After seeing two of his top clubs — Solid Gold and Pure Platinum — fall victim to a restrictive city ordinance, legendary club owner Michael J. Peter has now opened his “new” Solid Gold, a massive 22,000-square-foot venue in Ft. Lauderdale. MJP reveals what it’s like for a 70-year-old owner to re-enter the game in the nation’s most competitive adult club market, and why this new club opening is his last.
One of the most over-used expressions in the English language is, “(So-and-so) requires no introduction.” Well, in this case it’s true. For anyone who has worked in the adult nightclub industry for any length of time, Michael J. Peter, aka “MJP,” should require no introduction. He is known throughout the industry, and rightfully so, as the forefather of the modern gentlemen’s club. You’ve heard it all before — he modernized the old biker-bar, strip-club format of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s and completely revamped, revitalized and repackaged the entire adult nightclub concept, bringing a new, upscale identity to the mainstream (inspiring a song called “Girls, Girls, Girls” by Motley Crue and many other club operators throughout the decades). His “brands” are well known across the country — Pure Platinum, Thee Dollhouse, Solid Gold.
“I gave a meeting each of my three nights of our June grand opening to my crowd, and I talked a little bit about our 44 years in the business and why we’ve always been the best. I told them and my staff, we have one goal: We’re here to win the award for ED’s Gentlemen’s Club of the Year. We’re bringing home the trophy and that’s everyone’s assignment.”
While MJP has been a major presence in the industry as an owner, operator and/or licensor for over 40 years, he hasn’t opened a “new” club in a very long time. Until now, that is. Say hello to his newest creation, the brand new Solid Gold in Ft. Lauderdale. It had its soft opening in June, a three-day affair that left the 70-year-old raspy voiced and worn out.
“I’m exhausted — I’m not opening any more clubs,” says Peter from his home in South Florida. “I’m going to franchise licensee openings, but personally this is the last one that I’m building on my own.”
If he’s going out as an owner, he is damn sure going out in style. The brand new Solid Gold is a massive, 22,000-square-foot, multi-level location in what is arguably the most competitive (and lucrative) club market in the country. The club reflects a refurbishment of an existing venue (it had previously opened as Lion’s Den and NY Strip), and he still isn’t done. Another couple million will be going into a major rooftop design, which will include pools, jacuzzis and more, and is set to be unveiled in early 2018.
For those wondering why he opened a “new” Solid Gold or why he closed the previously successful Solid Gold and Pure Platinum clubs in nearby Oakland Park, FL, MJP explains the scenario in detail (long story short, the city had new laws that went into effect, preventing the clubs from providing the type of club format that would keep the them profitable). He also tells ED why he’s so excited about this new venue, and what it’s like for the king of old-school club owners to open a brand new venue in 2017.
ED: Before we talk about the “new” Solid Gold, what is the history with the “old” Solid Gold club and brand?
MJP: Most people think that we started doing the gentlemen’s club concept around the time we opened the first Solid Gold. The first Solid Gold was in the early ‘80s (1982 or 1983) in Ft. Lauderdale, but we had been opening clubs since 1973 and in fact opened the first “gentlemen’s club” in early 1975. That was the original Dollhouse in Orlando. Following that club came Playhouse, Sugars, Flashdancers, Baby Dolls, Madame Bordellos and others in Central Florida.
In 1980, we came down to Ft. Lauderdale because I was into boating and bought a boat. Around 1981, I opened the fourth Dollhouse (we’d already opened ones in Cocoa Beach and Melbourne). And then in ‘82 or ‘83 we opened the original Solid Gold. That is not the Solid Gold that just closed. That’s when I brought Dennis DeGori, who was running Flashdancers as a young kid in Orlando, down to work side by side with me because I was working too many hours. We then opened a series more of Solid Golds. We opened two Solid Golds in Miami (one of them is still there now as Dean’s Gold).
ED: When did you open the Solid Gold in Oakland Park, and when/why did that very successful club have to change operation (and eventually close)?
MJP: We’ll fast forward 30 clubs and my fight with the government, which took about four years and a year in prison and two years in probation before I won a 9-0, unanimous decision in the Florida Supreme Court, which allowed me to go back into business. In the interim, I had to sell everything. I kept all my franchisees, but I sold all the nightclubs that I owned.
Having said that, I had a licensee tenant at Pure Platinum and he wasn’t paying me. Next door was a huge, twin theatre converted to a nightclub, and that’s where I opened the second Solid Gold. We opened that Solid Gold around 2003, or 2004, and that club became even more famous than the “original” Solid Gold.
The day I opened Solid Gold, the city walks in an hour before opening and they pull my CO (my right of occupancy) saying it’s a fire hazard. We knew they would try that. Everything was portable. All of the curtains, all of the carpet, everything I had was fire retardant. They actually shot themselves in the foot. We got an emergency injunction to open; it took us almost three months to get in front of the judge. The judge ruled that if he had to rule on this, we would break open the City of Oakland Park’s treasury, so he suggested we go negotiate. We negotiated with the city for two years. The deal with the city was that we had 11 years to run wide open and then we would have to cease and desist. We signed that deal, but we never signed the deal for Pure Platinum which had a grandfather clause.
