News - Fight the silicone!

Is the Clermont losing its campy comfort?

Like many Atlantans, I have been known to bewail and bemoan the evisceration of some of Atlanta's more culturally rich and eccentric communities.

But I was caught off guard by the latest, the most outrageous, the most insidious invasion of our collective cultural enema. I am speaking, of course, about the strippers at the Clermont Lounge.

The Clermont long has been renowned for its rather unconventional performers. By "unconventional," I mean that the women have, well, the bodies of regular people, the kind that cannot be maintained on Calista Flockhart diets and are never created by Jaguar-driving surgeons. They jiggle a little more than the women at the Cheetah.

For the regulars, the Clermont is a place where you can stuff $1 bills into the garter belt of a naked woman without getting slapped. There is no cover charge, and you can buy Pabst Blue Ribbon in a can. The usual dancers, with their comfortable bodies and attitudes, promise that the Clermont is an oasis apart from the alpha-male obsessions of Atlanta's nouveau riche.

For others, the Clermont is a determinedly campy experience. The frat-boy packs, bachelor party beatniks and irony-infected vanguards of bobo sophistication come to the Clermont to laugh and test their audacity. Their laughter pisses off the regulars.

We can analyze and criticize these motivations all night long, but the fact remains that at the Clermont, women of natural, ordinary, attainable beauty are working (yes, cheaply) at a job usually reserved for the medically enhanced realizations of America's Barbie Doll dreams. And the customers love them.

Now, don't panic. Blondie is still there in all her beer-can-crushing glory. So are a few of the other seasoned veterans. But a Harris Teeter just went up down the street, and there are some fresh faces at the Clermont Lounge. Don't get me wrong. They are talented dancers with tiny waists, flat stomachs, large breasts, flawless skin and ... well, everything you would expect to find in a woman working at a strip club.

Why? Say it with me: gentrification. The city planners, the commerce kings, the property-value lottery hopefuls all want Ponce to class itself up a bit, to clean up its act, to behave a bit more respectably.

In a city where convention buses routinely ferry crowds of visitors to the Gold Club and the Cheetah, "respectable" doesn't mean full-length skirts and high-collared bodices. It means strippers who look like strippers are supposed to look, women who adhere to our statuesque mold. Heaven forbid that our attractions be found wanting by business-trip bachelors in search of some skin. What would they think should they find Atlantans reveling in the raw sexuality and awkward gyrations of a regular woman with barbecue in her blood and a bit of beer in her belly?

Now, I'm not suggesting that Bill Campbell is personally approving the Clermont's new hires. The motivation, as usual, is money and business survival. While rumors long have abounded that the Clermont was about to go condo, the lounge owners seem dedicated to an alternate strategy for now: cashing in on the more affluent residents that gentrification has drawn.

I recently overheard a conversation between a bartender and a regular. A young man in his Abercrombie & Fitch best had ordered a Red Bull and rum. The regular wondered what the Clermont was doing selling energy drink cocktails. "Gotta please the yuppies," she replied, shaking her head.

And so it goes, new money and expectations marching ahead with stultifying, sterilizing steps. Can the Clermont resist the bumps and grinds of insistent capitalism, or will it bend to become a Disneyfied distillation of sanitary Southern Seedy? Jiggle on, Blondie. Wiggle strong.

Editor's note: Jane Catoe's "Jane Says" will return next week.??

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