The Founders Interview
A conversation with
Michael J. Peter
Founder of Thee Dollhouse, Solid Gold and Pure Platinum
Interview and story by ED Founder Don Waitt
(NOTE: this story appears in the March 2023 issue of ED Magazine.)
You could make a feature-length movie about the life and times of Michael J. Peter.
You could, but there’s a problem.
The problem is you couldn’t make just one movie.
To accurately tell the Michael J. Peter story, you would have to make multiple movies. In the end, you would have more sequels than Sylvester Stallone had with the Rocky movies.
But what a movie (or movies) it would be.
You’ve got sexy ladies. Lots and lots of sexy ladies. And outlaw bikers. And platinum record-selling rock bands. And legal battles all the way to the Florida Supreme Court. And nightclubs around the globe. And prison escapes. And erotic video shoots in far-away locations. And female boxing and oil wrestling. And shootouts and alleged mob ties. And national publicity, from Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous to The Wall Street Journal to Playboy to Larry King. And Rolls Royces and Ferraris and Rolexes and a never-ending river of expensive champagne. And luxury yachts. And the birth of the modern-day, high-end, white-collar gentlemen’s club.
And best of all, you’ve got a charismatic, fast-talking leading man named Michael J. Peter. Think Tom Cruise for the part, or maybe Leonardo DiCaprio when he played Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street.
Because everybody loves a movie about a famous person.
And famous people are usually famous for one of two reasons.
For their accomplishments.
Or for their notoriety.
Michael J. Peter is known far and wide for both.
And he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Peter is the founder of three of the biggest names in the history of the adult nightclub industry: Thee Dollhouse, Solid Gold and Pure Platinum. More importantly, he is considered by many to be the pioneer who took titty bars from the seedy parts of town and turned them into respectable gentlemen’s clubs in the nicer parts of town.
For four decades starting in the 1970s, he opened and/or franchised over a hundred clubs across the country, mainly in Florida, but also as far away as London and Australia. For a snapshot of the MJP world back then, we pulled a copy of the 1995 EXOTIC DANCER Directory and found display advertisements for:
— Thee Dollhouse in Orlando; Pompano Beach; Tampa; Chicago; Philadelphia; Hilton Head and Myrtle Beach SC; and Fayetteville and Raleigh, NC.
— Pure Platinum in Hollywood; Fort Lauderdale; Orlando; New York City; Honolulu; Cancun, Acapulco and Mexico City; and Melbourne, Australia.
— Solid Gold in Fort Lauderdale; North Miami Beach; and London.
— Knockouts Sports Saloon in Fort Lauderdale; Raleigh; and Providence, RI.
— LaBare in North Miami Beach and Sunrise, FL.
— And finally, Flashdancer in Orlando; Goldfinger in Sunrise; and Fantasy Ranch in Arlington, TX.
And that was just in 1995.
Over the years some of those clubs would change hands and get new names, while new Pure Platinums, Solid Golds and Thee Dollhouses would open. Peter’s meteoric rise and flashy lifestyle would eventually catch the attention of politicians, authorities and competitors who wanted to knock him off his perch. He spent years in both civil and criminal courts and even a year in prison on a wire fraud charge which was later deemed to not be a crime by the Florida high court.
Today, Peter still licenses Thee Dollhouse and Solid Gold names to a dozen operators, and he owns Thee Dollhouse in Raleigh and Aladdin’s in Laredo, TX. Technically, at age 75 he is retired, but after spending two days with him, if that’s retirement, I can’t imagine how hectic his world must have been when he was in full swing.
We meet at Peter’s beautiful, two-story home on a wide saltwater canal in Fort Lauderdale. The property is immaculately landscaped, with the centerpiece a majestic, three-story tall banyan tree. The lot has 300 feet of waterfront, ample room for his 94-foot Monte Fino Motor Yacht. The yacht is currently in the Bahamas where Michael and his wife go frequently when they stay at their Fort Lauderdale house during the fall and winter months. The other six months of the year they spend at their 11-bedroom lake house on six acres in Aurora, New York.
The Fort Lauderdale property has a detached multi-car garage and we get into Peter’s white Rolls Royce for a drive to an office that he still keeps near Solid Gold in Pompano Beach. He opened that club a few years ago and then sold it, saying “I’m exhausted. I’m not opening any more clubs. I’m going to franchise licensee openings, but this is the last one that I’m building on my own.”
At the office, which is jam-packed with artwork and memorabilia recapping more than five decades in the adult nightclub business, we start the interview. Peter, dressed casually in a black tracksuit, points to news clippings, magazine articles, posters and photos on his office walls to illustrate the stories he tells.
And then he starts talking.
And one thing I can promise you, Michael J. Peter can talk.
WAITT: You are one of the few club operators known just by their initials: MJP.
PETER: I was MJ the first 20 years of my career. I had to add the “P” when those other two guys came along, Michael Jackson and Michael Jordan. I had to go by MJP.
WAITT: What does the “J” stand for?
WAITT: Tell us about your family growing up. Did you have siblings? What were your interests?
PETER: I grew up in Ithaca, New York. It was a small college town. I was a wrestler in high school. I couldn’t play football because the guy who played behind me came back the next year four inches taller and a hundred pounds heavier than me. My father was an educator. He was one of 10 children, an immigrant, grew up on a farm. He was the only one who got his degree (George Peter became a tenured professor at prestigious Cornell University). All five of my uncles became millionaires. They all worked with their sons. It was Peter & Son Ford and Peter & Son TV and Peter & Son Appliances. So I had five cousins my age who all were going to inherit their father’s business.
Peter knew his father would not be handing him down a business, so he started hustling. He had a full wrestling scholarship to college, but he barely went to class. Instead he worked a number of odd jobs, from lawn service to building swimming pools.
PETER: Pretty soon I’m overseeing eight pool crews, and I’m making bank because I don’t go to class. All you have to do is take a midterm and a final. I buy my books the week before, get somebody’s notes, cram, then go in to take the tests. On more than one occasion, a professor would say, “Well, Mr. Peter, it’s so nice to meet you.” Right. But I had $25,000 in the bank.
WAITT: What made you work so hard? Most college students are more interested in partying.
PETER: Our families would all get together and my uncles would show up in their new Cadillacs. The six brothers would play Pinochle and they would fight to not have my father as their partner because he wasn’t a good player. They would berate him and it would humiliate me. It made me angry. I said to myself, “Goddammit, I need to show these son of a bitches. I’m going to be more successful than all of them and save my father’s dignity. I’m going to do something special and make a lot of money and they’re all going to acknowledge that George Peter had a special kid.”
Looking back, I realize that’s where my drive came from.
“I’m going to be more successful than
all of them and save my father’s dignity.” – MJP
Interestingly enough, as life went on and they all matured, my father became the go-to-guy for all of them. They got divorces, they got caught with illegitimate children, they’re banging on our door at two o’clock in the morning. My father was the stability. He was the professor. He became the head of the family.
