Ivan Kane was probably wondering what happened to his old frisky-friendly hometown.
Behind his blue-tinted glasses, the sharp-dressed nightclub impresario looked out on the angry mob that had assembled against him: Graying, middle-aged, family-oriented folks, for the most part; his peers, in a sense, as well as his opponents.
They had been campaigning against him and his proposed club for weeks, papering the neighborhood with suggestive fliers depicting scantily clad dancers and denouncing the purported “strip club/cabaret with 3 bars … open until 5 AM at least five days a week.”
One waved racy photos in front of a local preacher to rally support for the anti-Kane cause. Others brandished “No nudity!” placards.
Mr. Kane, himself a married man and father, tried to ease their fears. “There is no nudity,” he said. “There are no poles. No lap-dances. No private rooms. We are not a strip club.”
“It’s high art,” he added.
The mob was unmoved. “We are not Las Vegas!” the shouts came back. “We are not Hollywood!”
This wasn’t ultra-conservative, censorship-happy Cincinnati, either—this was New York City!
It’s a place Mr. Kane thought he knew. As a boy, the New York-born entrepreneur used to cut class to attend the old-school burlesque houses that once lined 42nd Street. “We called it Forty Deuce,” he would later explain in press reports, a term he ultimately adopted as the moniker for his burgeoning, burlesque-revivalist brand of nightclubs.
The former Platoon actor must have felt like Charlton Heston in Planet of the Apes, a weary time traveler, returning decades later to a landscape he barely recognized, populated by a strange, cranky race; a metropolis devolved into a suburb. You maniacs!
Last week, Mr. Kane apparently decided he’d had enough of this brave new world, shelving months of planning and a reported $1 million spent renovating his already-leased 5,000-square-foot space on Kenmare Street in Nolita.
Once vocally “thrilled to be finally bringing [Forty Deuce] home,” he abruptly skipped town without comment.
“He’s not moving forward right now,” Mr. Kane’s spokesperson told The Observer. “Honestly, I don’t know what’s going to happen with the space,” she added.
It’s the second time in nine months that the Hollywood-based club owner has been robbed of his long-awaited homecoming.
An earlier deal to open a Forty Deuce club on West 21st Street fell through last December after the landlord had second thoughts about renting to a nightclub, even despite community support. At the time, Mr. Kane reportedly vowed, “I’m coming to New York next week, and I’m not leaving until I find a place.”
Now, it’s unclear whether he’ll ever come back. “It’s hard to imagine him moving forward after what happened here,” said Mr. Kane’s attorney, Robert Bookman, also a lobbyist for the New York Nightlife Association, who blamed the local community board for reversing its earlier approval of his liquor license.
Considering the widespread publicity that Mr. Kane’s hometown rejection generated, Mr. Bookman further suggested that the club owner might have a hard time finding future investors for expansion to other cities.
Las Vegas, naturally, was much more accommodating to the native New Yorker when Mr. Kane sought his second location after his original Hollywood lounge. The biggest obstacle to opening in Vegas, as chronicled by the Bravo network’s 2005 four-part reality series also titled Forty Deuce, was finding dancers talented enough to impress the executives at Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino.
Even as Sin City has taken pains to spruce up its own once seedy reputation, though, Forty Deuce seemed a good fit. “Vegas,” as Mr. Kane told the Las Vegas Review-Journal, “is going back to a time that harkens back to when you’d see Sinatra and Dino sitting in the type of club that Forty Deuce is.”
Manhattan, on the other hand, seems to have arrived at a point when even Sting and David Bowie can’t buy a club to sit in. (Both were investors in the local Forty Deuce project.)
“It’s very shocking to me that this would happen in Manhattan, especially downtown Manhattan,” said Angie Pontani, a Brooklyn-based burlesque performer who regularly tours the country as part of the World Famous Pontani Sisters dance troupe. “You’d think we’d gotten to the point where people can make a distinction between a burlesque club like Forty Deuce and a pole-dancing-style strip club.”
Other, arguably less fashionable locales get it, Ms. Pontani pointed out.
“We take our show to Lincoln, Neb., and everything’s fine,” she said. “We’ll play Madison, Wis., and everybody there is familiar with it. Guess that doesn’t say much about downtown. Yikes!”
The timing of Mr. Kane’s bitter rejection is also striking, given the recent resurgence of interest in the old vaudeville genre. “I think burlesque in New York is hotter now than it’s ever been,” Ms. Pontani said. “There are new clubs opening everywhere.”
Less than a mile away from the proposed Forty Deuce location on Kenmare, in fact, sits Corio, a swanky, 2,000-square-foot supper theater and lounge, located at West Broadway and Grand Street, which is barely a year old. Like Forty Deuce, the venue takes its name from Manhattan’s rich burlesque history, specifically Ann Corio, who in 1965 famously launched the Broadway show “This Was Burlesque,” an ode to the Manhattan bawdy scene prior to Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia’s 1939 crackdown. The show ran again during the 1980’s.
On Oct. 5, a revival of that revival, titled “This Is Burlesque,” opens at Corio.
The timing seems only appropriate, given the controversy that the genre has created yet again, courtesy of Mr. Kane.
“The city, as it does every once in a while, decides that these places are black sheep that they’re going to put out of business,” says Corio owner Adam Jacobs, who’s often visited Mr. Kane’s Hollywood club. “It’s a very classy act compared to a lot of things I’ve seen in New York,” he said.
The critics’ focus on the risqué element of Mr. Kane’s proposed club, however, may be more of a scare tactic, employed by the old-fogey lobby to strengthen its typical complaints about noise, trash and traffic. The growing anti-bar-sprawl sentiment in downtown Manhattan makes opening any nightclub, skimpy-clad dancers or not, a daunting proposition.
“Maybe Ivan should consider opening a Forty Deuce in Brooklyn,” suggested Ms. Pontani.
On Monday night, Williamsburg’s Galapagos Art Space staged its weekly amateur burlesque show. A throng of primarily young hipsters turned out for the bizarre variety show, which included performances from a belly dancer, a midget, a machine-gun-wielding clown and a woman dressed as a character from Ghostbusters who shed her uniform down to movie-logoed pasties and climactically yanked green slime out of her G-string.
It’s a show that even the 60 Minutes demographic can appreciate.
Sitting at the bar, dressed in an orange sweater and khaki pants, 64-year-old Martin Kushner, a professor of pop culture at Middlesex Community College in New Jersey, waxed scholarly about what he saw.
“There’s a potential for some real creativity here and a comment in contemporary terms on the body and sexuality and exhibitionism and all of that,” he told The Observer, adding, “I’m not sure what it was from this performance.”