Five years ago Vinnie Paul began looking into his dream business: He wanted to build a rock and roll-themed golf course in Dallas. Paul thought that music and golf were a natural fit. As the drummer for Pantera, a successful metal band based in Dallas, he had played in plenty of celebrity golf tournaments and knew that musicians like the Eagles' Glenn Frey, Asleep at the Wheel's Ray Benson, and Mötley Crüe's Vince Neil seem to spend as much time on the links as they do in the studio. But Paul's desire to create a Hard Rock Cafe-style country club had a unique twist. "The idea was to have a strip club at the nineteenth hole," he says. "It would be this clubhouse where all the guys who were married could go without their wives ever knowing."
The 36-year-old Paul quickly discovered that the cost of building a golf course from scratch was prohibitive (not to mention that the wives would eventually catch on), but he has managed to turn one part of his dream into a multimillion-dollar reality. Four years ago he opened the Clubhouse, an adult nightclub a few blocks off Northwest Highway that has walls lined with lithographs of famous golfers and golf courses, a logo featuring a nude female golfer, and dancers' platforms that resemble putting greens. Even with close to seventy topless clubs in the Metroplex, the Clubhouse has become one of Dallas' most successful adult-oriented businesses. Celebrity ownership is a large part of that success; it translates into a wide range of celebrity visitors. Major touring artists like Marilyn Manson, Kiss, Metallica, and Black Sabbath have all dropped by, and regulars reportedly include members of the Dallas Cowboys and the Dallas Stars, pro golfers, and NASCAR drivers. "We've got more rock stars, athletes, and movie stars than anywhere else," Paul says. "It's all part of the mystique. You never know who you're going to run into." But there's another part of the mystique that has been instrumental to the club's success, and it's one that definitely turns heads. The Clubhouse is one of the few clubs in Dallas County where the dancers perform fully nude.
Pantera is very much a product of the eighties hard rock scene, a movement in which the studios the bands recorded in and the clubs they played were often chosen for their proximity to topless clubs. Three of Pantera's albums have sold more than one million copies each, and after Paul and his bandmates bought the obligatory cars and homes, they began looking elsewhere for places to put their money. Paul says that he first looked into investing in a restaurant or a music venue but that his discussions with the owners of strip clubs he visited while on the road led to the conclusion that opening an adult nightclub made better financial sense. "In a good economy or a bad economy, people are interested in women," Paul says. "Sex seems to be a stable business."
Paul may be the catalyst for the Clubhouse and its most vocal spokesperson, but he isn't alone in this venture. Two of his partners are bandmates Rex Rocker and Dimebag Darrell (Pantera frontman Phil Anselmo opted not to participate and instead opened a haunted house in New Orleans). Another partner, Dallas nightclub veteran Jeff Murtha, was playing golf with Paul when the drummer first dreamed up the golf-topless club crossover. Not long after that, Murtha collected $1 million from the three musicians and a group of investors and began scouting locations. He eventually settled on a spot in a warehouse district just off Northwest Highway and Interstate 35. So that the club would cause as little uproar as possible, his lawyers advised him to stay off Northwest Highway's main drag and to keep his signage free of words like "topless" or "cabaret." "I believe we haven't made the lawyers rich and we've never had any community or police issues because we don't shove it down people's throats," says the 43-year-old Murtha, who learned the club business while working for the company that owns TGI Friday's. "We're just far enough off the beaten path that nobody comes here by mistake."
The Clubhouse may be out of the way, but its patrons aren't having a hard time finding it. Murtha and Paul say it returned their investment within a year. More important, they made it back one $20 cover at a time. The golf theme and the celebrity ownership may help set the Clubhouse apart from its competitors, but its dancers are the driving force behind its financial success. Because fully nude clubs are prohibited by the Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission from owning a liquor or a beer license, they must counter the loss of alcohol revenues by charging a steep cover. Murtha says the Clubhouse's decision to go fully nude wasn't difficult; it would not only make the club stand out but also eliminate both licensing hassles and liability. Since the Clubhouse's staff doesn't provide alcohol, the club's liability is minimized in regard to overserving, which limits the insurance it needs to cover those liabilities.
Murtha admits, however, that this choice precludes an upscale adult nightclub's best customer: the big spender. Patrons of the Clubhouse can't splurge on $300 bottles of champagne or buy rounds for dancers, friends, and strangers. The financial rewards of owning a liquor license can be huge: Topless bars traditionally top the state comptroller's monthly list of the highest-grossing businesses, with popular spots like Dallas' Cabaret Royale and Baby Dolls each grossing alcohol sales of between $500,000 and $1 million a month. "Club owners have to decide from the outset whether to go nude and cut their hassles by eighty percent or put up with headaches and chase the big alcohol money," says Don Waitt, the publishe r of Exotic Dancer, a trade magazine for the adult nightclub industry. "Most owners opt for the liquor and the money."
Murtha believes the Clubhouse's success in paying off its original $1