Naked Ambition

Delilah's is fending off big-name competition for the title of Philly's top strip club, but victory isn't as easy as it looks.

Her silky black hair smells like a tropical cocktail. Her floor-length gown is skin-tight. Her platforms, steep. Destiny, as we'll call her, wriggles her way between my legs as I sit on a stool in the Ruby Lounge, a private bar overlooking the 60-foot runway inside Delilah's, a “Gentleman's Club and Steakhouse.” It's easy to get sucked into the fantasy here (ask Craig Rabinowitz, whose obsession with a Delilah's dancer led him to strangle his wife), and not just because the women are scorching hot, unlike anything you'll find trolling South Street. Everything about this place feels far removed from Philadelphia: striptaculars like the “Diamond G-String Competition” with all the spectacle of a Las Vegas revue; the Ruby Lounge, a VIP-access-only hideaway reminiscent of backstage at a Mötley Crüe concert; even the campy, non-threatening '50s-pinup print ads that practically scream, “We swear your mug shot won't end up on the cover of the Daily News if you stop by.” Here at Delilah's, anointed the nation's 2006 Gentlemen's Club of the Year by folks who monitor such things, when Destiny orders a flute of Moët and whispers in your ear, you're not Billy from West Deptford drinking Pabst cans at a BYOB titty bar, or Brent from the law firm of Becker Knox & Lowell hoping the partners don't catch you at a strip show. (Delilah's grub scored an “excellent” in Zagat, for chrissake.) You're in some other world, and you're a rock star.

Selling the fantasy translates to $6 million a year for Delilah's (at least that's what they admit to), and even this notoriously dysfunctional industry can smell blood (read: cash) in the water. Enter Delilah's most significant competition in years: -Crazy Horse Too, the storied Vegas megachurch of flesh that unveiled its only other location in January here on Columbus Boulevard; and Scores, made so famous and revered by Howard Stern that it's a wonder all strippers aren't compelled to face toward Manhattan's Scores East when they dance. This marks the first time that two nationally known high-end strip chains have targeted this city at once, and the impact of their arrival will be much greater than the average stripper's bra size.

As this city so notoriously resistant to change seems to be changing, the “strip club boom,” as the Inquirer called it, becomes a matter of identity. Sure, Philadelphia is turning into a city of Comcast skyscrapers, casinos and condos (occupied or otherwise) — but nudie bars? When you talk to the dancers, the owners, the managers, and spend some time “in the field,” as it were, the algebra behind this explosion is simple: a city on the upswing, plus the convergence of a Vegas club looking to escape the federal heat that's hotter than the desert sun, and a local guy trying to wring one last buck from a damaged property by reeling in a big fish from New York. And it's all divided by this city's Quaker-rooted unease with its own sexuality. Delilah's is a civic leader of sorts, but that's still a dirty little secret. Crazy Horse crept into town as quietly as possible. And Scores is learning the hard way that even if Lindsay Lohan and Christina Aguilera don't mind if their names are dropped while you're shouting about strippers, when you evoke Philly and sex in the same sentence, you'd better whisper.

“Philadelphia is changing, and there's a lot of confusion,” says the Northern Liberties Neighbors Association's Matt Ruben, who's leading the charge against the proposed Scores. “I don't blame Scores or [Crazy Horse] completely. But the neighborhoods are not willing to sacrifice quality of life so the New York Times can say we're cool.”

Which brings us back to Destiny. From her perch in the Ruby Lounge, you'd never suspect what's really at stake for the city if this boom actually bangs, or for Delilah's. The club has reaped the benefits of its carefully managed image, but as the competition aims to topple the top dog, it's a reminder that beneath the showgirl glitter, Delilah's is still a place where women take their tops off for money, and part of an industry plagued by federal investigations and the Mafia. That's the essence of this business — it's more complicated than Destiny would ever let you believe. She just keeps purring while the competition figures out how to get a piece of her action, or maybe even invites her over for a spin on the new poles in town. And the city wrestles with how this, too, for better or worse, is what Philadelphia is becoming.

