The Clermont Lounge might be the greatest equalizer Atlanta has ever seen. The city’s longest-running strip club opened in 1965, and the average age of its dancers teeters around 46, at least double the median age of their Vegas sisters.
Clermont is essentially a dive bar untouched by modern nuances like credit card machines, beers on tap, and properly functioning air conditioning. Visiting today is no different than it was fifteen years ago — and hopefully will still be fifteen years from now — when the talent includes Blondie, with her Pabst-beer-can-crushing boobs, and Porsha, in her Little Bo Peep or Little Red Riding Hood costumes.
As unlikely as it may seem for a strip joint to be a community center, everybody likes the Clermont Lounge. The place has a particular energy, packing in crowds of all ages, backgrounds, and inclinations on weekends, from celebs and regulars to lookie-loos, and, sure, the occasional pervs. But the mystery remains: How does the Clermont lure all these people, time and time again with zero advertising, a no-camera policy, and a moody staff who are just as quick to give patrons the what-for as they are to plant a wet kiss on an unsuspecting cheek? That’s anyone’s guess.
As Atlanta evolves with new developments in the neighborhood (including a new hotel upstairs from the club), the hope is that the Clermont Lounge stays the same as it ever was. And as strange as it ever was.
Porsha shows off a photo of herself during her glory days. At 70, she is one of the oldest dancers at the club. And although she might be known for her Little Bo Peep costumes, Porsha should be remembered for her work ethic. She hustles and works the room harder than anyone, and claims to have lent her voice to the opening sequence from Natural Born Killers. The infamous, "Are you flirting with me?" is, she says, all Porsha.
Tips earned by Barbie, one of the most popular dancers, whose body resembles her namesake doll covered in ink. At last count, she has at least 30 tattoos, though she jokes that she really only has one, and it’s just not finished yet.
Clermont Lounge security guard and bouncer D checks out the scene inside. Photography is strictly forbidden, and out-of-towners and non-regulars are routinely kicked out for attempting to snap a keepsake for posterity.
Chandra, 51, takes a break between sets. She’s been dancing at the Clermont on and off for about 27 years.
In addition to the dancers, live entertainment has always been a big draw at the lounge. Cat Power’s on-stage debut was at the Clermont, and Bubba Sparxxx, Redneck Greece, and Chris Rock have all paid homage to the lounge in their recordings. This is Swank Sinatra crouching mid-performance.
Musician Greg Reece rehearses before his live performance. He and his band, Redneck Greece, are best known for their tribute song, "Mama was a Dancer at the Clermont Lounge."
This is the corner — visible to all — where lap dances happen.
A Clermont customer throws back a PBR.
Behold the star of the show: Blondie. People come in droves to see her crush Pabst beer cans between her infamous breasts, a trick she did for the first time in the 1990s. While she wasn’t the first African-American to work at the Clermont, she’s certainly lasted the longest. She says she saw an opportunity to make a name for herself, and that taste of fame is what has made her stay all these years.
Porsha and Blondie cool off by the icemaker between sets.
The Clermont Hotel is undergoing a massive renovation project slated to transform the formerly derelict building into a boutique hotel. Projected to open in spring 2017 (though that date seems like a stretch), the hotel will have almost 100 rooms and a restaurant with an outdoor patio with views of the Midtown skyline.
Photos by Artem Nazarov.