F—ck Giuliani: Rudy and The Red Garter
A retired stripper explores the connections between Rudy Giuliani, the Five Families, and the clubs where she worked in the late 90s.
Guest post by Nia Molinari
Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.
The song faded. Rather than the usual banter—“Let’s hear it, guys, for Aurora! And next on main stage, we have the intoxicating Maria!”—the DJ leaned into the microphone and uttered two words: Fuck Giuliani.
Then he did it again: Fuck Giuliani. A few patrons chimed in from the crowd— Fuck Giuliani. I took a sip of my drink and glanced around the packed club with amused curiosity. Bit by bit, just about everyone in the room stood up and joined in: Fuck Giuliani. The chant grew louder and louder as the number of people increased: Fuck Giuliani. FUCK GIULIANI. FUCK GIULIANI!
At a strip club in Queens, a roomful of about 300 men, most of them Italian, were all screaming Fuck Giuliani at the top of their lungs while air-pumping their fists in drunken synchronistic fervor—a very Scorsese moment that I will always cherish deeply.
It was late summer of 1999. I had been in the city since May, when I had decided on a whim to jet off to NYC from my home on the West Coast and find a club to work at for a few months. I was a seasoned stripper; I had been working in the clubs off and on for over a decade at that point. I called one of my former club managers in Las Vegas, and asked where in New York I should go; he gave me the name of a club to hit up when I landed. This should have been easy to do, right?
Yeah, right. Fuckin’ fuggetaboutit.
The club was in Midtown; I don’t remember the name. I approached the guy at the rope, told him who referred me. He let me in without question. I sat at the bar, ordered a drink, and waited for the manager. Gorgeous club, awesome main stage, but it was dead. Vacant. Empty. A cemetery had more life. No dancers on stage, and like five customers in this beautiful, massive room. Suddenly, one of the dancers stormed by me in a rage, dragging her suitcase behind her while screaming a stream of obscenities. I was startled, but not surprised. This is not abnormal for a strip club.
The flustered assistant manager approached me, and handed me some paperwork. He told the bartender he had my drink. I thanked him, and then I asked him what the problem was, why was the club so empty and where were the other dancers? He shook his head and growled, “Fuckin’ Giuliani,” then turned and walked away. Puzzled, I tipped the bartender and naively asked, “Who the fuck is Giuliani?” The bartender scowled. “A motherfuckin’ insult to all Italians is what that piece of shit is.” I laughed but stopped asking questions.
While I filled out the paperwork, a pair of cops nonchalantly came in and leaned on the bar with stoic exasperation. I asked if there was a problem. The cop shrugged and casually tossed off that a pissed-off dancer had hit the club manager over the head with a scalding hot curling iron because they wouldn’t cash out her “funny money.” Ah, the girl who stormed out. That makes sense; I sipped on my drink, and finished my paperwork.
They hired me without a stage audition, and waved my “house fees”—the surcharge that dancers pay to the club as independent contractors. I worked the whole night. It never picked up. But I was able to learn more about this Giuliani character everyone was so fond of. He was the Mayor of New York, and he was “re-zoning” all the adult entertainment businesses, much to the consternation of the club owners. Because of Giuliani’s new rules, this particular club could no longer be topless and serve alcohol; they were now restricted to bikini only, and no more lap dances. Needless to say, this killed business. The club owners seemed to think this was all some form of intentional sabotage—that it was personal.
I worked a couple more nights at this club through the weekend. It didn’t get any better. So I decided to hit up a few other places in the city, hoping for a more lucrative club. First, I tried Flashdancers, on 51st Street and Broadway. It was packed. Wall-to-wall people on a Monday, drastically different from the other club. I filled out the paperwork and waited to audition. I wasn’t a big fan of the club itself—I could tell it was one of those clubs that didn’t give a shit about their dancers, they just wanted the money the dancers paid out—but hey, I needed to work. The manager approached me. He read my application. He furrowed his brow and then glared at me. “I’m sorry, you aren’t our type.” I asked him what their type was. I could see him reaching for an answer. He said, “Your breasts are too small.” I glanced over at the cattle-call-style stage and spotted a dancer with my exact same body type. So I knew he was lying, but I couldn’t figure out why. But there was nothing for me to do but glare back at him and go home.
The next night, I tried my luck at Scores, on East 60th Street. This was the club everyone in NYC wanted to work at, the place made infamous by Howard Stern. Nice enough main room, but it had a freaky vibe. It was what we called a “gown club,” the kind of establishment that required long dresses on the floor, they didn’t allow you to wear boots, and they made you cover your tattoos—all in an attempt to be “classy.” Which is just stupid. It’s a fucking strip club! I filled out the paperwork, changed into a dress and heels, and waited for management once again at the bar. Like Flashdancers, Scores was busy for a weekday.
