CLOSINGS: View Closings

Landmark Atlanta strip club meets boutique hotel

The new boutique Hotel Clermont shares a historic building with the Clermont Lounge, Atlanta's most famous strip club and dive bar.

Posted: Feb 4, 2019 5:00 PM
Updated: Feb 4, 2019 5:00 PM

A strip club and a boutique hotel. They may seem like strange bedfellows, but in rapidly transforming Atlanta, this unusual relationship seems to be working.

The Clermont Lounge is not just any strip club. Established in 1965, this next-level dive bar is a beloved institution, where DJs, bands and Tuesday-night karaoke singers do their thing alongside dancers ranging in age from about 22 to 72.

And as Atlanta welcomes Super Bowl LIII fans, the lounge is basking in its status as one of the city's most colorful destinations.

"It's a different club than other clubs. And like, actually allows women older than 25 or 30 to work there. I'm 62 next month. Thank you, Jesus. I made it," says Blondie, who has shimmied and drop-kicked atop its bar since 1978.

Blondie, born Anita Rae Strange, is the most famous stripper in Atlanta -- a city known for adult entertainment. Crushing Budweiser and PBR cans with her breasts is a trademark. She also writes poetry.

"I would say everyone in Atlanta knows Blondie. Like my 90-year-old grandmom knows Blondie," says native Atlantan William Bubier, 26, who works as a server upstairs at Tiny Lou's, a French-American brasserie in the newly opened Hotel Clermont.

Blondie and the brasserie is the kind of juxtaposition that's increasingly common in Atlanta, and some locals worry that Champagne tastes will stamp out intown Atlanta's character.

"This girl don't like no Champagne. Don't like wine either. I like beer and shots," says Blondie.

Yet despite mixed feelings, the trendy boutique hotel has undoubtedly made a splash and brought new energy to a building that was shuttered for nearly a decade, save for the strip club in the basement.

Downstairs

The building started as the Bonaventure Arms Apartments in 1924 and became the extended-stay Clermont Hotel in 1939.

Several nightclubs occupied the basement space before the Clermont Lounge was born in 1965. By the '70s and '80s, the building and the corridor along Ponce de Leon Avenue were frequented by drug addicts and prostitutes.

In 2009, the hotel was shuttered by the health department. But the lounge carried on, drawing all ages and walks of life.

Jimmy Mahaffey, who's in his 50s, hit the new hotel's rooftop bar and the basement on a recent Saturday evening with his girlfriend, who visited the strip club in the '90s, before she moved to suburban Atlanta.

Mahaffey, who had never been to the lounge before, warmed up to the place immediately.

"It looked like I'd repaired the bar. It was duct-taped all the way around. Duct tape, my favorite repair tool," Mahaffey said.

"When I saw that duct-taped bar, I was like, damn, there are some survivors in here."

True. Blondie is not the oldest Clermont dancer. Porsha is in her 70s. Another dancer, Cassy, 54, who specializes in lighting her boobs on fire, has ties to the lounge dating back to the '80s.

"We're a family," says Katlyn, 22, who works at the lounge with her mom, both as servers.

The dancers choose their own songs on the jukebox. Smoke permeates everything, seeping into hair and clothes. All but the bald chain-smoker will probably want a shower at the end of the evening.

The most remarkable development of the past two decades, decorwise, is the recent remodel of the restrooms, previously a challenge for the public-facilities sensitive.

People love this place. Rightly so.

Celebrities are drawn by its atmosphere -- and the strict no-cameras policy. Anthony Bourdain was a fan. Robert De Niro, Woody Harrelson, Jennifer Lawrence and Jon Hamm have all been in.

Upstairs

The Clermont Lounge has a new friend in the Hotel Clermont.

The hotel, which opened in June 2018 after a $30 million overhaul, has a rooftop bar with sweeping skyline views, a coffee shop and a sultry cocktail bar in the lobby and the French-American brasserie, Tiny Lou's, one flight down.

Tiny Lou's is named after a dancer who performed at a basement club predating the Clermont Lounge.

The hotel's design, handled by New York-based Reunion Goods & Services, is "kind of rock 'n' roll in your grandmother's living room," says Alan Rae, Hotel Clermont's general manager.

