Seedy Tel Aviv strip club to be new center for female empowerment

Formerly home to the Coliseum, the urban landmark at the end of Ben-Gurion Boulevard has lately been associated with The Pussycat Club - a seedy strip joint.

The exterior of the former Pussycat Club at Tel Aviv's Atarim Square (photo credit: YAKIR SEGEV)
The exterior of the former Pussycat Club at Tel Aviv's Atarim Square
(photo credit: YAKIR SEGEV)
  The glory days of Tel Aviv’s once-trendy Atarim Square, overlooking the Mediterranean shore, have long since been forgotten as the concrete plaza has fallen into disrepair.

Formerly home to the Coliseum, a large and glamorous nightlife institution with an iconic circular design, the urban landmark at the end of Ben-Gurion Boulevard has lately been associated with The Pussycat Club – a seedy strip joint in operation since 2012 and discovered by police to be soliciting prostitution in private rooms located in its basement.
 
Numerous attempts over the years to revamp the dilapidated square have regularly ended in failure.
 
Attracting Tel Aviv’s rich and famous remains a distant memory, with legendary former Tel Aviv mayor Shlomo “Chich” Lahat famously expressing his desire for an Iraqi Scud missile to destroy the site during the Gulf War almost three decades ago.
 
Despite losing its operating license in 2017, The Pussycat Club only shut its doors in July following protests and a lengthy legal battle led by the Task Force on Human Trafficking and Prostitution.
 
Closing the notorious spot was also a top priority for the new owners of Atarim Square, JTLV Investments. The Yehud-based property developers have announced ambitious plans for the beachfront site, including the construction of three luxury residential and hotel towers.
 
While construction is unlikely to start for several years as debates over planning proposals drag on, the former home of The Pussycat Club will not simply be abandoned together with its history of exploitation of women and prostitution: until the bulldozers arrive, the developers have agreed to offer the site rent-free to community groups determined to “correct” the errors of the site’s recent past.
Leading the so-called correction project on a voluntary basis is renowned social activist Yakir Segev. Together with groups of hands-on pre-military teenagers, he is busy converting the property into a center for female empowerment and social activism – a powerful message given the location’s recent past.
 
“We intend to push the strip club and brothel back into the darkness, back toward the fringes of society,” Segev told The Jerusalem Post at the former strip club, surrounded by furniture and equipment donated by local businesses and hotels. “We have taken the best place in the city, a prime location, and prioritized the community and social activism. From a place of exploitation of women, we will do the opposite. We will strengthen women and give them hope.”
 
A center for the empowerment and education of women – including a large kitchen for culinary lessons – is currently being constructed in the basement, where unmade bed sheets still remained from the building’s former tenant.
 
A hub for Jewish and Israeli culture as well as a center for groups visiting Israel from abroad are also planned. Contrary to some media reports, the building is not being converted into a synagogue, although it has hosted some prayer services organized by local group Beit Tefilah Israeli since the closure of the club.
 
While the blacked-out windows of the club have been removed, revealing a long-hidden but almost unrivaled view of the sea, a limited number of poles and dressing room mirrors complete with women’s names serve as stark reminders of the site’s history. Raquel Garshofsky has been tasked with designing the renovated site.
 
“If you walk around here, you can see that this was a strip club and a brothel,” Segev said. “It also has all the private rooms, poles and VIP rooms. The club employed 120 workers, including 40 girls. In another four years or so, when all this will be razed, the idea is to take this center and include it in a dedicated space within the new towers.”
 
Organizations already using or expected to take advantage of the strip club-turned-social hub include nonprofit ISRAELis, a group dedicated to improving Israel’s image abroad via post-military backpackers; Tribe Empowerment Platform, an organization teaching hi-tech skills to women lacking qualifications; the Rechter Center for Architecture; and a range of pre-military leadership academies.
 
Segev and his team of volunteers plan to open the center to the public next month, offering guided tours of the site to enable visitors to understand its past, present and future.
 
“Our goal is for as many people as possible to hear our message and about the ‘correction’ being carried out here, and to expose as many as possible to the issues of #MeToo and, for example, the events in Ayia Napa [in Cyprus] several months ago,” said Segev. “Those who visit us can connect to these messages and issues from the angle of both Israeli and Jewish values.”
 
Whether guided tour participants subsequently opt to take advantage of additional facilities offered by the new center or continue to tour other sites in Tel Aviv, Segev is confident that there is a vital need for such a facility in the city.
 
“There is the sea and the beach, but people come to Tel Aviv because of the energy and vibe of the city, and this is a place that brings those things to fruition,” said Segev. “We have all had difficult times, and many have turned to a place like this. People will find us, because this is a place of activity and action.”