WAITT: What happened with your cousins?
PETER: They all came to work for me. None of them took over their father’s business
WAITT: Do you have brothers and sisters?
PETER: I have three younger sisters and I like to say I started in show business with them. We had a big picture window at our house and at night when the cars went by the headlights would shine through the window like theater spotlights. I would lip sync to Ricky Nelson songs and my sisters were my back-up dancers. We would practice and we had complete routines.
But building pools wasn’t enough for Peter.
PETER: I’m making crazy money. I barely go to school. I’m working 70 hours a week building pools. I move into the fraternity and I become the social director. And this is where the entertainment thing started. I took the attic. There was an outside fire escape leading up to it. I put a whole nightclub up there. I got a full bar. I got a disco ball. I’m throwing the best parties on campus. It was like the movie Animal House. The school newspaper ranked us as the Number Two nightclub in the city of Syracuse.
Peter graduated from Syracuse, married a girl he had met in the Bahamas, and then went to graduate school at his father’s university, Cornell, enrolling in their renowned School of Hotel and Restaurant Management Program. He saw a lackluster bar and restaurant in town and made his first move into bar management.
PETER: I made it a class project for my graduate course. I said to the owner, a German guy, “I can pack your house, won’t cost you a thing.” I changed up the menu. I did a Monday mini-skirt night. A Tuesday keg night. A Wednesday night drinking competition between the fraternities. I had a line out the door, seven nights a week. Women are protesting out front because of the mini-skirt contest. This was 1971. I got my professor to be a contest judge. Starting to sound familiar?
Peter looks at a display advertisement for that bar/restaurant on the wall in his office and reads some of the menu items: “LaGuardia Chili Burger. Empire Steak Burger. New York Yankee Burger. That was some clever shit,” he says. “Especially the Cheeseburger Rockefeller.” After graduating from Cornell, Peter and his new bride headed to Florida. Peter had fallen in love with the state on a spring break trip during college.
PETER: All I wanted was to go to Florida. That was the only option. I needed a club, but not a great club. If you’re already a big success, all you can do is maintain it. I wanted a loser. And I found it in Orlando, which was a cowtown back then. Disney had not come in yet. It was called Dubsdread Country Club. It hadn’t made a dime in years. It was down from 270 members to 85 members. I negotiated a deal for $15,000 base against 10 percent of any increase I could deliver. I made renting the golf carts mandatory. I had a businessman’s lunch and I promised you could be in and out in under 60 minutes. I had six smoking hot girls modeling bikinis during the lunches.
I had ads in the newspaper and on television, always with these hot chicks. I built a stage, put two golf carts on each side and called it the Sand Trap Nightclub. I booked ‘50s and ‘60s acts like Gary U.S. Bonds and Joey Dee & the Starliters. Orlando had never seen live acts. In seven months I had 700 members. And by the way, we’re at a million dollars in profits, so I have a hundred thousand dollar bonus coming.
Peter took his money from the country club gig and opened his first nightclub in Orlando, a disco called MJ’s New York Times. Clubs did not have cover charges then so he came up with $10 membership cards good for a month.
He went to the top boutiques in town and had them put a mannequin in his club with their latest fashions. He hired two live models to pose as mannequins and move around so customers were not sure who was real and who was not. It is the first of many uniquely creative promotion ideas Peter will mention. When I ask him where those ideas come from, he just shrugs.
PETER: I just have a vision. I can see down the road. I used to wonder if I was abnormal. I could be driving and singing the words to the song on the radio and talking to somebody on the phone and thinking about an upcoming meeting. I would be calculating five different subjects simultaneously.
WAITT: You once did a huge promotional campaign saying Thee Dollhouse was the Number One tourist attraction in Florida, even beating out Disney World. So embellishing with your marketing and promotion is also okay?
Peter loves controversy because controversy means publicity and publicity means more customers. When he did the logo for MJ’s New York Times, he naturally copied the exact same font The New York Times newspaper has used for two centuries. Peter’s disco was such a hit that an entrepreneur from Dallas called The New York Times and asked how he could get a disco franchise from them. Shortly thereafter, Peter received a one-inch thick lawsuit from The Times. He kept the case going for as long as possible, milking it for all the David and Goliath publicity he could get, before settling and changing the name ever so slightly. He left the “s” off the end of Times.
The disco might have been a success, but his marriage wasn’t. Peter had a wandering eye and after one particular weekend trip away from his wife he owned up to the reality.
PETER: I walked into the house with my head down and said, “Honey, I don’t think I’m supposed to be married.” And she said, “I don’t think you are either.” We’re still best friends. We didn’t get divorced for years. Being married just didn’t make sense. I didn’t get married again after my first marriage because I didn’t feel worthy to be a husband again. My biggest regret in life is not having had children. When I got married the second time, I was 60.
The disco was so successful Peter opened a second MJ’s New York Time in Memphis. The club would close at 2 am and Elvis Presley and his posse would come in and party until sunup and then leave the keys and a pile of cash on the bar. Longtime friend Larry Church was running the Memphis disco while Peter was running the Orlando disco.
PETER: While I’m at the disco, this great big guy, six foot three, 280 pounds, comes in. He owns a biker bar called the Red Lion on Orange Blossom Trail, but it’s controlled by the Outlaws motorcycle gang. They controlled every bar on that side of town. And the Warlocks, their rivals, controlled the adult clubs on the other side of town. And they were at war, which only complicated things. All the girls that worked there were Outlaws old ladies. Orange Blossom Trail was nasty then. It had 22 massage parlors on it. The guy wants to sell me his place. What am I going to do with a biker bar? He keeps lowering the price. He gets down to $35,000. Well, the equipment in it is worth $35,000. And I’m thinking, maybe I can open it as an after-hours club.
One day I am in Winter Park and I drive by the original Booby Trap. It was a juke joint. That’s what I called a stripclub in those days. The club had two domes with a little connector between them where the draft beer was. The domes had a circle of bench seating and a center stage. Seated 40 people tops. But it’s two in the afternoon and there isn’t a parking spot available. I think, what the hell is this? I’ve never been in a stripclub in my life, but that guy wants me to buy his strip joint on Orange Blossom Trail, so I park and go into the Booby Trap to check it out. It’s pitch dark. Some girl who’s barefoot and missing two teeth grabs me by the arm. She marches me in and plops me down on the bench. My eyes start to adjust and I look around and I see these guys with coats and ties on. They’re all skipping out from their offices. The place is full. The waitress comes up and says, “Do you want to buy the lady a drink?” And I’m thinking, what lady?
I got up and I left. And I thought, if anybody ever applied the concept of five-star hotel and country club hospitality and management that I was taught at Cornell University to the stripclub industry, they would make a billion dollars. How many billions of dollars do you think our industry is worth now? So that’s where it started. I went back and I told the biker guy, I’ll take the bar.