A man and a woman, both wearing suits, approached me and introduced themselves. The man took the clipboard with my application on it. “Follow me,” he said. I followed, with the woman trailing behind me. We reached another bar on the other side of the room with no customers around, which was weird. I saw a tiny, and I mean miniature, coffee-table-sized stage with a pole in the center that shot up to the ceiling. It was probably three feet in circumference. I looked back at him in disbelief.
Deadpan, he said, “Next song get on that stage, take your dress off one minute into the song, and no polework or floorwork.” I glanced at the insult of a stage. I looked back. “No polework?” That was my strength as a stripper; I was known for it. “No,” he responded. “Polework is trashy. This isn’t a biker bar.” I had to stop myself from laughing in his face, but okay, whatever, buddy. I knew this was pointless by now. So, I climbed up onto the miniscule joke of a stage and did what they said. The man and woman stood there expressionless and watched me NOT dance to some random pop song on a teeny stage for two and a half minutes. The whole charade was ludicrous. I knew they weren’t looking for dancers; they were looking for hookers, it seemed to me.
As I put my dress back on, I watched them as he pointed to the clipboard and shook his head. He said something to her. Then they approached. “We aren’t hiring right now.” Which, as with the manager at Flashdancers, was clearly a lie.
Something was off. I’d never had a problem getting hired in clubs before. I wasn’t unattractive; in retrospect, I was much more attractive than I thought I was. I was a phenomenal stage dancer, I didn’t have a boob job, but I had a J-Lo body type, before J-Lo was even a thing. None of this made any sense to me.
The following night, I hit up a new club on Seventh Avenue called Lace that I was referred to. It wasn’t even a real strip club yet, just a big dark room filled with sofa chairs and coffee tables around a tiny temporary platform stage. They hired me on the spot, without auditioning. They were cool to me, even though it wasn’t my kind of club—it was all about the lap dances, which couldn’t even be real lap dances now because of Fuckin’ Giuliani and his attack on the clubs. That was fine by me, because I hated lap dancing anyway. I preferred the stage. I would much rather work in a small seedy club with a huge main stage than in a “gentleman’s” lap dance club.
About a month later, I was thinking about going home to the West Coast. Then I got a phone call asking if I wanted to work at a club in Queens. The club—let’s call it The Red Garter—was still being renovated during the day, but they were open at night. They were abruptly forced to relocate to a new location because of Fuckin’ Giuliani, and they really needed dancers, especially strong stage dancers. They would wave my house fee and give me a ride back to my friend’s Upper West Side apartment after work.
Oh hell yeah, I was all in.
And it was on the third night at The Red Garter, way out in Queens, where I heard the FUCK GIULIANI chant described earlier.
I liked working for these guys. They treated me well, they had my back, and they never ever pressured me into doing anything beyond my personal boundaries, like some other clubs would. It reminded me of my old club in Vegas. It was utter chaos, but I never at any time felt unsafe, or in any personal danger. I was comfortable, and the nightly FUCK GIULIANI chant was just pure gold bonus entertainment.
The anti-Giuliani sentiment was more than a rousing chant. They talked about Giuliani a lot. Let me rephrase: they bitched about Giuliani a lot. Non-stop. It was my job to dance on stage and look pretty, so I didn’t ask questions. But from what I could piece together from the half-talk, it appeared that Giuliani was targeting “us,” but not “them,” and that Rudy was out to get “some of us” but not “the others.”
I worked at The Red Garter for about three months, and then left New York and headed home. I resumed working in the local bikini bars there for about a year when I then retired from dancing entirely. It had officially become a full-contact sport. I was tired of being a stage dancer trying to compete with lap dancers. Why torture myself with that hell when I could make the same amount of money being a cocktail waitress? I just couldn’t do it anymore.
Even after I quit stripping, I couldn’t stop thinking about the strangeness of my summer in New York. I came to town with a decade of experience and excellent references. If that was enough to get me hired on the spot at Lace and The Red Garter, why did the managers at Flashdancers and Scores invent reasons to send me away? And: Why were some of the clubs shut down, but not the others? "Re-zoning” alone failed to explain it—not given the neighborhoods where those clubs were located. Also: why were the clubs that weren’t shut down the very same ones that specifically rejected me? I thought back to what I’d overhead at the club in Queens, the anti-Giuliani complaints. What defined “us,” and what defined “them”?
