouse. The Penthouse Club Tampa checks all the boxes.”