Not only was the price right. But Peter realized that stripclubs did not suffer from the main problem facing singles bars—having to reinvent your club every few years.
PETER: I created the gentlemen’s club format to replace the singles bar business, because with singles bars as soon as you start succeeding, somebody’s going to come along, just like the fastest gun in the west, to steal your traffic. There’s almost always somebody faster. When others see success, they emulate it.
With a singles bar, every 18 to 24 months you have to remodel, recreate, re-manage, re-name sometimes and then relaunch. It’s a never-ending battle. The longest you could ever go was 30 months. Because somebody’s going to come along and open a new place, and they’re going to do a big grand opening campaign and all of your customers are going to run down there to check out the new spot.
Also, when you’re a singles bar you cater to a certain class of people. It could be a redneck bar. It could be a college bar. It could be a young professionals bar. I thought, there has to be a way to appeal to everybody. I wanted a club where you can have a truck driver sitting next to a judge sitting next to a rockstar.
You don’t have fights in stripclubs. None of the customers are competing for the same girl. They’re just renting them for a minute and then the next guy can rent them. The other thing I liked about stripclubs over regular nightclubs was that we could have a day shift. We could be open 14 to 16 hours a day. A regular nightclub doesn’t get going until nine pm. So instead of five hours a night of business, with a stripclub you get 14 hours. You’ve paid your bills by the time you’re turning your shift because you open at 11:30 in the morning.
That biker bar that turned into Peter’s first adult nightclub in 1975 is very important to his story and to what came next in the ensuing decades. It became the blueprint for how he developed all his clubs and how he organized his defenses against city hall and his detractors. That first club was a real battle, but he came out of the fray more experienced and more ready to fight on.
WAITT: You opened the club in 1975 but you didn’t call it the Dollhouse. You called it Thee Dollhouse. Why?
PETER: It made it stand out. Also, I first called it Thee Dollhouse Men’s Club, and you know what happened? Everybody thought it was a gay club. So I renamed it Gentlemen’s Club, and for some reason that wasn’t gay. We stopped calling them stripclubs. We outlawed the word stripper. We outlawed the word dancer. We began referring to our girls as entertainers. I created the term Gentlemen’s Club.
“We outlawed the word stripper.
We referred to our girls as entertainers.” – MJP
WAITT: What did you know about operating a stripclub?
PETER: Nothing, but I knew we had to go over the top. We had to legitimatize this business. I said, “This needs to be exploited. We’re going to do this bigger than life.” I put the girls in sequined gowns. I put the doormen in tuxedos with red bow ties. The bartenders were all men back then, in cuffs and bow ties and suspenders and tuxedo shirts. We put in nice thick carpet. I put a house mom and a makeup artist and a hair stylist in the dressing room.
We put up billboards. They were the first billboards for an adult club. The billboards just had pictures of four beautiful blonde faces. You could see it a half a mile away. And down in the corner in tiny type it said Thee Dollhouse. Didn’t tell you where it was. Five of those billboards went up on a Thursday afternoon between the hours of two and four, and by five o’clock I had a line around my building.
We gave the entertainers stage names and made up credits for them that were read when they did feature walks and uptime.
I didn’t allow the entertainers to walk into the club in their street clothes. You can’t come through the parking lot and ruin the fantasy. Does the stewardess come through the airport in her cutoffs with a backpack and get on the airplane? I told the entertainers, “The fantasy starts when you’re on the property, when you’re in the customer’s eyesight.”
We did big national events, cannonball races across the country to get press, to force the local press to have to write about us. The newspapers, the three TV stations, they had to cover it. They didn’t have a choice. We did TV commercials. We raised $400,000 for the National Leukemia Society. We had ads in the airline magazines. We always did new things and they would get banned by the city, so we would have to come up with more new things.
WAITT: What made you think a high-end adult club with the accompanying higher drink and dance prices would sell to a consumer base accustomed to the more casual, less expensive, boobs-and-beer stripclubs of the time?
PETER: Because the customers were in a dump. Because the girls were ugly. Because they hustled you for drinks. Because the whole thing was forced. So my thought was, if they’ll pay a dollar for a beer for this monstrosity, if I give them beautiful girls, a well lighted club, and comfortable chairs, then they’ll pay me five dollars for a drink.
I taught the entertainers how to communicate properly. I had them get their fingernails done and cover up any tattoos. I wanted to do everything first class so the clubs could be accepted by everybody. So they could become mainstream. I wanted to get rid of that stigma where in the past a guy would lock his wallet and jewelry in his car trunk before walking into a stripclub because he thought he was going to get ripped off. But if you get him in there one time and you do the right thing, then he’s never going anyplace else, especially if he likes one girl. He’s coming back every day, and he’s telling his friends and he’s bringing his buddy.
We wanted to change the image. We wanted to take what was conceived as a bar and make it a showclub. We wanted customers to come to the door and get the sense of, wow, this place is legitimate. We stopped the b-girl thing. The girls weren’t allowed to ask for a drink. And if they were given a drink, lo and behold, it had liquor in it. And it was the same price as the customer’s drink. We took all of the hustle out of that business. Those businesses were truly hustle joints in those days.
You would think the city of Orlando would be pleased that Peter was trying to clean up Orange Blossom Trail by turning the juke joints into gentlemen’s clubs. Not so. The more successful he became, the more they went after him.
PETER: I started buying up all of the little juke joints just to get rid of them. We had five or six places going, so I controlled the street. And that’s why I eventually ended up with three or four chains across the country, because when I went into a market, I didn’t just go in to do one club.
WAITT: Why do you think the city still came after you?
PETER: I went through six ordinances in two and a half years stopping Orlando from closing my very first club. Before, those clubs were small, insignificant. But when we started to become a real industry and a real brand, they said, “Whoa, whoa, this thing is growing and the country is going to hell. There’s sex everywhere. You can go see naked women.”
WAITT: How did you deal with that?
PETER: I screwed with them when it came to every ordinance. I put the girls in French cut bottoms, and I got this two part latex tape, not epoxy. You put the color of your skin tone in it with makeup and apply it just around the areola. It looks just like a breast. But when you go into a courtroom and you stretch it, it’s not translucent. There’s no light going through it, so it beats all their ordinances.
I created “friction dancing,” which was nothing but lap dancing. I said, wait, I am no different than a disco where you go in and dance slow with your girlfriend or your wife. It was a new name for the same product. But they couldn’t bust me for “friction” dancing. It wasn’t on the books. So they went crazy.
City Hall was not the only roadblock. Once Peter began firing the girlfriends of the members of the Outlaws biker gang for not cleaning up and or showing up on time (note: This was well before the independent contractor issue), the bikers voiced their displeasure, which allegedly included shots being fired in the parking lot and vandalism to the club.
