ATLANTA — The stripper’s name is “Diamond.”
Petite and pretty, she is dangerous with those flirty, long lashes.
She canvases the room in 6-inch stilettos and a black fishnet dress that hug her delicate curves. But she looks timid, a touch insecure and far younger than her 31 years.
While buxom beauties and leggy ladies take turns gyrating on the three poles erected on stage, “Diamond” searches for what she craved: Time. Attention. Money.
She had traveled from Kentucky, having spent $1,300 on this calculated trek to a temporary home: Onyx, a mainstay of Atlanta’s gentlemen club scene. But as she scans the half-filled room Friday evening, “Diamond” begins to have doubts.
“Now I’m wondering if I picked the wrong club,” she whispers, covering her mouth with her hand.
Exotic dancers from every coast and corner of the country — including small, East coast cities like Manassas, Virginia — descended on The ATL this past week with a very specific intention: A Super Bowl experience of a different kind. And in Atlanta, where “Magic City Mondays” are a rite of passage for some, young women arrived with lofty expectations.
The main objective: Get paid. By the thousands.
While Centennial Olympic Park and local streets, like Marietta and Peachtree, were overrun with football fans by day, popular clubs like Onyx, Magic City, Follies and Allure (just to name a few), were banking on the insatiable sexual appetites of tourists.
Forty-eight hours before the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams will square off in Super Bowl LIII, a famous Southern rapper, a collection of current and former NFL players, and young dancers congregate in close quarters for the night.
[Watch live: Super Bowl LIII on the Yahoo Sports mobile app, Sunday at 6:30 p.m. ET]
But while the influx of out-of-town performers provide more options for strip-club customers, it also created a stressful and chaotic environment for some.
“Oh my God, everybody’s trying to come from all 50 states,” said Onyx house mom, Sabrena, one of the women charged with hiring and managing the dancers. “Everybody wants to come work. Everyone’s looking at it like it’s a gold mine. It’s been hectic because you can only hire so many girls.”
‘I ain’t eat for two days’
Sabrena is starving. She’s also more than an hour behind schedule.
It’s after 10 p.m. on Friday, and the venue is starting to fill up more quickly. But the order of the dancers has yet to be finalized.
“I’m sooo behind,” she said in a fatigued, exasperated tone, as she searches for her favorite pen underneath stacks of paper on her desk. “… I ain’t eat for two days.”
Sitting in a cramped corner of the dressing room, she refocuses her attention on the tasks at hand: Completing the dance order, scrutinizing everyone’s outfits (as well as their ashiness) before they hit the stage, and collecting the white plastic bags filled with dollar bills that have been quickly swept off the floor.
Onyx’s current roster of dancers has dipped down to about 70, Sabrena said. But in the lead-up to Super Bowl week, she said she received “700 requests” to work. She hired 100 women, fully expecting half of them not to show for one reason or another.
“I don’t want no more than 100 girls, period,” she said.
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But the pulsating bass reverberating through the speakers is no match for the frenetic energy inside the dressing room.
About 15 women, some half-naked, others fully nude, cram around a long table with a double-sided mirror in the center of the room. Weaves, brightly dyed wigs and low-cut fades adorn women of all sizes — from the well-endowed to the athletically built. Some primp for their next performance. Others, donning clear platform heels or open-toe ankle boots with fringe tassels, stop to check in with Sabrena. They grab a peppermint, a stick of gum or a Milky Way Mini out of the glass candy dish on her desk, then exit toward the music and hookah smoke.
One dancer is stopped before she can make her way outside. Eagle-eyed Sabrena spotted a fluffy ball of lint stuck to the back of her lace boy shorts. She also notices the young woman isn’t wearing any makeup.
Sabrena gives a look of disapproval and points to the back of the room, where a middle-aged woman is doing makeup on another girl.
Here, appearance is everything.
“I think women should be sexy,” said “J.C.,” a 69-year-old vendor of exotic wear and fellow house mom, while sitting in the back of the room next to a rack full of a vinyl, sequins and see-through clothing. “Before, if you were ugly, you couldn’t work here.”
Not used to this
“Red Velvet” had never been naked before. Not completely.
Back in Houston, she’d grown accustomed to topless dancing. But things are done differently here in Atlanta.
The Texas native arrived Thursday night and reported to Onyx the following day. Though her shift was supposed to end at midnight, she chose to stay longer to make up for the dead periods earlier in the day.
This week, clubs like Onyx are open until 4 a.m.
“Red Velvet” has been dancing for only five months, but she has a plan: Strip until the end of the year, quit the business altogether and then invest her earnings. But on this particular night, her confidence is waning.
The same is true for “Diamond,” who spent the past few days adjusting to the “culture shock” of going from the “white clubs” she’s used to in Kentucky to “the black clubs.”
She had hoped to return home with $7,000-$15,000, but by midnight Friday, she isn’t anywhere close to her goal.
“You hear all the hoopla about Atlanta and all the money and everything, but it hasn’t been that at all,” said “Diamond.”
“Red Hot,” a 24-year-old regular at Onyx, said she knows a girl who made $30,000 on Thursday night at a different club.
“That’s not the average,” she said, guessing that “a couple thousand” was a more likely haul for Onyx dancers this week.
Being “new” can also be a liability for ladies who are either unfamiliar with the body types, music genres and dance moves preferred around these parts.
“Every club is different,” said “Red Hot,” who sells insurance by day. “Even if you look good, it doesn’t mean anything.”
At 12:50 a.m., rapper T-Pain arrives in all of his “I’m in love with a stripper” glory. Soon, the Florida rapper is in the elevated D.J. area and the venue becomes more packed. A former Super Bowl champion checks the time and tells his buddies he’s ready to leave. He had planned to stay by the stage only “15 minutes.”
The Hookah smoke hovers as a multiple of aromas — perfume, Black & Milds and marijuana — merge.
Five women take the stage, with one hanging upside down from the ceiling in a black, two-piece lingerie set.
While servers carry bottles topped with sparklers to VIP sections, free-agent and retired football players file in. A former first-round-pick-turned-bust arrives around 1:30 a.m., flanked by two of his former teammates. A current NFL running back, wearing denim vest, snakes through the crowd. By 1:50 a.m, Meek Mill’s “Dreams and Nightmares” blares through the speakers, energizing the cramped space.
“It’s been crazy all week,” one of Onyx’s regular dancers says of her first Super Bowl experience. “If you work every day you can make $15,000. But you’ll be sooooo tired.”
Some dancers struggle to garner enough attention to call the evening a success. “Peach,” who traveled from Austin, Texas on Tuesday, had decided to work the night shift to make up for the dead afternoon period. But with so many dancers on Sabrena’s list, she isn’t sure if she’ll see the pole again.
Outside of the men’s room, an ATM is wedged between a vending machine and change machine. A neon sign across the room advertises another Onyx attraction — “Hot Wings.”
While one female server takes a tray of spicy wings into the men’s bathroom for a patron, a bubbly young woman carries test tube shot glasses around the room.
Asked about this Friday night turnout, she smiles and says: “You need to come back [on Saturday]. That’s when all the celebrities will be out.”
The price of entry this week, however, is steep.
Earlier in the night, an NFC pass rusher initially balked at the $100 per-person cover charge. But after he and his female companion walked out, they later retuned and forked over the money.
A short time later, three slightly tipsy Patriots fans are sought assurances before agreeing to pay.
“Will we have a good time?” one of them asks the woman collecting money, who, coincidentally, is wearing a Patriots shirt and Converse-style Patriots sneakers.
Matter-of-factly, she replies: “If you like ass and [breasts], you will.”
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