ED: So, once you knew you weren’t going to be able to operate Solid Gold in Oakland Park the way you wanted to, what was your next step in terms of acquiring the venue that would become your “new” Solid Gold?
MJP: We put up a fight on Solid Gold and we actually won the case, that it’s a legal, adult location. But we had to operate under the new ordinance, which they had adopted from the Ft. Lauderdale ordinance, which is the one that’s killing everyone in the country, where the girls can’t get tipped, where you can’t have alcohol, etc. So we abandoned the Ft. Lauderdale location, and we went to war at the Pure Platinum location where we were in the right.
But I was still nervous. So at that time, I negotiated with Charlie Veigle to buy a property that he had built in 2008. This was about three years ago. He had built in 2008, a state-of-the-art, 22,000-square-foot nightclub and he opened it in 2008 as the Lion’s Den.
ED: How much work, and how long did it take, to convert the existing location to the Solid Gold that is now opening? How much money (roughly) did you put into this new club?
MJP: The previous owners at this location (Lion’s Den, NY Strip) were up against all odds, and dealing with a difficult road construction situation that took several years to be reconciled. I didn’t ever anticipate losing Pure Platinum, but if I was going to, I wanted a place to move everybody that I had already consolidated from Solid Gold into Pure Platinum. As it turned out, I started negotiating the deal three years ago — I didn’t want to lease it. I bought the property. We have $6-7 million with another million to go for our super grand opening that will happen in early 2018.
Now, the road has been completed, the four buildings that blocked its visibility have been taken down, the new exchange is open and I have a super location with visibility right on I-95, in the bull’s-eye of the Ft. Lauderdale market with three competitors down the street that you have to pass me to get to. It’s perfect. I had intended to be open six months ago, and be competing with Pure Platinum — my own club — but when we found out we lost with Pure Platinum, I held off the opening and then I moved all of my staff to the new club and instead of calling it Dollhouse, which had closed (our lease had run out in ‘95), we’re going to do it like Solid Gold. My Dollhouses were more blue-collar oriented; the Solid Golds were premium, so we went back in and added another million dollars in renovations— all kinds of additions to the concept.
ED: How different is the club that Solid Gold is now from the previous clubs, in terms of redesign and the money you put in?
MJP: This one here, I’m at about $7 million and I have 14,000 more square feet to finish on the rooftop. It’s getting a swimming pool, 14 hot tubs and the world’s biggest outdoor video wall. We’ve got $1 million left to finish that up, so we’ll be at about $8 million. I can tell you that on my third day of being in business, my third day of grand opening, I had a woman come to me who is a famous broker of nightclubs and strip clubs in South Florida with a $14 million offer representing some European folks that fell in love with it and wanted to open here in Florida. So we’re eight (million dollars) in and we just turned down 14 because we have no interest in selling.
ED: Where do you see the industry today and how did that affect what you wanted to do with this club, especially in regards to 21-30 year olds. What was your thought process in 2017 to stand out in a competitive market?
MJP: We’ve done some interesting things here. Some of them are original, and some of them are not original, but they’ve never been done in this market before. Some of them I’ll take credit for and some of them I have lifted.
The idea was to build something so over the top with amenities nobody else offers in the marketplace. My dear friend and wonderful guy Dennis DeGori, who deserves a lot of the credit for the early development of my company — he opened probably 15 of my clubs for me before he went out on his own — has taken the “gentlemen’s club” concept to the ultimate level. With E11EVEN in Miami, he created what I will call the number-one club — I’m not calling it a gentlemen’s club, I’m not calling it a nightclub — the number-one entertainment venue on the planet.
For this new Solid Gold, my whole concept was to always make the club a gentlemen’s club — it’s why we called it a gentlemen’s club as opposed to a strip club — to make it nicer and nicer so that it attracted a greater slice of the demographic. I’m not even going to suggest that we’re an E11EVEN, because we’re much more of a gentlemen’s club than the full-on concept he’s done with the nightclub. But for our market, what we’ve tried to do is create more of a total nightclub experience and here’s what we did.
First of all, we have a private parking lot and a private entrance for our members. You can come in with your electronic fob and you open the gate and you drive into your own private parking area where no valet ever gets in your car and takes it for a spin around the block, where any personal items that you have, whether it’s your legal weapon or your legal prescription drugs, are safe.
Then you come in through your own private entrance, through a rather elaborate entry and your own fob that opens your parking gate and puts your car behind a nine-foot beautiful, fenced-in area that no one can get into. Once you come in, you have your own bar. Everything is behind glass looking over the nightclub. You never have to go out into the public.
You also have your own VIP bar there and you have something new; I call them dining suites. I have a five-star steakhouse, which we’ve had in both Solid Gold and Pure Platinum, that has a fantastic reputation and is very popular. With our dining suites, you have a dining room and a living room and you can close the curtains off in your living room. If one or two of the guys that you’re dining with want to go into the living room, they can close the curtains and be alone with the gals. So that’s members only. We also have three private jacuzzi suites.