Precious is from Northeast Philly. Well, Fishtown, really, where real estate has tripled in value but her mom's block is “still full of crackheads.” With her slight lisp, braces, and straight blond hair framing a teenage face, Precious looks like she just left her high-school graduation and, beneath her robes, the skin-tight purple minidress she's wearing. She peels it off for a living here at Crazy Horse Too, an “upscale gentlemen's club,” which is a nice way of saying “a strip club where most of the girls are out of your league and you can't (usually) feel them up.”

As Precious is a study in contradictions — innocence in heels and a slutty outfit — so too is Crazy Horse. It looks like a Toll Brothers prototype, notable only for its towering Ionic columns, its hugeness, and its station at the base of the Walt Whitman Bridge next to absolutely nothing, but close enough, management hopes, to draw traffic from the stadiums. It's far less theatrical inside. In most East Coast clubs, especially Delilah's, the focal point is the stage show — selling the fantasy from a distance, like watching a live soft-core cable flick where the stars step off the screen to hit you up for a vodka cranberry. Both in Vegas and here, though, Crazy Horse is less a spectacle than the illusion of the greatest singles bar in the history of guyhood. The club opened with just two small stages flanking a massive rectangular bar, and all eyes weren't on the performances. Girls sit down in a sea of rolling chairs or on laps. Unless you can afford $100 for three songs in the VIP room, lap dances go down in plain view, along the walls — so you might find yourself an unwitting part of the entertainment. This is “Vegas style,” and if it's going to work in South Philly, girls like Precious from Fishtown have to sell it.

As she begins massaging my thigh with her ass at the bar, four fire department EMTs rush through the club and head straight to its back offices. This is not part of the show. Precious follows, then returns with an update on the backstage drama.

“Stripper down!” she says. “Probably crack or heroin. I saw a circle of stilettos, so I assume that's what's going on.” There's also a female customer who puked and passed out in the bathroom. Crises like these happen at Delilah's, too. They're just better at concealing them.

Unconcerned with the mayhem, Precious decides it's go time. She hops up on my lap, presses her mouth to my right ear, and lowers her voice. “I want to give you a sexy lap dance, and grind my sexy little body into you.” Her lips move to my left ear in a flash, the stripper equivalent of an Allen Iverson crossover dribble. “Don't let my name fool you. I'm a wild girl.”

“Not so precious, eh?”

“I love your hair,” she moans, taking two fistfuls in her hands and yanking my head back. Hard. “You can just grab on — fuck me! Fuck me!” With each yell, I get another whiplash tug. At Delilah's, this sort of roughhousing is strictly backroom stuff, not for the front of the house. And getting a little dirty out in the open doesn't seem to fit how this city conducts itself — not in business, not in City Hall, not even in topless joints, or at least “classy” ones that aim for both the post-game Eagles crowd and CEOs.

I tell Precious I'm leaving soon, but if I wanted a dance partner, she'd be the one. “If you see me with another girl,” I say, as if she cares, “you have my permission — “

“To grab you and say Lay off, bitch!” She laughs and dismounts. “Okay. 'Bye.”

I'm left to realign my spine while Precious grazes elsewhere in this 14,000-square-foot pasture, which opened to quiet chaos and still hasn't completely recovered. The curtain rose on January 25th in a rush to beat the deadline for renewing the club's adult cabaret license, and with little fanfare. Since then, Crazy Horse has seen a generally underwhelming turnout — perhaps this blue-collar town isn't ready for a slice of Sin City. “We have a saying in Italy,” says William Shenouda, a manager who spent 13 years at the original Crazy Horse before coming here. “‘Small town, small mind.' With all respect, Philly — very small, very conservative. In Vegas, it's a party all the time.”

