If the new central bus station did not exist, Atarim Square would probably be
considered Tel Aviv’s ugliest piece of architectural blight. While its designers
hoped it would be the city’s top shopping and leisure destination when it opened
in the mid-seventies, the monstrosity is today an all but deserted open-air
urinal at the end of Ben-Gurion Boulevard.
At the center of this concrete
cyst is the former Coliseum club, a mushroom-shaped behemoth that has remained
shuttered in recent years, save for a few fleeting moments when bold or
foolhardy Israeli developers attempted to reignite the magic of the square’s
heyday, before failing miserably.
Now, one Israeli club owner thinks he
has the right formula to turn even this god-forsaken urban wasteland around. The “Coliseum Show” is set to open at the end of the month and is the brainchild of Kobi Mizrachi.
He is the owner of the Go-Go Girls strip
club on Allenby Street, the site of then-OC Israel Navy V.-Adm. Eliezer “Chiney”
Marom’s infamous boys’ night out in 2009. While Mizrachi has been outspoken in
declaring that the Coliseum will be a classy, sophisticated gentleman’s club,
Go-Go Girls is known for being one of the sleaziest strip clubs in Tel Aviv,
located on one of the grimiest spots on Allenby, arguably the city’s least
Last Thursday, a few dozen protesters held a
rally outside the Coliseum accusing it of supporting the human trafficking that
is rife in Israel’s sex trade, and of being nothing more than a whorehouse
masquerading as a cabaret.
Sitting on a couch in front of the club’s main
stage on Tuesday, promoter Avi Sasson said, “I won’t talk about the protests or
anything else involving them.” He then proceeded to talk about the
“They’re blaming us for things that don’t exist here; they just
decided to attack us for no reason,” he said. “We’re the only strip club trying
to do things in a different way and we’re the ones who get
Sasson says that the club will not employ any dancers that
were trafficked into the sex trade, arguing that such a phenomenon doesn’t exist
in the world of strip clubs: “Why traffic women to be strippers? There’s no
shortage of women in Israel wanting to be dancers.”
He also insisted,
somewhat implausibly, that the club’s entire staff of 30-40 women will not
include a single dancer from the Former Soviet Union, adding that they are all
Israeli women and the club is a completely “blue-and-white”
According to Sasson, customers will not be allowed to touch the
dancers at the Coliseum, setting it apart from the rest of Israel’s strip clubs,
which by and large have a hands-on lap dance policy. The dancers will instead
receive a set nightly salary of around NIS 1,000 so that they don’t have to
depend on tips from customers, and the sexual activities and groping that often comes along
He also said the club will not have the private rooms common
to other Israeli strip clubs, where dancers perform sex acts for clients,
blurring – if not erasing – the line between cabaret and brothel.
however brag that the club will have a large, private VIP area upstairs, as well
as a spa that features a potentially seedy Jacuzzi and two massage
He did specify that the Jacuzzi and massage tables will only be
available during bachelorette parties, during which he imagines groups of women
will enjoy being pampered with spa treatments while male strippers gyrate around
Whether the no-touching and no-sex policy will extend to the VIP
area remains to be seen.
Sasson denied that the club will feature
individual booths where strippers will perform private dances. According to
Sasson, pictures of such booths published online earlier in February were taken
surreptitiously while the club was undergoing renovations, and they do not
In a move that may help Israeli admirals and average
husbands avoid embarrassment, the club will also operate an elevator extending
directly from the parking garage to the VIP section, to allow for top-secret
visits. He did not specify if it will be a Shabbat elevator, which operates
automatically on the Sabbath to serve the religious public.
The club also
has the good fortune of being located directly on the main hotel strip – a
perfect location to rope in wayward tourists.
Sasson appeared to be dead
serious when he said the club will be a destination for both women and men, as
well as couples looking for a unique night out. In his words, the club will
avoid the sleaze of Israel’s strip clubs, in favor of an over-the- top Israeli
take on the traditional burlesque show.
“I think what is important is
that couples, women and men will come and there will always be a show,” Sasson
said. “You’ll see one girl dancing, then the next thing you know four more are
dropping down from the ceiling, then another one dances across the whole
Then another 20 dancers are all around. At all moments you’ll see
show, show, show.”
The Coliseum’s new incarnation is the result of what
Sasson said was a NIS 3 million renovation.
The interior features two
bars on two floors, with polished black stone surfaces gleaming next to black,
white and sepia photos of women in various states of undress getting closely
acquainted with one another. Technicolor lights beam throughout the facility and
the main stage is bookended by a pair of poles climbing two stories to the
The club’s planned opening at the end of the month comes as the
Knesset has taken rare action to fight the sex trade in Israel. This past
Sunday, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved a bill that makes
paying for sexual services a criminal offense punishable with a prison sentence
or community service.
For Sasson, the new legislation, like the protests
against the club, is nothing more than a joke.
“It’s legal for a woman to
be a prostitute in Israel, so they’re going after the customers? That’s like
driving to Eilat by way of Haifa. If you don’t want prostitution, make it
illegal, go arrest the girl,” he said.
The protests and the imminent
opening of the Coliseum are no laughing matter to Tamar Zandberg, Tel Aviv-Jaffa
municipal council member for the Meretz Party, who organized last Thursday’s
“We see this as part of the industry that sells the bodies and
sexuality of women,” she said.
Zandberg and a few dozen additional
protestors picketed the Coliseum last Thursday night, before marching to the
poorly-spelled Posicat strip club near the port, where she said they stood
outside and shamed patrons heading into the club.
When asked if she sees
a distinction between brothels and strip clubs, Zandberg said that she has heard
from witnesses that there are back rooms in the strip clubs where sex acts take
place, and that even if such acts do not take place, “there is a very thin line”
between strip clubs and brothels.
She argued that “sex acts” can include
a wide range of activities, and that if a man pays a woman to dance naked on top
of him while he gropes her, that constitutes a sex act.
dismissed the contention that women consent to work in strip clubs, stating that
many of them start at a young age after having endured sexual abuse, and find
themselves in an industry that is based on threats and
Furthermore, she said the business also has a negative
effect on the male patrons, who may leave the clubs with a warped view of
“Think of men going to a strip club, how will they treat their
wives or girlfriends after they leave?” Zandberg asked.
“Does it send a
message that a woman is an individual, or just a body with holes that is meant
to provide services?” Much more than the protests and the potentially irate
neighbors, Sasson and Mizrachi must avoid the mistakes of previous investors if
they are to finally revitalize Atarim Square. Most notably, the specter of
nightclub owner Haim Pinchas hangs over the re-opening of the Coliseum. In 2008,
Pinchas opened a members-only VIP club at the same location, after investing
several million shekels into turning it into what he said would be the most
exclusive club in Tel Aviv. A little over a year-and-a-half later the club
closed under crippling debt.
Sasson does not believe a similar fate will
befall the Coliseum Show, saying that his team will shoot for high class
theatrics, while always keeping the club’s focus more down to
“They [the previous owners] didn’t go for fun; they went for
high-society, celebrities,” he said. “This place is for fun and normal people,
like me and you.”