PETER: They call me up. Said we’re coming down to burn you out. I said, “Bring it on.” They pull in, about 12 of them on their Harley’s. We’re in the parking lot with double barreled shotguns and pistols. I said, “If anybody’s kickstand hits my parking lot, I got you. Now get the hell off my property.”
The bikers left and after some negotiations in the office of an attorney who happened to represent both Peter and the enforcer for the Outlaws, the bikers moved on to greener pastures. That was the good news. The bad news was that some of the bikers were later arrested for other incidents and, hoping to reduce their liability, reportedly told investigators that Peter was part of the New York mafia. It didn’t help that headlines of so many national news articles about Peter at that time called him “The Godfather of Adult Nightclubs.”
PETER: This is where the whole persona of the Mafia came in. And it persists to this day. Everyone in Florida said, “Oh no, these Italian mobsters from New York have come in.” They all think I’m Italian. I’m f**king Armenian! No matter how many charities we supported, no matter what we did, we were the New York mob. Then, later when we opened clubs in New York, the New Yorkers said we were the cocaine cowboys coming in from South Florida. We couldn’t win.
“They all think I’m Italian.
I’m f**king Armenian!” – MJP
Following Thee Dollhouse came Playhouse, Sugars, Flashdancers, Baby Dolls, Madame Bordellos and others in Central Florida. In 1980, Peter came down to Ft. Lauderdale because he was into boating and bought a yacht. By 1981 he had four Dollhouses in Orlando, Cocoa Beach, Melbourne and Fort Lauderdale. He then opened the first Solid Gold in Miami, followed by a second Solid Gold in Miami. And then clubs across the country, from Minneapolis to Manhattan.
WAITT: How did you expand your chain so quickly?
PETER: That’s when disco was dying. Every disco club operator and every landlord who had a disco club tenant was in search of a new nightclub format. They all started calling me. I’d get 15 calls a day. They would say, can you come put your format in here? I had an attorney in house and a construction guy in house and they’d be flying out to new locations every week. We were getting world press. I did every talk show in America, every single one. We were written up in The New York Times. We were written up in the Los Angeles Times. That’s when my company went crazy. We had taken over Stringfellows (a huge Club 54-style disco in New York) so the media established us as the new replacement.
With the landlords, I would go in and say, I’ll take the lease. Then I’d build it out. In other cases, I would do a deal, you know, 50 or 60 or 40. But I would take the management fee and the licensing fee off the top. And of course all of those people screwed me when I went to prison. I had guys that had never paid their rent and now they’re making $2 million a year. But the idea that I’m getting, you know, $600,000 or $700,000 off the top before the split is driving them crazy. All those clubs ended up being sold for big money to the big chains. They were some of the greatest clubs in the country.
WAITT: After Thee Dollhouse, how did you come up with the names Solid Gold and Pure Platinum?
PETER: Part of the idea for the name Solid Gold came from the American Express Gold Card, and later the Amex Platinum Card gave me the idea for the Pure Platinum club chain. But I also was thinking of the Solid Gold Dancers from TV when I started the Solid Gold club chain, and of course Paramount Pictures sued me for that.
WAITT: You wanted them to, right?
PETER: Of course! I had a nice run with that. It was great marketing. And I actually won that case. They didn’t have the name licensed for a club. The only thing that I couldn’t do in the judge’s order was the DJ couldn’t refer to the girls as the Solid Gold dancers. I called them entertainers. It was more appropriate for what we were trying to do. Again, we were mainstreaming it.
WAITT: Speaking of entertainment studios, how important to the industry was the 1996 movie Striptease?
PETER: A lot of it was filmed at Pure Platinum. We hosted Demi Moore for two months. That movie came as close to representing what a real dancer is like as possible. She made it human. She represented reality. It raised public awareness. In the past, everything that had ever been done made our girls look skanky and disrespected.
WAITT: Why did you keep opening clubs?
PETER: I was trying to make the industry bigger and I intended to monopolize it. I wanted to control it all. I’m trying to do to stripclubs what Playboy did to men’s magazines. There were Swanks and Nuggets (your father’s skin mags) already out there, but nobody had done it right until Hugh Hefner did Playboy. I was trying to do the same thing in the adult nightclub business.
Like other successful mavericks in this business, Peter diversified early on and did not just open adult nightclubs. He started a national men’s lifestyle magazine called Platinum Magazine which was a precursor to MAXIM Magazine. He produced entertainer contests, videotaped them and then sold videocassettes of the events and put them on pay-per-view. He put together sexy dance troupes, the Platinum Dolls and the Beverly Hills Knockouts, and toured them in the US and overseas. He did an extensive line of merchandise, from satin jackets to t-shirts to keychains to calendars, and sold the items from small boutique areas in his clubs. He opened the male stripclub La Bare. He produced several erotic cable TV shows. He got his entertainers into Playboy and Penthouse. And he started an in-house talent agency, Beverly Hills Talent Management.
PETER: I had a home in Beverly Hills and three floors of corporate offices in LA. I had a full floor of offices on Madison Avenue and an apartment in Manhattan. I had my lake home in upstate New York. I had a home in Orlando, a home in Las Vegas, and a home in Fort Lauderdale. I did that because I was on an airplane every day and you can’t carry your clothes around. I was on the go nonstop, eating Arby’s in my lap in rental cars.
The additional businesses were all about being mainstream and also driving traffic to the clubs. With Platinum, I wanted a magazine that if you were sitting on a plane or in a dentist’s office, you could read it and not be embarrassed. It made sense to do it, since I was already supplying Penthouse and Playboy with a lot of their talent. My entertainers made the centerfold two to three times a year. All the girls in the country knew that the fastest way into those magazines was through me.
WAITT: How did you find your management and operations people?
PETER: First of all, we were a professional business operation. We were the IBM of stripclubs when we came in. We were attracting legitimate people. This was a real job. We had pension sharing and profit sharing and maternity leave and paid vacations every year. I had people like Larry Church, Dennis DeGori, Laird Bolles, Randy Beasley, Duke Dearing, Warren Colazzo, Tommy Toothman. I hit home runs with all those people. Not every person I hired was a winner but the cream rose to the top. We were really big before the industry was even recognized. You couldn’t find a better company to work for. In those days if you worked for MJP and it was on your resume, you were hired anywhere.
Almost every news item on Peter mentions he is a graduate of Cornell University’s hospitality management program, insinuating that other adult club owners probably didn’t go to college, or at least to a hospitality college. The irony is that Peter himself became a college of sorts, schooling and training some of today’s top adult club operators. Many of those proteges have gone on to run and/or own clubs not under the MJP umbrella. I ask Peter how he felt about them leaving the nest, and in some cases operating clubs that were his competition in a market: “I am proud of every one of them,” says Peter.