The slow start hasn't bothered the strippers, at least not the locals, since most of them have moved up from the seedier clubs in town. But Crazy Horse learned its name alone wasn't enough to draw a top-notch roster, so nearly half the girls here are out-of-towners, like Naomi, who's come in from Kingston, Jamaica, and tells me she's enjoying the city's cultural offerings. (“I go to clubs, I go to the King of Prussia mall. I love Victoria's Secret. Love it! And Bebe. Bebe!“) Stripping agencies hook up women from around the world with weeks- or months-long stints at clubs from Paris to Guam to this one; in return, Crazy Horse offers housing in a riverfront condo and pays up to $400 toward travel expenses if the girls fulfill their contracts. But relying on ­recruits is a strange strategy for a club trying to brand itself in a new market. What's a “Crazy Horse Girl”? Everything from Precious — who, with her corrective dentistry, would never be confused with a Sin City ringer — to the imports to the Vegas pros.

As a further incentive, Crazy Horse waives “house fees” that dancers are charged up front to work, which can run up to $85 a shift. A stripper we'll call Vanessa says that some girls make extra cash with a more “hands-on” policy. (Insert wink here.) While the city prohibits dancers from touching patrons or “participating in actual or simulated sex acts,” the truth is, short of actual copulation, the action at all the clubs goes as far as the girls, and the bouncers who watch them, let it. Most strippers employ some degree of booty-on-crotch grinding, and while tales of hand jobs are rare, they're not unheard-of. At Delilah's, though, you'll also find a few dancers so confident in their looks that they'll barely brush up against their partners during a couch dance (which is the same thing as a “lap dance,” but sounds less overtly sexual, despite the furniture-fetish implication). “Some of the Delilah's chicks here are like, ‘My God, remember when I used to make $3,000 a night for just breathing?'” says Vanessa. “And the girls from Wizzards [a blue-collar West Philly cabaret] remember shaking guys like trees for a few dollar bills.”

Allusions to “shakedowns” don't sit well with general manager John Drace, who left Crazy Horse Too in Vegas after 16 years to help his uncle, club founder Rick Rizzolo, get this franchise up and running. “It was a promotion for me, an opportunity to get my family out of Vegas,” he says from behind his desk in a bare office no fancier than the average cubicle. “The city's on a big upswing. There's a lot of potential.” He sees dollar signs, but knows that with cash comes corruption: In June, Rizzolo pleaded guilty to tax fraud as part of a sweeping federal racketeering investigation in which 16 employees were snared, including Drace, who also copped to a tax offense.

If Crazy Horse feels a bit behind the eight ball, it's because of what happened out West when “Vegas style” got ugly. In the early morning of September 20, 2001, Kansas businessman Kirk Henry disputed a charge for $88.25. According to his lawsuit, a club bouncer responded by snapping his neck, prompting this condemnation from Henry's lawyers, as reported by the Las Vegas Review-Journal: “For years, the management and ‘security' staff of the Crazy Horse has been infested by a rogues' gallery of thugs, thieves, drug pushers, and corrupt ex-cops. Most, if not all, have well-documented ties to organized crime figures who frequent the premises. All of this has nurtured a culture of violence marked by robberies, beatings and even death.”

As part of Rizzolo's plea agreement on June 1st, he and his company admitted that customers were bullied, and in some cases beaten, into paying fraudulent charges, and Rizzolo and Crazy Horse must donate $10 million to Henry, who's now a paraplegic. Rizzolo has to sell his Vegas club by next summer. He's also barred from any involvement in adult entertainment “for the duration of his natural life.” Though Rizzolo was considered a “consultant” in the Philly expansion, and Drace and others say he's no longer involved, his presence is felt here. In multiple visits as recently as June, Rizzolo bought rounds for the entire bar. “Everybody loves when Rick comes in,” says an employee. “It's party time.” Drace also faces jail on his tax fraud plea, with sentencing likely later this fall.