Members only also have their own private elevator. To get to their private elevator, they actually go through a dressing room. We have a main dressing room, and then I have a dressing room that’s done up like a set for a movie and it’s 16 lockers where the prettiest girls will change, each with their own private glass vanity with five chandeliers through the room. The VIP members can actually walk through the dressing room; there’s chairs to sit down and mingle with the gals while they’re changing and getting ready to go back out on the floor.
At the other end of that dressing room, which is their pathway to their private elevator, they have what is known as the Fifty Shades of Red Dungeon, which is a huge, beautiful, detailed, suite with a four-poster bed and glass displays of every imaginable BDSM item that looks out over the whole nightclub, and/or they can go to their private elevator which takes them up to the second-floor bubble room.
ED: We’ve already heard a lot of comments about this “bubble room.” Who designed it and what was the inspiration?
MJP: We hired a club designer named Mark Lowe, who is one of the most extremely brilliant talents I’ve ever seen. He does nightclubs; he’s never done a strip club before. I’m telling you, I was flabbergasted … every night of the grand opening it was wall-to-wall with the millennial generation. That room, which is about 3,500-square-feet — bigger than some folks’ nightclubs out there — opens out onto my rooftop which is our next phase, which will be opening in December or January, which will have a swimming pool, 14 hot tubs and a huge 40-stool bar. It’s very much like the Palms outdoor party area in Las Vegas or the famous Rehab pool at the Hard Rock Casino in Vegas. We’re six months late, with a $1 million over budget and $1 million to go.
For that younger generation, we’ve done something most people can’t do because we have two huge, walk-in coolers behind each of the bars on opposite sides of that bubble room, so we were able to bring in craft beers, which are so popular. I have 10 craft beers on tap. [The] younger generation loves those. They love the ambiance of a room that is very Miami Vice chic.
ED: As a legendary, old-school club owner and ED Hall of Famer, what are the challenges you face when “connecting” with millennial and centennial generations?
MJP: The difficult thing, and probably as difficult for me as anyone because I’m as old-
school as they come and I’ve been doing this for 44 years, my guiding principle musically was always one of my secrets with my playlists. You see the DJs putting out the new music and all that, I never played it. My theory is that the guy who is spending money in there isn’t typically the 21-year-old, he’s the 45-to-55 year old who is at the peak of his career. He’s at the peak of his libido. He’s horny as hell, tired of marriage, not getting any at home anymore. He’s the most vulnerable and he’s got the most money in his pockets.
I’m not trying to introduce new music to him. What I want him to do is to enjoy himself in his memories of when he was younger, and so I have historically required that we play music catering to the middle-aged customer that he knows every word to and he can tap his foot. If they’re not tapping their foot or their finger and mouthing the words to a hit song from his youth, then we’re not playing the right music. I want him to go back subliminally to his high school senior year, to his college days, to those songs that make him warm and fuzzy.
But with this house music … the point that I’m getting at is I was sitting in my own club last night thinking, they’re playing this music, the girls know it, and I guess these middle-aged guys know it. But I don’t know this music. It’s more like nightclub house music. I fought it — but last night I decided not to fight it anymore because we are attracting a younger clientele with the advent of putting in the craft beers and this club upstairs.
I announced at my grand opening in talking about our history that I was turning the company over to Brent Clark, my right-hand guy, because my dear friend who steered the company the last 25 years, Laird Boles, is retiring. Brent’s really the one who’s designed and built this (new Solid Gold). He’s a lot more tuned in than I am. I gave him my scarf and said, “This is your baby now. I’ll let you veto me on things like music.”
ED: You mention Brent Clark as the person most responsible for running this new Solid Gold. Do you also have ownership partners?
MJP: I have one young team, a husband and wife out of Charleston, South Carolina, named Jarrod Grzesiak and his wife Heather, who came to me to do a club in Charleston, South Carolina previously. But we balked on it. I said, “You want to do this thing with me in Ft. Lauderdale?” They came on board and they’ve been so patient and so loyal.
And then we have a third partner who is famous in his own right. His name is Yank Barry. In another lifetime he fronted a band, The Kingsmen, that did a song called “Louie, Louie.” But that’s not what he’s most famous for. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times for his work with the late Muhammad Ali; the two gave one billion meals to victims of national disasters around the world. Yank also received the French Medal of Honor for helping to secure the release of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor imprisoned and sentenced to death by the Libyan regime under Gaddafi.
He also has a company called VitaPro with a well-known product called Pro Pectin [exhibiting at 25th Gentlemen’s Club EXPO]. We even promoted and produced a Journey concert together in the Philippines. He’s been my friend for 35 years.
ED: Where do you see this new Solid Gold a year from now, especially as it seeks to gain a foothold this very competitive club market?
MJP: I gave a meeting each of my three nights of our June grand opening to my crowd before I brought the girls out, and I talked a little bit about our 44 years in the business and how we started it, why we’ve always been the best. I told them and my staff, we have one goal: We’re here to win the award for ED’s Gentlemen’s Club of the Year. We’re bringing home the trophy and that’s everyone’s assignment.
For more information, visit solidgoldftl.com.