The same traits that allowed Peter to grow and become a major player in the industry—being flashy, being loud and brash, and being in your face—were the traits that ultimately led to his downfall. The Religious Right right went after him, as did city officials. When they couldn’t topple him, they called in the Feds. After multiple years of investigations that came up empty, investigators finally found one annual club license renewal that was allegedly missing the signature of Peter’s partner in that particular club. And unfortunately, the license renewal had been mailed across state lines. Oops.
PETER: I’m in a Religious Right battle with Reverend Kennedy, a big shot in the national community, except he’s being totally upstaged in Fort Lauderdale by a guy named Michael Peter, who’s down the street with a three-story glass building and clubs on either side. I’m on every talk show in America and in the biggest newspapers. He can’t stand it. And I’m saying, you aren’t taking me down. I didn’t do anything wrong and I never have, so bring your shit on.
I’m fighting, fighting, fighting, everybody. They’re breaking me down. You know, Joe (Redner of Mons Venus in Tampa) always won, right? He made a fortune off them, and they got tired of screwing with him. I was thinking that’s going to happen with me. You know, don’t mess with me. I’m doing the right thing. Put a microphone and a microscope on me. You got nothing on me. What I’m doing is legal.
I’m just like, fuck you guys. I’m out of control. It was fun for me. But this caused all my problems. So now they get the Feds. They get in a wolf pack. They get carried away. They don’t want to be proven wrong. They’re beating me down. Three grand juries, all extended three months. Finally, I said, your honor, I’m not guilty of anything illegal, but I’m going to take this plea deal to end the misery that I’ve been through for six years, and the inconvenience to my employees, my business, and my family.
In all, my fight with the government took four years, 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.
You could make a movie just covering the time Peter spent in the prison work camp. Of course it being MJP, he pulled the necessary strings to make sure he was initially assigned to the camp he wanted, he got the lower bunk, and he got whatever special treatment was available. It was a low security camp, so Peter snuck out one night to meet a girlfriend at a nearby hotel. But he was caught when he returned and charged with escape and spent a month in solitary.
PETER: When it was my 50th birthday I was at the Fort Dix work camp in New Jersey. I got a letter and I went and laid down on my lower bunk. It’s important when you got the lower bunk, not the upper. That takes a payoff, usually. When I opened the letter, it was the AARP giving me my membership. And I remember saying out loud, “If this ain’t the fucking pinnacle of my career. I’m 50 years old, I’m in prison, and I don’t know where I’m going from here.”
WAITT: You only served one year?
PETER: Yes, eleven and a half months. The deal was I wouldn’t miss a Christmas. And then my case was completely wiped out, dissolved. Because what I pled to was never a crime to begin with.
WAITT: When you went to prison a lot of licensees stopped paying you. You lost millions in legal fees and cancelled projects for a supposed crime that was later ruled not to be a crime. You seem surprisingly not bitter about it?
PETER: I had to liquidate everything. Cost me close to $200 million in fire sales and lost contracts, having to go off of licenses and get rid of properties. But you just come to terms with it and move on. Everything I’ve ever done, good or bad, was a learning experience. Listen, I was on a mission to destroy myself. I had way too much money. I was way too big. I was 40 years old. I had 40 clubs. I had more women than anybody in the world. I used to say, Hugh Hefner’s only got 12 centerfolds a year. Me, I’ve got 10,000.
I was rolling too fast and too hard, and the government slowed me down with a speeding ticket and probably saved my life.
“The government slowed me down
with a speeding ticket and probably
saved my life.” – MJP
I bumped into the prosecutor who spent five years going after me. He’s coming out of a restaurant. He’s ducking his head, but I go up and say, “Shake my hand. You put up a great fight. You’re the first guy who ever beat me in my whole life. But I want to tell you something. I want to thank you because you did me a favor. I can finally now retire. I’m done. I had had enough. I don’t own anything anymore. I’m just a franchisee or a licensee. I’ve got no liabilities. I can consult.
Peter says his mother told him, “They taught you humility.”
WAITT: You went from biker chicks dancing on plywood on pool tables to Penthouse Pets in long gowns on million-dollar stages. With the former you had to deal with outlaw bikers and with the latter you had to deal with the Feds. Which one was scarier?
PETER: The Feds. By far.
That evening we go to the Broward Center for the Performing Arts to see a touring Broadway play, Tina: The Tina Turner Musical, that a friend of Peter’s has given him tickets to. Our seats are center front, and the play is nothing short of spectacular. Peter soaks up every minute, familiar with all of Ike & Tina’s hits. During intermission we both go to the men’s room and an overly exuberant man standing in line between us strikes up a conversation with Peter. I ask the man if his watch is a Franck Muller (it looks just like one) and the man, who is dressed like a middle-aged hipster, stammers and says he’s not sure.
Later, back in our seats, Peter leans over and says, “You caught him. That wasn’t a Franck Muller. He was embarrassed.” Peter pauses, then adds, “And he was coked out of his head.”
Before going to the performing arts center, we realized we had not left time after the day’s interview session to go to dinner.
“How about Wendy’s?” I say while we’re stopped at a light.
“Sure, why not,” says Peter.
We pull into the Wendy’s parking lot. The area is a little sketchy. A homeless person is curled up in blankets against the side of the building. The fast-food workers and customers watch two old white guys, shockingly disproportionate in size with one short and in shape and the other tall and out of shape, step out of a gigantic Rolls Royce and order burgers and Frosties at the counter. Oh, and Peter is dressed from head to toe in true rock star style: a shiny black sports coat with black sequins on it and matching black sequined shoes. Me, I’m watching the surprised looks on everybody’s face. Peter, he’s not fazed at all. He’s so used to being in the spotlight, so used to strangers wanting to engage him in conversation, that he doesn’t seem to notice the impact his presence has on others.
“This Frosty is excellent,” he says, taking another bite.
Peter and I meet at his house for part two of the interview. Day one was mainly the history of MJP; day two will be his thoughts on the industry. We leave, planning to stop at a restaurant for lunch before continuing to his office.
Sounds simple, but let me paint the picture.
Peter is big in personality, but small in stature. He is 5-foot-6, and he is behind the wheel of his Rolls Royce which is the size of a small tugboat. He is fielding nonstop calls and texts on his phone. There is no navigation system in the car and he’s not exactly sure where the restaurant is. He suffered a stroke a few years back so his memory isn’t what it used to be and sometimes it’s hard for him to focus. Of the latter condition, he had told me with a wink, “I have to turn the radio down before I change lanes so I can focus.” All this while we are driving in bumper to bumper traffic through the maze of streets and stoplights that make up Fort Lauderdale.
I am juggling my recorder with one hand and with the other I have a death grip on the door strap.
“Hold on, hold that thought,” says Peter. “I’m trying to answer you and I have no idea where I’m driving. I’m new to this neighborhood. Turn that damn recorder off for a minute.”
WAITT: I am asking all of the founders I interview for this series the next four questions. The first is, what is the biggest mistake first-time club owners make?