Despite a history with as much violence and federal lawbreaking as the Bada Bing!, Crazy Horse had little trouble setting up shop here. Opposition from City Council President Anna Verna and State Senator Vince Fumo couldn't muscle the Liquor Control Board into revoking the club's license. Community protests had even less impact — unlike Scores, which would be within a short walk of homes, Crazy Horse is practically on an island. The real estate its “neighbors” were protecting had nothing to do with condos. It was moral ground they defended. Strippers, beatings, the mob — this is not a business we want in our city. But the city had other plans.

In the end, it was an unlikely pillar of the community, not the Vegas crew, that was responsible for Crazy Horse Too's arrival — Vince Piazza, father of San Diego Padres catcher Mike Piazza, the pride of Norristown. Vince is owner of the Piazza Auto Group and now, he says, sole proprietor of Crazy Horse Too. As Piazza tells it, in 2004 a third party approached Rizzolo with land and a liquor license, and Rizzolo called Piazza to facilitate the deal. Sources say the two are paisans, but considering Rizzolo's reported links to organized crime, and Piazza's reported $7 million settlement in a defamation suit against Major League Baseball after comments implying similar ties of his own, Piazza bristles when Rizzolo's name is mentioned.

“Rick is not a friend, just a business associate,” says Piazza, who met Rizzolo during his son's stint with the Los Angeles Dodgers. “This is not my type of business. I positioned this to get it done, build it, and sell it.” Piazza won't discuss who might take over the club. Meanwhile, Drace still aims to settle here with his family, never mind the jail time or possible loss of his job.

And so Crazy Horse Too's identity crisis continues: It's the Vegas Strip among the tumbleweeds of Columbus Boulevard, with girls from the neighborhood working next to seasoned vets, and car-dealership tycoons mingling with felons. Most troubling for the club, the locals haven't warmed up to its business model yet, which could change when new owners — a.k.a. The Devil You Don't Know — take over.

Last month, the Las Vegas city council revoked the liquor license of that city's Crazy Horse outpost, effectively signing the club's death certificate. And though it looks like the future of Crazy Horse's East Coast bacchanal is in jeopardy, club manager Shenouda makes a bold promise. “In six months,” he says, “we will have no competition.” The implication is clear — Philly ain't Vegas, but we're taking over anyway. With that, he smiles, shakes my hand, and heads back to the Crazy Horse VIP room, where the party never ends and, with no clocks visible, time is never running out.

If there's a unifying principle in this ­business — onstage, behind the scenes, and from one ocean to the other — it is décolletage. With a Boca tan courtesy of her move there five years ago, close-cropped platinum blond 'do, short skirt and snug V-neck tee, Delilah's owner Greta Shamy, even at 63, is displaying plenty of her own in the club's back offices. Hammers pound overhead as contractors finish a new space for her marketing staff, part of the most important cog in the Delilah's money machine — image control. Unlike Drace, when Shamy sits down for an interview, she has a publicist by her side at all times. She's like an aged Sharon Stone with a friendly but bullshit-free vibe. Since taking over “Delilah's Den” from her then-ailing husband Joseph in 1998, she's proven that knowledge of the stripping arts (in which she's never indulged) is secondary to a buzzword borrowed from the corporate world — brand management.

“The first thing I did was drop ‘Den,'” she says between sips of Diet Coke and drags on a Newport. “It sounded like you're going into some underground place.”

Shamy spends $250,000 annually on advertising and promotions to burnish her club's image, and holds several showcase events — ­including Entertainer of the Year and Diamond G-String competitions that draw capacity crowds and, ironically, are more like Vegas revues than anything you'll see at Crazy Horse. Her ads evoke pinup, not porn, with girls in bubbly washtubs and chatting coyly on rotary phones. There are no hushed, sexy voiceovers or slinky saxophones in Delilah's radio spots. (“Honey, I'm Still Shopping,” the club's December shindig, is played for a boys-will-be-boys laugh.) Shamy has replaced sleaze with camp, and though the real thing isn't nearly so wholesome, the strategy works in Philly, where men love to ogle, but separating them from their money isn't easy. At Delilah's, you won't see a stripper spread-eagled onstage, inviting college kids to throw balled-up singles at her bull's-eye, like you do at some down-market joints. Women are getting the comfort message, too. There are a few in the crowd on any given night, and hey, if your husband's going to a strip club, why not the place where several former Eagles and city film chief Sharon Pinkenson have been guest judges?

