A 3-by-6 foot painting of a nude woman hangs in the office of the old Ken’s Gold Club. But that’s the only naked female flesh that remains in the strip club.
Now called Arrow Nashville, the spot at 5th Avenue and Peabody is Tennessee’s only destination to see male strippers bare it all, and the bar’s co-owner and manager Cole Wakefield expects to draw male and female patrons from across Tennessee and its neighboring states.
"There’s nothing to compare Arrow to except a bar that’s four hours away and has different rules," Wakefield said. "We’re offering something unique to people in a wide area surrounding Nashville and Tennessee."
A $10 or $20 cover, depending on the time of arrival, gets guests in the door where they can watch a variety of men dance on stage and spin around a pole in various stages of undress. Like other sexually oriented businesses, Arrow is not permitted to sell liquor, but guests are allowed to bring in their own alcohol and purchase mixers at the bar.
Wakefield said Arrow will offer access to a V.I.P. area later this month. The cost of the exclusive area has not been set, but it will offer free mixers and a cozier atmosphere to watch dancers – but patrons shouldn’t expect to bend any rules in the more private area of the club.
"We’re working to take the sleaze element sometimes associated with strip clubs out of it," Wakefield said. "This is a lounge where people happen to be stripping. The rules are the rules, and we’re going to follow them."
Out with the old
Wakefied and the bar’s other owners acquired the building from the owner of Ken’s Gold Club in July and quickly went to work to make necessary renovations to the space. Those include updating a barrier to keep patrons three feet away from the stage, replacing a gold pole with a chrome one, redecorating the showroom and V.I.P. area and updating the bathrooms.
Arrow inherited many of Ken’s "1850’s Southern parlor-esque" fixtures including chandeliers, chairs and ornately framed mirrors, all of which have been repurposed. But, Wakefield said that’s all he hopes to inherit from his predecessor.
Ken’s owners and some dancers had been slapped with several fines for violating strict skin-industry rules set by Metro Council and enforced by the Sexually Oriented Business (SOB) board.
Last September, Ken’s became the first adult business in Nashville to have it’s operating license revoked by the SOB board. The board cited 28 violations of the SOB code, including “grinding lap dances” and “strippers fondling their genitalia on stage,” according to Metro police spokesman Don Aaron.
The same rules apply for male and female strippers.
Patrons are not allowed to touch or come within three feet of a naked dancer – tips must be dropped at their feet. "Grinding" lap dances are not permitted. There must be seating for at least 10 people in all private or V.I.P. rooms, and the list goes on.
But, Wakefield said the rules don’t necessarily spoil the fun. For example, "hovering" lap dances are allowed as long as the dancers aren’t completely nude and they don’t gyrate on patrons. And, dancers are allowed to perform to less than ten people in V.I.P. areas as long as there is seating enough for ten.
Wakefield said the 3-foot rule might take away some of what people expect from a strip club, but it also may enhance the experience in other ways.
"One of our dancers likes to pull open his underwear and encourage the audience to shoot their dollars into his drawers," Wakefield said. "While you might not get to touch the dancers on stage they can still come out and say hello after their strip tease. The sensuality and sexuality is still there."
Men at work
Wakefield said nearly 600 people attended the bar’s soft opening in mid-August. From there, the staff focused on working out kinks in preparation for their grand opening on Labor Day Weekend.
Nashville resident Kelli D. McQuiston, who visited the bar on a Saturday night of soft-opening weekend, said the dancers were attractive, friendly and diverse enough to offer something for most anyone’s taste.
"I loved it," McQuiston said. "I am so glad we finally have a little gender equality here in Nashville."
She said she has enjoyed visiting nearly all Nashville’s female strip clubs but is glad to have a place where women and men are welcome to watch male strippers.
Arrow’s staff is focused on making constant improvements to keep satisfied customers like McQuiston coming back for more. Wakefield plans to bring a stage manager onto Arrow’s roster to train the dancers in special techniques, choreograph special group routines and manage the club’s costume inventory.
"Many of our dancers are first timers," Wakefield said. "We’re going to train them all on the pole and give them all the techniques they need to wow the audience."
He said there are 21 fully-licensed dancers on staff who are evenly dispersed along the sexuality spectrum from straight to open-minded to gay. With gay men and straight women in the audience at the same time, the sexual ambiguity of the dancers works, Wakefield said.
"Everybody gets what it is," Wakefield said. "The dancers are here to entertain. Nobody’s coming here to meet their husband, so the sexuality of the dancers isn’t important."
Early crowd favorites include Alex, a veteran dancer who is accustomed to performing at bachelorette parties. Antonio, one of the youngest dancers, is favored for his crisp dance moves and lively costumes.
Silent J. lures in spectators with his mysterious demeanor, curly dark hair, beard and big blue eyes and Soldja Boy, a former soldier, is an easy sell with a tall, lean build, blond hair and army fatigues.
Wakefield said customers can expect special discounts and promotions to be a regular feature of the bar in the future as well as new stage props which might include a rope and nets. So far, he has seen a 60/40 ratio of male to female patrons at the bar and hopes to maintain an even-keeled following.
"So far we’ve been marketing mostly toward the gay community," Wakefield said. "It’ll be interesting to see how things shake down as we broaden that effort."
Visit arrownashville.com for more information.
Editor’s note: Cole Wakefield is a former volunteer writer for Out & About Newspaper.