Rebranding Underway; Process Likely To Be Rocky

PINE GROVE, LA (AP) — For years, St. Helena Parish warred with the strip club in a nondescript warehouse building. A few years ago, the owner pleaded guilty to running an illegal gambling den. The lounge has closed twice under inauspicious circumstances — torched by a suspected arson and shuttered after inspectors found a used condom in the VIP room and bugs in the liquor.

         Now, the notorious Oak Ridge Lounge has reopened.

         In 2012, state Alcohol and Tobacco Control agents found evidence of drug use and cheaper liquor being sold from high-end bottles, in addition to the bugs and condom. Oak Ridge was fined, and its liquor license was suspended for eight weeks. Without liquor, the bar closed its doors, and the weeks stretched into years. The bar briefly reopened last August, though it was a "fiasco," according to the current manager.

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         New management took over last month promising to "transform" the club, and the St. Helena Police Jury on Jan. 13 approved Oak Ridge's alcohol permits for another year.

         Pastors and police jurors say they're sick of fighting the strip club over its right to offer a nude revue. But neither will they shed any tears if the club can't draw a crowd and is forced to close.

         Oak Ridge management says reopening has been "rocky," as it tries to lure people through the door. It's trying to rebrand the club. But it may take more than a new approach and a fresh coat of paint to change public perception.

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         "They call it 'The Greasy Pole.' … We want to get away from that. … I'm not an idiot. I know it's going to be difficult," said a new manager who identified himself only as Joe.

         "It's a safety issue," he said of his decision not to give his last name.

         The lounge is encouraging customers to call it "Club Kinjite" after a Japanese word for "forbidden." A hand-drawn poster on the door heralds the new name.

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         "No unescorted women" is written below in red.

         By 10 p.m. on a Friday night in January, a handful of customers paid the $10 cover to enter the club on La. 16 just east of Pine Grove. Over the next several hours, the number climbed to about two dozen. They played pool, saddled up to the bar or sat around the horseshoe stage where the pole is located. A sign advertises lap dances for $35, and employees say a half-hour with a dancer in the VIP room upstairs goes for $200.

         A member of the club staff stopped two dancers from getting too close to customers.

         "We've got rules. … I ain't trying to run no whorehouse," the staffer said in a phone interview a few days later. She identified herself as a manager named Holly, saying she didn't want to be harassed if she gave her full name.

         "So far I think everyone hates us. … People just hate us because evidently they think we were a whorehouse."

         – by AP/ Reporter Steve Hardy with The Advocate

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