Perception is just as precisely manipulated inside the club, with “Samson Suites” reserved for athletes and VIP card-holders, and six “Skyboxes” for ­bottle-­­service customers willing to suffer 1,000 percent markups. The center stage, end stage and two staircases are continuously stocked with girls. Concave mirrors along the Ruby Lounge ceiling create the illusion of more headroom. And it's all monitored on hidden cameras from the back office and Shamy's Florida home. That's right — she likes to watch, but it's voyeurism born of necessity, since on any night, thousands in cash changes hands, managers can skim money, strippers can get too frisky, and bartenders might short-change the register.

All the customers see, though, is the entertainment, and here, the dancers aren't strippers. They're “Delilah's Girls.” At Crazy Horse, the talent roams the one-story showroom in no particular order. Delilah's Girls appear atop the stairs above the runway, descending like angels with implants. The stage becomes a catwalk where couture is replaced by exposed nipples and lots of rump-shaking. When a babe steps off and walks by, she's not hitting up every guy in the joint. She might not even look your way. You don't choose a Delilah's Girl. More often than not, she chooses you.

It's all part of a meticulous strategy, and the key to interpreting it, the stripper's Rosetta stone, is a Shamy-commissioned DVD marked “Training Video”: a primer on the nuances of being a Delilah's Girl. Some rules are commonplace — to skirt a city ordinance stipulating that areolae must be covered, all dancers lacquer their nipples in liquid latex. Scheduling is tightly controlled. (The girls at Crazy Horse pretty much show up whenever they feel like it.) Grooming tips are comprehensive: “No pubic hair should be visible. … Are you working out? Eating right? Tanning? Waxing? Seeing a dermatologist?”

If there were any mystique left to the time-honored practice of taking money from horny guys, a gorgeous brunette climbing on top of a “customer,” played by a manager, bursts that bubble. “Sell multiple dances,” instructs the male narrator. “Each dance should be slightly more exciting than the last but always legal and within the rules.” This is where Delilah's differs from its competition — by explicitly equating profits with a careful, methodical buildup, not in redefining “hard sell” by brushing up against crotches or unleashing dominatrix moves, à la Precious. “Remember,” the narrator explains, “it's all about the fantasy — never the reality. We're in show business, and you are the star of the show.”

Turning stripping into a science hasn't been easy for the Shamys. In 1993, not long after the club opened, Joseph, who was once described by the Washington Post as “a New Jersey realtor, suspended lawyer, and former Boston Celtics basketball team vice president,” cooperated with an FBI investigation into mob boss John Stanfa, whose cronies were pinching Shamy for money. That wasn't the first time Joseph tangoed with organized crime — in the mid-'80s, his involvement in a mobbed-up Atlantic City redevelopment project led to his pleading guilty to bribery.

Prior to that, in 1979, the Shamys were indicted on charges stemming from a racetrack they owned in Maryland; prosecutors claimed they diverted funds from it illegally, then invested part of their $1.2 million windfall in Atlantic City real estate. Joseph was sentenced to four years in jail, served less than six months, and in 1989 won a reversal of his conviction. Greta's indictment was eventually dismissed.

Delilah's, though, has been remarkably trouble-free. Aside from the bad press that followed Rabinowitz, there was just one lone blemish — the shooting of a security guard outside the club after closing time in 2000. More problematic was its neighbor and longtime promotional partner Club Deco, a known ­after-hours hangout for strippers and Mafiosi. Since the Shamys purchased the complex and became Deco's landlords in 2000, it's been the scene of a fatal shooting and, in a classic only-in-Philly moment, the stabbing of singer Chico DeBarge. (Even our celebrity shivs are C-list.) The violence was too close for comfort, so the Shamys evicted Deco's owners last year and scored another image massage by opening Zee Bar there — stately WPVI anchorwoman Monica Malpass showed up for the opening (in leather, no less). The Shamys are also keeping it in the family — their 27-year-old daughter Jennifer is Zee Bar's manager, the perfect gig for grooming an heir to the Delilah's empire.