Think velvet, rattan, wicker and florals with lots of bold wallpaper. There are 94 rooms, including several suites and a collection of four-bed bunk rooms geared toward friends traveling together.

The developer, Oliver Hospitality, bought the building in 2013, and there was never any question of closing the lounge.

"We like hotels that have personality, and this really had what I always called the street cred, the street credibility, of being authentic Atlanta and having the lounge in it," said Philip Welker, a principal at Oliver Hospitality.

Kathi Martin, who co-owns the lounge, is happy with the change. She wasn't sure who would buy the shuttered hotel or whether the buyers would keep the club.

"They like us, we love them," says Martin, who started out as a bartender at the lounge 40 years ago.

"They bought it and fought to keep us 'cause nobody wanted to finance it with an adult entertainment club in the basement," says Martin.

Keeping the lounge in place cost more than $1 million, Welker estimates. But it's something that can't be replicated anywhere else, and that's a bonus.

The lounge continues to lease space in the building, and the businesses are owned and operated independently.

The hotel is closed to the public through Super Bowl weekend for a slate of ticketed events including rooftop DJ sets hosted by Jermaine Dupri and DJ Mars and a celebrity game night presented by rapper T.I.

However, the lounge will be open later than usual and for the first time on a Sunday.

Changing landscape

Atlanta's redevelopment inspires mixed feelings.

Chris Sinon and Arielle Valdez, a 20-something couple, were having drinks on Hotel Clermont's rooftop on a Saturday evening. They're fans of the Clermont Lounge and feel a little torn about the building's transformation.

It's nice to see it revitalized, Valdez said, but it's also a prime example of what's happening in the hotel's Poncey-Highland neighborhood -- and across the city -- where upscale development is driving up housing prices.

The rooftop -- an Instagrammer's delight with neon signs and skyline views -- is a little "bougie," Valdez said, compared with the no-frills, no-photos lounge. Still, it was the pair's second rooftop visit.

"It's certainly changed," says hotel manager Alan Rae about the neighborhood. "But I think that the change has been at a level where there's a good balance, a good mix of keeping the character of the neighborhood with all of the smaller businesses."

Atlanta native Sean Vinson, 45, works security part-time at the Clermont Lounge. In the early 2000s, he worked there full time and lived upstairs in the hotel.

"I don't like it," Vinson says of the new hotel. "I mean it's of course better than what it used to be up there, but in some ways not too, you know?"

"You're gaining some things, but you're losing certain elements of the neighborhood. How it used to be. Yeah, there were people that were dangerous back then, but it wasn't as uptight either," says Vinson.

Or as expensive. "It used to be $200 a week, and now it's $200 a night."

Down the street, Ponce City Market is another urban metamorphosis. The converted 1920s Sears, Roebuck & Co. warehouse holds a food hall lined with casual chef-driven eateries, upscale retail, residences and offices.

It sits on the Atlanta BeltLine, a 22-mile trail that, when finished, will connect 45 neighborhoods.

"I mean the neighborhood has changed," says Blondie. "All the condos across the street, the neighborhood changing up and down."

Yet the Clermont remains.

"This place doesn't change," says Blondie. "And I don't change. After 40 years, I'm very humble. God made sure of that."

If you go

Hotel Clermont, 789 Ponce de Leon Ave NE, Atlanta, GA, (470) 485-0485. Rates for standard rooms start in the mid-$200s for winter 2019. Closed through the Super Bowl for private events.

Clermont Lounge, 789 Ponce de Leon Ave NE, Atlanta, GA, (404) 874-4783. The lounge will be open on Super Bowl Sunday, its first Sunday ever, thanks to a City Council waiver for the event that will also extend last call to 4 a.m. through February 4 at bars citywide.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 544046

