FOR evidence that nothing is recession-proof, look no further than the imminent demise of that Manhattan landmark and one-time host to the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, the Scores strip club on Upper East Side.
Scores will not see out the year, its owners have declared, attributing its closure at least partly to the failing economy.
The economy is not entirely at fault. The Scores chain took a big hit this year when its West Side club lost its liquor licence after a police raid resulted in prostitution charges. Undercover police were offered oral sex and "more exotic acts" for $300 to $1100. Authorities are believed to be preparing to revoke the liquor licence of the more prominent East Side location as well.
Scores’s menu of nudity and sex has not always guaranteed its financial success, at least not accounting for the under-the-table cost of forking out for mafia "protection". Scores, which opened on East 60th Street in 1991, sought to trade out of bankruptcy a decade ago after making pay-offs to the Gambino crime family of $1.6 million.
An FBI probe into the extortion resulted in a prison term for John "Junior" Gotti, and the club’s original owners being admitted to a witness protection program until they, too, were jailed on fraud charges.
But until this week Scores had survived the police raids, rezoning attempts to curtail adult entertainment and the killings of a waiter and a bouncer during an early morning party in 1996, when the club was widely regarded as a Mafia hangout.
The club is still promoting its "diamond dollars", which are used in-house to buy lap dances, but the end is near, a
co-owner, Elliot Osher, has told US media.
Even if it was always on the periphery of prostitution and touched by violence, Scores managed to glamorise and even normalise tabletop dancing with a publicity campaign of gossip column sightings of celebrities.
The actors Russell Crowe, Colin Farrell and Lindsay Lohan were reported as regulars in the self-proclaimed "man’s paradise" of juicy steaks, fat cigars and naked women. George Clooney had a birthday party there. Madonna was a regular in its early days.
Rudd was introduced to this masculine fantasy by the Australian editor of the New York Post , Col Allan, in 2003. Rudd was the opposition spokesman on foreign affairs at the time. News of the visit briefly threw Labor’s election campaign last year, although Osher said Rudd left soon after realising the sort of club he was visiting.
Explaining his attendance, Rudd said he had had too much to drink when Allan suggested visiting the club. "With the benefit of hindsight, I should not have gone on for a further drink," he said.
While Rudd escaped unscathed from his brush with Scores, others who stayed longer were not so lucky.
The club has been hit with writs from customers who woke the morning after with six-figure credit card bills.
A Missouri businessman, Robert McCormick, ran up a bill of $370,000 on his corporate charge card in one drunken splurge at Scores. While he did have the help of three friends, McCormick claimed he spent a mere $30,000 and his company claimed he was a victim of fraud. American Express, which paid out on the bill, then sued McCormick for the money.
A Bangladeshi diplomat to the United Nations was recalled home after her husband, Tauhidul Chaudhury, ran up a bill of almost $200,000 at Scores East. For his money, Chaudhury bought bottles of Dom Perignon and Krug and lap dances from a harem of more than a dozen strippers. And he tipped lavishly.
That, supposedly, is an every night occurrence, according to a club spokesman who justified such hefty bills with the claim that high rollers tipped up to $15,000 for dances.
But Chaudhury regretted his generosity and sued the club over the bill, claiming it had taken advantage of his drunkenness.
Still another customer sued Scores over a bill of almost $40,000. Dozens of staff, including a barman and strippers, have also sued the club because management was allegedly raking off a percentage of their tips.
Maybe it is something about Scores’s somewhat seedy location, under the grimy steel stanchions of the Queensboro Bridge, but new owners, without the liquor licence problems confronting Scores management, are already in place to take over the site.