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Life in the money pit 

Gold Club 101: A lesson in micro-economics and miniskirts

First came the Old Economy, then the short-lived New Economy and now Atlanta is being educated in the Gold Club Economy, an alternative fiscal reality in which 18-year-old girls who dress like they've been on the cover of Rolling Stone tote bulging wads of folding money and where counting the nightly bar till is like picking up a spilled Monopoly set.

Anyone following the funny-money trail described in testimony from Atlanta's trial of the moment has been repeatedly informed that the typical Gold Club register receipt has more zeros than the imperial Japanese navy.

Although exotic dancers and strip club waitresses alike boast of earning hundreds of dollars a night in tips, former Atlanta stripper Amanda Pappas took the witness stand last week to describe her efforts to bring the old-school barter system into the telecommunications era.

A one-time lover of dancer/defendant Jacklyn "Diva" Bush, Pappas, who came across at times like a wayward high school girl, drew snickers from a jaded press corps last Tuesday as she told of an alleged fellatio-for-phone service swap with a BellSouth Mobility rep that stands Milton Friedman's concept of a free market on its head.

According to Pappas, when she worked at the Gold Club for several months in 1998, she and Bush would hustle down to the local Cellular Warehouse office every couple of weeks to work off their phone bills with a BellSouth employee named Greg -- or maybe it was Craig; she couldn't recall.

Greg's buddy from a major local bank (that's now embroiled in a very different kind of merger attempt) also regularly benefited from the unorthodox payment plan, but Pappas, who was 19 at the time, didn't explain his connection.

Bush's attorney, the flamboyant Bruce Harvey, needled Pappas in his cross-examination about the transactions: "How many minutes did you get for that?"

Even though the nookie-for-Nokia exchange didn't involve actual legal tender, Pappas testified that she had to put Bush's cell phone on her own account because Bush didn't have good enough credit to qualify for a phone.

The business arrangement certainly raises other, equally relevant, questions, such as: Why did girls who made thousands of dollars a week feel compelled to put their mouths where their money was to cover a mere cell phone bill? And, who needs a credit rating when you can operate a one-person trailer hitch chrome-removal service?

But back to the Gold Club's nice, round, artificially enhanced figures -- the ones on the spread sheets, not the stage. Over its 11-year history, the club has become an increasingly streamlined money-making machine. Dining tables and chairs have given way to tight rows of low-slung, airport lobby-style seats laid out to maximize the number of paying customers. Tips are expected -- and often frankly requested -- by the waitresses, washroom attendant, even the guy who finds you a seat.

On a recent visit by CL, a waitress handed back change for an $8 cocktail that was three bucks short. Talk about fuzzy math. When asked about the discrepancy, she said she assumed she was getting a $3 tip.

But that's just business as usual at Atlanta's premier strip club and clip joint, says former waitress Angela Flurry, now the day shift manager at Tattletale Lounge, a mile south on Piedmont Road. During her short Gold Club stint in 1997, Flurry says, waitresses were gathered for managerial pep talks that included the mantra, "Southern hospitality with a New York mentality."

The meetings usually ended with the rallying cry of "Fuck 'em good, girls!", she says, reflecting the club's sense of Big Apple capitalism in an aptly chosen metaphor that makes clear patrons are to be milked dry like aphids at an ant farm.

Prosecution witness Pappas testified that she was instructed to order champagne as soon as she got a customer into a VIP room, discreetly kick over her glass and then to keep ordering more until credit limit interruptus would bring the party to a close.

"It's a money cult," Flurry says of her former employer. (CL doesn't mean to imply that cocktails at the Gold Club are expensive, but the last time someone paid this much for a screwdriver, they fired the purchasing department at the Pentagon.)

One might assume a bushel of federal indictments would be enough to encourage a business to keep its nose clean until the scales of justice had finished tipping, but the Gold Club continues to attract accusations of credit card fraud.

Earlier this month, British businessman Richard Stedman filed a police report alleging that he was wrongly charged $6,740 during a two-hour stopover at the Gold Club. That averages out to about $56 per New York minute. Stedman figures he actually spent about $200 for drinks and sundries during his May 30 visit. When his American Express statement arrived a few days later, however, he says, it showed several unspecified bar charges of as much as $2,000.

Perhaps the sommelier thought the Londoner had ordered the house's largest bottle of Perrier Jouet Rose champagne, which lists for a stunning two grand on the Gold Club wine list and, at three liters, is so big it takes two men to pour.

Even without such extravagance, it's not difficult to run up a sizable tab for French bubbly. A standard 750 ml bottle of swanky Dom Perignon that sells for $135 down the street at Tower Liquor or a healthy $250 at the upscale Goldfinger in Buckhead lists for $500 at the Gold Club, proving the adage that everything costs more in the presence of a naked woman.

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