PETER: Unfortunately, a major percentage of people who get into our business, get in for the wrong reason. Their motive always, whether they realize it or not, is to get next to the girls. And that’s the first mistake; treating it as if it were a hobby. Another problem is when the investors who put money behind the new owner decide they can run the club better than anyone else.
WAITT: What is the biggest mistake club owners who have owned a club for more than 10 years make?
PETER: Getting stale. There’s always going to be a new kid on the block. If you become successful and you’re making money, then 99 times out of 100 somebody’s going to come for a piece of that action. They are going to build a bigger and better mouse trap. You have to keep ahead of the gang. You have to keep moving because, as I always tell my people, when you stand still, if the gators don’t get you, then the skeeters (mosquitoes) will.
WAITT: Who is the most important staff person at a club and why?
PETER: There’s no one person who’s more important. It’s the engine that runs the whole operation. But at the end of the day, the girls are the most important thing you have. Therefore, who has the most control over the girls? Your house mother, your DJ and your general manager, particularly your GM’s ability to lead and keep everyone working together. Those are the three top people.
WAITT: Who is the most expendable staffer at a club and why?
PETER: Let me think about that for a minute. The most easily replaced is the barback, but half the time the barbacks are running the joint. I had one barback for 15 years. I would’ve fired the general manager before him because he really ran the place. He was indispensable.
WAITT: When you picture the quintessential MJP entertainer, you usually think tall, stacked and blonde. Why do you think your clubs in the beginning were so heavy on blonde entertainers compared to other clubs?”
PETER: That’s not a typical MJP entertainer. That’s a typical MJP girlfriend.
WAITT: Still, I think you always had a much higher ratio of blondes than most clubs.
PETER: Well, that’s the all-American look I was trying to achieve. That girl-next-door fantasy.
WAITT: Your entertainers have always been gorgeous.
PETER: In your interview with Harry Mohney (of Deja Vu) you talked about their famous slogan “1,000s of Beautiful Girls & 3 Ugly Ones.” Everybody thought it was cute. I thought it was cute. But I would never use it. That is 100 percent the opposite of what we were doing. There would never be three ugly ones. And if there were, they’d go out the door the second I hit the club.
Whenever I go to one of my clubs, I look around, pick a dancer who I do not think is up to par and I tell the general manager, she’s got to go. If you can keep her off the stage and in the crowd until tomorrow, that’s fine so you don’t hurt her feelings. But after that I don’t want to see her again. That’s just to remind the GM that, hey, you’re letting it slip. I’m about quality, not quantity. I don’t want a single bad one in there.
“If a manager gets a kickback from a dancer,
guess what, I absolutely fire him.” – MJP
I’ll only run 10s because when customers leave my place, they’re going to say, “Those girls were great. They were all the best.” And when they leave your place, even though you might have twice as many 10s as me, you’ve also got 6s and 4s mixed in there.
WAITT: Why does that happen?
PETER: It’s because the owner lets management get tipped out. If your manager or your floorman gets a kickback from a dancer, guess what? He’s going to keep her. He’s going to keep every dancer that walks through the door. You’re never going to have a good-looking staff. I fire a manager when I find him doing that. Absolutely, fire him.
It’s a quality thing. All these club owners say, “But there’s somebody for everybody. And the pretty girls intimidate the customers.” I say bullshit. When that’s true is when Playboy and Penthouse start having fat centerfolds.
“When that’s true is when Playboy and Penthouse
start having fat centerfolds.” – MJP
In the Rolls: “Oh no, I should have turned at that last main crossover. Let’s see if we can get out of here. Back to civilization. This will wind around. What was that street? This is 95 right here. Don’t worry. Even though we’re lost, we’re moving in the right direction. Let’s try Mom’s Kitchen. They should be open. Nope, look at that line. Let’s try another place. Let’s go to Lester’s.”
WAITT: What are your pet peeves with entertainers?
PETER: I can’t stand to see a waitress or an entertainer chewing gum. If I see that, I’ll wait until she’s on stage and I’ll just walk up to her. People all know who I am. And in front of the whole crowd I will put my hand out and make her spit the gum into my hand. Everyone sees it, and trust me, no one will ever chew gum on that stage again because they don’t want to be humiliated. The whole thing with the dancers is about peer pressure amongst themselves. So you always have special lockers for the girls who get to work on time. They always receive preferential treatment.
WAITT: Any other pet peeves?
PETER: Cleanliness, the hair, the makeup, the dress. I always tell the girls, the stage starts in the parking lot. When you step out of your car in the parking lot, you need to be dressed up because there are customers seeing you. You don’t come in carrying your work clothes. You come to work dressed like you’re going out on a date with Robert Redford. You come in like you are going to the Academy Awards. You don’t want to blow the fantasy of what we’re selling. Then, when you enter that club, the customers say, “Oh wow, we got a new girl coming on the rotation so let me just wait another 10 minutes to see what she looks like on stage.”
I always had a meeting at the end of the night. It gave the customers time to leave the parking lot before I’d let the girls out. And their safety was always Number One.
WAITT: Who was at those nightly meetings?
PETER: Everybody. The whole staff. It’s not always a bitch meeting. Sometimes it would be me saying, “We had a great night. I want to thank every one of you. It couldn’t have gone smoother. Let’s do this again tomorrow night. I love you all. Now get outta here!” So if there’s a meeting at the end of the night every night, then everyone is conscious of it all night. They don’t want their name brought up at the meeting. Let’s say a girl did something wrong that night, maybe sold a Quaalude in the old days. I never fire her privately. I get nothing out of that except I lose a girl. I fire her in front of the whole building and all of her peers, and I say, “I’m upset tonight. There are some issues that are not going to be tolerated. And as a result of that, Sarah you don’t need to be at this meeting because you don’t want work here any longer. Pack your stuff up and go.” They have to walk out in front of all their friends. The other girls shape up for fear of getting caught and embarrassed in front of all the other girls.
WAITT: Would you ever do that to the staff?
PETER: No, it’s typically the dancers. But the staff hears all of that, right? Because they’re watching too.
WAITT: It seems like the operators who make it big, they find the club, they buy it and then they quickly pass it off to people they trust and then move on to the next thing.
PETER: To be honest with you, the fun for me is finding, designing and creating. I like coming up with new elements that we can add to the last formula. We add new spices to the recipe. But you could only move on to the next project if you left the one you just built with people you can trust to run it.
Peter passes a piano store, which reminds him of when he bought a disco in New York and turned it into an adult nightclub. The disco had a grand piano, so he made the top of the piano into a satellite stage with a pole and the piano bench into stairs. I try again to see if Peter can divulge where all these clever ideas come from.
WAITT: What made you look at a grand piano and say to yourself, “Here’s what we’ll do. We’ll make it a stage.” Most people wouldn’t be that creative. How did you keep doing that your whole career?