I began to sift through what information I had. I knew that some of the clubs I had worked at over the years were what might be called “mobbed up.” Some owners were Italian, some Irish, some bikers, some Korean, and some were Persians that tried too hard to make people think they were Italian. It all depended on what part of the country you were in. As long as you minded your own business, and stayed out of theirs, it was no big deal. As a matter of fact, those clubs were usually better to work at than the newer, corporate clubs. Generally speaking, they treated you better. I never asked questions when I was working in the clubs. I knew what I worked for, but not who—not exactly. But that seemed critical to solving the mystery.
I started a deep dive down the Internet. I discovered Jerry Capeci’s Gangland News. I’d sit for hours, drink a bottle of wine, and scour that website, among others. I learned the history of the Mob, going back a hundred years. I learned the origins of the NYC Five Families: the Genoveses, the Gambinos, the Bonannos, the Lucheses, the Columbos, and the Chicago Outfit, as well as the other scattered families throughout the country, including in Philadelphia. I became an absolute true crime nerd. I also realized that I probably knew some people and knew some things that I didn’t know I knew, and I don’t want to know I know, and if I knew I would deny knowing, if you know what I mean.
One gem I found was about Scores, the “gown club” on the Upper East Side which managers made me not dance on the coffee table and then sent me home. Just prior to my arrival in New York, Scores was busted for racketeering. The club owner was supposedly being shaken down by the Gambinos. If Giuliani was on a rampage to shut down the clubs and the Five Families, why was Scores, of all places, still open? I don’t know who was connected to Flashdancers, but it was in the Theater District, a tourist area, so why wasn’t it shut down with the “re-zoning?” Who were the families that were connected to the clubs that Rudy did shut down? I still couldn’t find any real answers. However, I did come to the theoretical conclusion that the clubs that passed on me must have not wanted to hire me because I had club ties to a different “family” than theirs—that’s why the managers scowled at my application.
When 9/11 happened and Giuliani was suddenly “America’s Mayor,” I would see him on television and I would chuckle, because all I could hear in my head was a roomful of Italians chanting FUCK GIULIANI at the top of their lungs. I wasn’t buying it. However, he did handle 9/11 well, I’ll give him that.
Years later, on June 16, 2015, Donald Trump came down the escalator in his gaudy golden Tower of Babylon and announced he was running for president. I never paid attention to Trump in the past; to me he was always just a pervy wannabe celebrity real estate creeper that was always talking about himself on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, or some other random daytime talk show. My hackles stood on end. My street sense did not like this at all.
Rudy popped his head back up on Trump’s campaign trail. I had already read about Trump’s connections to the mob, mainly to the Genovese and Gambino families, with their construction rackets. That’s a given. Then I remembered that the Gambinos were said to run Scores, whose manager had been busted for racketeering in 1998. Guess which New York City gentleman’s club opened a satellite location in the Trump Taj Mahal?
You guessed it:
The light bulb went off, and my brain was suddenly flooded with questions, not all of which could be definitely answered by reading Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America’s Most Powerful Mafia Empires by Selwyn Raab:
Why was Scores, which was allegedly Gambino-run, not shut down like the other clubs, even after being nailed for racketeering?
Why was Scores the strip club of choice in Trump’s Taj Mahal?
Was the murder of Gambino boss Paul Castellano more than just John Gotti being greedy? Why was Gotti, the so-called “Teflon Don,” so adept at slipping out of Giuliani’s grasp during Rudy’s reign as AG of SDNY? Is it merely a coincidence that when Gotti finally went down, Rudy was no longer in office as AG of SDNY, but not yet Mayor of NYC?
Why didn’t AG Rudy do anything about the rise of the Russian mob in Brighton Beach during the 1980s and 1990s? Was he aware that taking down The Commission and maiming the Five Families was a favor to the Russians?
Why did Rudy go easy on Louis Eppolito, the “Mafia Cop?” Was it related to the fact that Giuliani’s uncle was Leo D’Avanzo, who ran around with Ralph Eppolito, a “made man” in the Gambino family, and Louis’s father?
When Rudy was mayor of New York in the early 1990s, why did he go after all the sex-based businesses in Times Square except for Show World Center, which survived until last year? Was it because the owner, Richard Basciano, was from Philly, and the Philly mob was known to be overseen by the Genoveses and Gambinos?
Why did both Donald and Rudy decide to run for President? Are they friends, or are they frenemies? Or are they both part of some much larger long con?
I don’t know the answer to these questions. All I do know is, over 200,000 Americans are now dead because of these assholes, my brain hurts, I need a drink, or ten. But now I understand why the boys at the club hated Rudy so much. Fuck Giuliani.
Photo credit: Nia Molinari.