New Strip club to inject (night)life to blighted Square

Former Coliseum club in Tel Aviv will reopen with the Coliseum Show, an ‘Israeli take on traditional burlesque.’

Former Colloseum club in Tel Aviv 390 (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Former Colloseum club in Tel Aviv 390
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
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 attractive thoroughfare.
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 protests.
“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 attacked.”
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” venture.
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 with them.
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.
He did 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 tables.
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 them.
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 currently exist.
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 stage.
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 ceiling.
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 protest.
“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.
She also 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 intimidation.
Furthermore, she said the business also has a negative effect on the male patrons, who may leave the clubs with a warped view of women.
“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 earth.
“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.”