PETER: I honestly can’t answer that. I’ve always been able to see ahead. I don’t see tomorrow. I see a year from now, two years from now. That’s why I wanted you to find that one keynote speech I gave at the EXPO where I made my MJP predictions. It was either right before I went to prison or right when I came back.
Peter makes that last comment without an accompanying excuse. He mentions being in prison, a work camp actually, for almost a year very matter-of-factly. He doesn’t apologize for it. He’s not embarrassed by it. But it comes up often. In many conversations, he tracks his career as the time before prison and the time after prison.
WAITT: Can you remember any of your predictions?
PETER: The first one, the most important one, I’ve watched happen. I said that over the next 10 to 20 years, the industry, which was then all Mom and Pops, would soon have large chains that would control 80 percent of the business. I remember saying they’re going to buy everything up. And that’s what companies like Ricks Cabaret and Deja Vu and Spearmint Rhino have been doing. Eric Langan and Rick’s have been more successful at that than anyone. There’s a half dozen of them competing for anything out there that has cash flow.
WAITT: But you were one of the first to build a club chain.
PETER: I know. When I started opening a second club, and a third club, and a fourth club and on and on, the guys out there said, “Oh, that’s what you’re supposed to do.” Because you’re supposed to grow your company. You’re making a million dollars? Big deal. You have to grow your company.
WAITT: What other predictions did you have?
PETER: I said operators will have to get into having good public relations. You’re going to need to create a public relations department. The industry needs desperately to be presented properly and professionally to your communities. Now all those big chains have PR departments. We didn’t know then what real social media was, but that’s what I was getting at, the ability to influence and to present your club favorably, whether it’s charitable events or community activities. It’s the only way we’re going to continue to go more mainstream. That’s why I always had music acts or comedians perform at my club openings. It helped make us mainstream. It gave us credibility. The whole idea was to get you to bring your wife.
WAITT: You once said, “The railroads made a big mistake. They were the only mass transit system in the country until someone built something that flew through the air. The railroads didn’t try to compete. Instead, they said, ‘We have the routes, we have the national names, and we have the passengers, so we’ll stay with the railroad business and fight the airplane business.’ And look what happened.”
When you got into the business, it was mainly juke joints and B-drinking. That format was stale, so you changed the format to prettier entertainers, nicer surroundings and higher prices. There are some who say that format has now gotten stale. So, what is the next format?
PETER: You’ve seen it. It’s Club E11EVEN. It’s bringing the mainstream to accept that nudity is just a subtle part of the whole format. When people say they went to E11EVEN, they don’t say they went to a stripclub. They say they went to E11EVEN, the most successful nightclub on planet Earth, with everyone from Drake to Nicki Minaj performing there. It’s a mix of exotic entertainers and celebrities and live entertainment.
WAITT: But most clubs aren’t the size of E11EVEN or they aren’t in a major market like Miami. What should they be doing?
PETER: Clubs, whether they’re in a small market or a big market, have to move forward. You have to keep upgrading, not just for your customer, but also for your employees. The best thing that a customer or an employee to see is when you’re doing improvements and making changes and adding in new things. For example, at my club Thee Dollhouse in Myrtle Beach, the staff, the dancers and the customers wanted us to get smoking out of the club forever. So we built a sports bar and smoking room, with floor to ceiling glass looking into the club. So it looks like it’s in the club, but it’s not. Now the nonsmokers are happy. Besides remodeling, it’s your entertainment. You need to constantly change it up.
You also have to continue to improve the quality and education level of your management and your entertainers. You have to find diversity in your entertainment. You have to put on a show. You need the aerialist, the piano bars, the restaurant, whatever. Eventually one day we may not have nudity. If you don’t realize that we are going to morph back into the overall entertainment business at some point, then you’re not a visionary. The more you adapt yourself and think out of the box and provide a bigger and better entertainment package to your consumer, the bigger portion of this market you’re going to get. If you’re an independent club operator and you want to go the distance, you need to enhance your entertainment package.
“Clubs in small market or big markets have to
move forward. You have to keep upgrading.” – MJP
WAITT: What is your average day like now?
PETER: Now I get up when I feel like getting up. I might stay in bed on the phones for an hour or two, or I might come down and have a little something to eat and go to the gym. I stay in the gym, five days a week. I’ve been in the gym since I was a freshman in high school. I spend all day on my phones helping people. It’s all day, every day. Friends and family that want money. I’m trying to learn to say no. Social media has made it so easy for people to reach me. I got employees calling me, or talking to me on social media, telling me they worked for me 30 years ago. I don’t remember them, but I strike up a conversation and they’re reminding me about this or that. And the next thing I know, especially around the holidays, they all have extenuating circumstances. Their mother’s dying. Their father’s dying. They can’t afford the funeral. Their kids are in college and can’t pay the tuition. They need an operation. I can’t tell you how many parents I have buried or how many employee’s kids I have put through college. Some of them just want advice.
WAITT: Does it tire you being a father figure to so many people?
PETER: No, I think that I enjoy it. It’s my purpose. I am fond of all of them. And I appreciate them helping me build my career.
Peter is only half-heartedly complaining. Family, friends and former employees are very important to him. When he mentions someone from the past he almost always prefaces their name with the words “my dear friend.” He is constantly hosting people close to him at both of his homes and on his yacht. Peter gets a call from a relative who he looks out for, but who has a bit of a drug problem. She’s been in a motorcycle accident and the other driver didn’t have insurance. Peter looks over and whispers, “It’s going to be $3,500, I promise you.” He ends the call and I ask how much.
“She needs $3,800,” he says knowingly.
WAITT: Motley Crue’s 1987 stripclub-friendly song, Girls, Girls, Girls, with the famous lyric, “At the Dollhouse in Fort Lauderdale” was huge. Their lead singer Vince Neil has been one of your best friends for 40 years. What was it that the two of you had in common that made you click?
PETER: Motley Crue became huge the same time I was getting huge. Vince kind of grew with me. I’d go to his concerts, and he’d show up for my club openings. He’d come hang with me. And there were always lots of girls.
Vince and I are tight. We have each other’s back. You know, rock stars want to be movie stars. Movie stars want to be athletes. Athletes want to be rock stars. And they all want to be Michael J Peter. I was in every major city, and if you knew me, you had access there and I made sure you had carte blanche. Vince gave me rights to the Girls, Girls, Girls song to use it. That was my theme song at the clubs and on my radio spots. We put that record in another league because the industry played it so much.
I remember going to a recording session when I first met the band. There’s a little barefoot girl in cutoff jeans and a tank top sitting outside the studio. She had no makeup on. I said to my friend, “Who is that little ugly girl sitting there?” and he said, “That’s Tommy Lee’s wife, Heather Locklear. She plays on Dynasty.” How was I to know?
WAITT: When we did the first Gentlemen’s Club EXPO 30 years ago, the legal panel addressed the independent contractor issue. Three decades later it’s still being debated and clubs are still being sued. Should the clubs have just gone ahead and made the girls employees?