Reported Deaths: 7037
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1133801672
Ramsey46957847
Dakota41493415
Anoka37550413
Washington24418273
Stearns20651216
St. Louis16500296
Scott15592116
Wright14440124
Olmsted1260496
Sherburne1031779
Carver956143
Clay769089
Rice7454101
Blue Earth682140
Kandiyohi621879
Crow Wing596486
Chisago539948
Otter Tail535173
Benton521396
Mower447732
Winona435749
Douglas434270
Goodhue431971
Nobles396848
Morrison386359
McLeod383254
Beltrami366957
Isanti363959
Itasca359451
Polk359466
Steele349714
Becker346548
Lyon343748
Carlton324352
Freeborn321729
Pine306521
Nicollet300742
Brown291239
Mille Lacs272548
Le Sueur266222
Todd265830
Cass243826
Meeker229337
Waseca227820
Martin209729
Wabasha19803
Roseau194718
Hubbard168541
Renville168543
Dodge16834
Redwood163935
Houston161814
Cottonwood152520
Fillmore15089
Pennington148719
Chippewa143736
Faribault141819
Wadena141221
Sibley133210
Aitkin127436
Kanabec126121
Watonwan12439
Rock121218
Jackson114710
Yellow Medicine109019
Pipestone107525
Murray10169
Pope9936
Swift97718
Marshall84117
Stevens79610
Lake77819
Wilkin75812
Clearwater75614
Koochiching75612
Lac qui Parle73122
Big Stone5544
Lincoln5542
Grant5398
Norman5139
Mahnomen4898
Unassigned48778
Kittson44922
Red Lake3817
Traverse3595
Lake of the Woods2962
Cook1440

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 355246

Reported Deaths: 5797
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk55552598
Linn20170329
Scott18763234
Black Hawk15468306
Woodbury14792219
Johnson1387680
Dubuque13035202
Dallas1082796
Pottawattamie10627160
Story1024647
Warren549086
Clinton531989
Cerro Gordo519386
Webster506191
Sioux503473
Marshall476274
Muscatine455096
Des Moines439365
Wapello4246120
Buena Vista421240
Jasper406670
Plymouth394179
Lee366855
Marion353975
Jones292355
Henry285537
Bremer278260
Carroll277750
Crawford261739
Boone256331
Benton249155
Washington248249
Dickinson238743
Mahaska223449
Jackson217242
Kossuth211561
Clay208625
Tama206371
Delaware201039
Winneshiek192633
Page189320
Buchanan187331
Cedar182723
Fayette182641
Wright178835
Hardin178742
Hamilton177049
Harrison174673
Clayton165455
Butler161834
Mills157520
Cherokee156438
Floyd154542
Lyon153641
Madison152219
Poweshiek152133
Allamakee149051
Iowa144824
Hancock142734
Winnebago135331
Grundy134732
Cass133954
Calhoun133011
Jefferson130535
Emmet127340
Shelby126637
Appanoose126247
Louisa126049
Sac125819
Mitchell125241
Union123732
Chickasaw122015
Humboldt117926
Guthrie116828
Franklin112421
Palo Alto109622
Howard102622
Unassigned10040
Montgomery99737
Clarke98023
Keokuk94330
Monroe93228
Ida88533
Adair84032
Pocahontas83021
Monona80430
Davis79824
Greene76310
Lucas74822
Osceola73816
Worth7018
Taylor65012
Fremont60410
Decatur5899
Van Buren55318
Ringgold53322
Wayne51823
Audubon4929
Adams3264
Rochester/St. Mary'S
Cloudy
36° wxIcon
Hi: 39° Lo: 34°
Feels Like: 26°
Mason City
Cloudy
41° wxIcon
Hi: 44° Lo: 35°
Feels Like: 31°
Albert Lea
Cloudy
37° wxIcon
Hi: 41° Lo: 34°
Feels Like: 28°
Austin
Cloudy
39° wxIcon
Hi: 41° Lo: 35°
Feels Like: 30°
Charles City
Cloudy
43° wxIcon
Hi: 44° Lo: 36°
Feels Like: 33°
Continued cloudy and cool conditions
KIMT Radar
KIMT Eye in the sky

Latest Video

Image

Sean's Weather 4/13

Image

Mayo Clinic physicians out in the community

Image

Alcohol Awareness Month

Image

Jake Braaten commits to SMSU

Image

Aaron's Overnight Forecast

Image

Protests continue in wake of Daunte Wright's Death

Image

CENTURY TRACK AND FIELD

Image

Testing sirens for severe weather season in Olmsted County

Image

Police investigating weekend shooting in Mason City

Image

Aaron's Evening Forecast (4/12/21)

Community Events