As this strip-club war brews, Shamy's arsenal runs deep, into the starched fabric of the city itself. Delilah's is a member of the Greater Philadelphia Hotel Association and the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau, providing access to an invaluable network. Delilah's has also donated more than $1,000 to a park project run by the Northern Liberties Neighbors Association, which is leading the fight against Scores and has repeatedly praised Delilah's and Greta Shamy. But NLNA president Matt Ruben says that in the summer of 2005, Shamy approached him to offer financial support for the group's legal battle against Scores. Ruben consulted his colleagues, then e-mailed Shamy: “At its recent Board meeting, the NLNA Board felt that it would be unwise for us to get a contribution from you (as the owner of Delilah's) for the specific purpose of litigating this particular case.” (Shamy says she never contributed any money toward the NLNA's legal funds and would not have subsidized the objection to the Scores application.)

Forget all of Delilah's pole-dance magic and strategic sexuality. The Shamys' best move was wiggling between the city's underbelly and polite society, then convincing each that the other doesn't exist within Delilah's doors. And hey — at least they aren't New Yorkers.

Tucked in the armpit of the Queensboro Bridge is Scores East, and it's not like I remember it from my visit with a bachelor party in 1999, before Giuliani finished cleaning up Manhattan and the club remodeled to stay open. Then, it was standing room only. Tonight, at 10 on a Friday, any seat can be yours, with certain exceptions — one being that corner where the bubbly flows and Lonnie Hanover awaits on a black leather couch. He is the public face of Scores, and a friend of Howard Stern, who's done as much for this club as Dick Cheney has for Halliburton.

“This booth has seen all the celebrity action,” he says as we shake hands and sit down. “Christina Aguilera had her bachelorette party right here. She stood up and took her clothes off.” Delilah's never yaps about famous guests, so you wouldn't know when Donovan McNabb slipped in on the down-low. Crazy Horse Too missed a publicity bonanza in May when the Flyers partied on the night of their playoff ­elimination — with one well-placed leak, that story would have sparked a media firestorm and priceless free pub. Hanover, a self-­described “old-fashioned PR guy” in the Page Six tradition, wouldn't miss those opportunities.

“Lindsay [Lohan] and Kate Moss were in this booth, drinking Perrier because Lindsay was 20 and Kate was a recovering alcoholic,” he says, as if to suggest, laughably, that scenes like these will soon play out in Philly. “They jumped onstage for a minute of girl fun. Luke Wilson ran up an $11,000 bill and didn't have his credit card. We said, ‘We know you're good for it.' That's a good line!”

Hanover waves a bouncer over and whispers in his ear before throwing down the lace gauntlet. “What we're going to bring Philadelphia is something different,” he says. “Everyone can feel like they're high-class.” Ouch. Philly's Inferiority Complex 1, Philly's Self-­Esteem 0. Hanover plows ahead, oblivious to the insult. “I'm not saying anything about the competition, but the regulars at those places will come to Scores. We're going to have an amazing opening. Our celebrities will fly in. It will become a genuine tourist attraction.”

But, that star-soaked grand opening may never happen. Over the course of two marathon, decidedly unsexy public meetings in April before the Philadelphia Zoning Board of Adjustments, Team Scores — a local zoning lawyer, a First Amendment attorney from Tampa, a Scores vice president with a crisp British accent — defended their proposed expansion to 6th Street near Spring Garden in a now-­defunct nightclub where gunplay and stabbings were practically on the menu. Their point was simple: It's an industrial area, and adding an adult cabaret license is legal. The burden was on the public to prove otherwise, and while none of the kitchen-sink arguments the neighborhood hurled at Scores contradicted its thesis, the words of ZBA chairman David Auspitz to Team Scores would echo throughout the proceedings: “Let me explain to you how we do things here in Philadelphia.”