PETER: Well that’s like saying, let’s make Uber drivers employees, right? Let’s make all the hairdressers in the salon employees. They’re commissioned workers. If you paid them all, first, the product gets diminished and, second, there isn’t enough money there for them to stick around or for you to stay in business. So the whole business format breaks down.
I was never worried. The government audited 48 of my clubs at one time 30 years ago and they ended up paying me four-and-a-half-million dollars back for overpayments I had made. I never took a dime. If I found a fricking quarter on the floor, I would stick it in the register and ring it up. I always said from day one that you can make money in this business. The only thing that’s gonna mess you up is getting busted for selling drugs, stealing money from the government or prostitution. And those were the three things that were the no-nos.
“I never took a dime. If I found a quarter,
I would stick it in the register and ring it up.” – MJP
WAITT: But the government isn’t going after Uber drivers and hairdressers.
PETER: Yeah, they are. But they do go after us even more. And by the way, the Uber drivers don’t want to be paid. Just like our entertainers don’t want to be paid.
WAITT: In the early days of the EXPO the only people showing up in suits and ties were the attorneys, except for you. You have always been immaculately dressed, even when the industry was very casual. Is that just your personal style or is it a conscious decision to project a certain image?
PETER: When I was in college, you came to class in a coat and tie. For 40 years nobody saw me out of a coat and tie. A three-piece at that.
WAITT: Should club operators be concerned about the new technology that has made access to adult entertainment so easy now, from unlimited free Internet porn to websites like OnlyFans to Virtual Reality allowing someone to get lap dances in their own bedroom?
PETER: The internet and all of the modern communication areas are making gentlemen’s clubs less and less functional because you’re not only losing entertainers, you’re losing the best ones. The prettiest ones, the ones who are the most disciplined to go out and make their money. The ones that put three hours aside every day and go online and sell whatever it is they’re selling. Those are your 10s and they’re the rare 10s who actually show up on time. I can’t tell you how many girls I’ve heard say, “The hell with this! I’m going to start my own fan page.”
WAITT: Back then you had to do all of your marketing and promoting without using cell phones, laptops, the internet and social media. Do you think having access to those outlets has made today’s club operators less challenged to be creative and think outside the box for their marketing and promotion?
PETER: I don’t think that’s the case. When I came in, there wasn’t anyone else doing it. So anything I did was new. It was probably easier for us coming up because there were no standards. We were creating them and everybody else was following them.
“When I came in, there wasn’t anyone else doing it.
So anything I did was new.” – MJP
WAITT: If you were a new first-time club operator, would you want to license one of the known brands operating today? Would the benefits outweigh the fees?
PETER: Well, for someone like myself, obviously I can do my own. And the 50 to 60 GMs out there who are operating major clubs today as senior management, I would say they don’t need to do that. But if I’m just a guy coming off the street with some money and I want to get into this business, then licensing a brand name and getting some management oversight is a good idea. They need somebody who knows how to treat it like a business, right. I would look to a Ricks or a Spearmint Rhino or a Deja Vu. There are others, but those come first to mind because I know those founders.
WAITT: I’ve heard you have four lessons for newbies wanting to open an adult club?
PETER: Lesson 1: always take a loser. Lesson 2: location. Lesson 3: go someplace where you can find the money. And Lesson 4: find a backer.
WAITT: Some US chain operators have attempted to open their branded clubs overseas with mixed results. Why don’t they succeed?
PETER: I was in six countries and I got screwed in all of them. You always do because you have foreign partners.
WAITT: You said once that there are people who don’t like you. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do think there’s definitely jealousy.
PETER: I always said there are imitators and there are duplicators, but there is only one originator, and that was us. Some took what I started and they expanded on it. And some made it better. But I was the originator.
WAITT: I also think some of the resentment is that not only did you build an empire, but you also enjoyed every salacious minute of it, when the industry rule is to not enjoy it and just treat it like a business. You were the Hugh Hefner of this business.
PETER: At the peak I had 10,000 women working for me and I went from city to city. I had girlfriends in every city. So that kind of came naturally. I was having a ball. Not that I recommend that to any club owner. I got into material things. I got into making big splashes, whether it was yachts, airplanes, bigger and better jets, this, that or the other thing. I was trying to sell the lifestyle. I was part of the marketing concept, part of the brand. I was Colonel Sanders. I was Wendy. And I was emulating the Hugh Hefner character.
WAITT: So it was part of the brand, but you enjoyed it.
PETER: Oh, hell yeah. Now I’m just the opposite. Now the last place I want to go is any place where there are a lot of people. I’m not going to a concert unless I’m backstage. I’m not going to a nightclub unless it’s empty. I can’t get in a packed elevator and I can’t sit in a middle seat. It never was like that before.
Peter has a million entertainer stories. One of my favorites is about a dance troupe Peter took to Japan on tour and one of the dancers asked if she would be able to watch her favorite soap opera, General Hospital, while they were in Japan. Peter told her she might be able to, but it would be in Japanese with English subtitles. And the dancer said, “Oh my gosh, in that case I’m going to have to bring my own television.”
Peter tells a story about the South Florida market when all the clubs were charging $5 for dances and the entertainers got to keep the $5. He called a meeting at one of his top clubs and made a suggestion.
PETER: I said, “Girls, I run this club democratically. We all have a vote. With the exception that I have veto power. How many of you would like to raise the price of a dance from $5 to $10?” Everybody’s hand went up unanimously. Even the girls who were smart enough to know if you increased the price, you might get less dances. I said, “Okay, let me ask you another question. How many would like to raise it to $7?” Again the hands all went up unanimously. I said, “Well, I’m considering raising the price to $10 and giving you $7. How many are in favor of that?” Not one hand went up. They wanted the whole $10. They didn’t want the house to get anything. Even though they were only making $5 before, and now I’m offering them $7. The girls are always suspicious of management.
WAITT: Not for nothing, but I’ve always thought you looked like John Oates from the music duo Hall & Oates.
PETER (laughing): I get that all the time. I met him backstage once. We just stared at each other. It was like looking at identical twins. He said to me, “Us looking alike, you have no idea how much trouble you’ve gotten me into.”
WAITT: You dabbled in several non-adult areas of entertainment before jumping feet first into stripclubs. What made you decide to specialize in adult entertainment?
PETER: Believe it or not, the adult business was really not my passion and wasn’t the main part of my real drive.
My passion was always mainstream entertainment.
When I get ready to leave after two days of interviews, Peter protests that I should stay longer because I’ve only heard half the story. Which I’m sure is true, but there are only so many pages in this magazine. It reminds me of something he said on the first day:
“This is some good shit, isn’t it? I mean, you can’t write this stuff. You can’t make it up.”
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NEXT ISSUE: The Founders Interview with the man who is a kingpin of adult nightclubs in the Carolinas: David “Slim” Baucom of MAL Entertainment.