Apparently, that means when strippers and TV news crews are involved, even a zoning meeting can transform into absurdist theater. The tone was set early, when Sebastian Hanson, an insurance adjuster from North Wales and would-be operator of the Scores franchise, admitted that when a man was shot in the chest at his previous club on the site (Bash, which closed, reopened as Suite 450, then closed again), he was in his office in the Caribbean. Auspitz made use of the rope Hanson handed him. “When you came back from your office in the Caribbean,” he asked, “was there blood on the rugs?” In a packed house full of concerned citizens and press, that line killed.

The ZBA rejected Scores's request, fearing traffic problems and a stunting effect on residential growth — noble concerns, but issues that outstepped its duty to rule on zoning, not city planning matters. An appeals court decision is expected as soon as this month, and assuming the case is considered only in terms of zoning, Scores and Hanover and maybe even Scores aficionado George Clooney will come to Philly in the spring. But the letter of the law isn't necessarily how things are done in Philadelphia.

If Scores pulls an upset, the city might get more than a few A-list guests. Back in Manhattan, Hanover conveniently glosses over the dubious history of his club, which was a front for the Gambino crime family through the '90s until an FBI sting sent two Scores execs into witness protection. Hanover chalks that up to “owners of the past,” but the legacy of corruption goes on: CEO Richard Goldring is resigning as part of a tax evasion probe, and his brother is charged with knifing a former Scores employee outside Scores West in New York. The club also made unwanted national headlines in 2005 when a CEO claimed his $241,000 tab was inflated like a saline implant. (A suit between his company, American Express and Scores was settled confidentially.) Add this to Hanson's messy track record as a nightclub owner, and suddenly Scores has more in common with Crazy Horse Too than with Delilah's, at least in terms of dirty laundry.

I keep wondering what Hanover whispered in the ear of that bouncer — until he returns with a folded stack of bills that Hanover slips into his front pocket. That's when Irina wanders by. She looks vaguely Asian, says she's Russian, and is suddenly draped on my side. And then Hanover reveals the trick up his sleeve: “Irina, will you give him a dance?”

As Irina's tight turquoise gown falls to the floor, there's no doubt she could be an elite Delilah's Girl. Her routine, though, is more Crazy Horse, as she spends most of her time in my lap and sprawled across me. What would she do in the Scores President's Suite, the only private dance room I've seen that requires an access card to open its door and starts at $1,000 an hour? As Irina gets close enough for me to discern not only that she has implants, but how they were inserted, Hanover can only hope that if Scores does manage to come here, the focus will be on this, on the fantasy shared by George and Lindsay and Kate, and not on anything that gets in the way of the fun (such as the fact that stars like that don't exist in Philadelphia).

It's still too early to predict who will be left standing a year from now. If Scores is victorious, its walking proximity to Delilah's could benefit both clubs, creating a Stripper's Alley of sorts on Spring Garden Street. Assuming Crazy Horse Too continues fine-­tuning, it might make enough money during the sports seasons to survive the summer, which is the leanest time for everyone. Even if Crazy Horse folds and the appeals court sends Team Scores back to Manhattan, Delilah's will face new competition from someone, eventually. In a way, though, it doesn't really matter how this all shakes out. That it's happening at all is what is significant.

If Philly wants to be a first-rate city, as David Auspitz passionately declared, the flesh trade is a part of that, and as our skyline changes, so will our sexual self-identity. Stripping is like slot machines: While some see it as a symbol of our amoral times, it's really a sign that opportunity is here, finally. And if everyone who wants to build a condo taller than 10 stories or open a gentlemen's club in an industrial area gets smacked down like a Kensington hooker and lectured about what it is to be Philadelphian, those opportunities might begin to dry up. Like the aching bones of a gangly teenager, strip clubs are part of a city's growing pains. The trick is buying into the fantasy that Destiny and Precious and Irina are selling without ever forgetting what's behind it.