I have a confession to make: one of my favorite Atlanta places is a strip club. While this may be shocking to some readers of this blog, I don’t think anyone who personally knows either me or the City of Atlanta would be taken aback by this revelation at all.
Atlanta has a well-established reputation for being the strip club capital of America though there are four cities that actually have more strip clubs per capita than we do. It’s not just that we have a lot of strip clubs. We’re unique because of how interwoven the strip club culture is with Atlanta life. First, business lunches at ATL strip clubs? No big whoop. Some Atlanta strip clubs are known for offering some of the best wings and lunch specials. (Yes, the idea of consuming a meal at a strip club is friggin’ weird but it happens. )
Second, Atlanta strip clubs serve as a testing ground for up-and-coming Hip Hop artists.So if you are an aspiring rap guy and your otherwise unreleased single is a hit with dancers and rainmakers at the strip club, then you’re going places.
Finally, Atlanta strip clubs aren’t exclusive to men. Lots of women go too and I happen to be one of them. Now do I go to Magic City? No. Onyx? No. Yes, I’ve been to Follies but that’s not my bag and I’ll be explaining why in a future essay one of these days. My strip club of choice is Clermont Lounge and I’m happy to explain why.
Ten years ago, I was working at AT&T on a Monday when someone told me about Clermont Lounge. They referred to it as “the place where strippers go to die” because the strippers there aren’t the same ass-clappin’ video-vixen types that are your usual sex worker fare at the Magic Cities, Onyxes and Follies of the world. When I asked specifically what was meant by the whole dying stripper thing, he told me I had to just check it out for myself. So I did. Honestly, I was hard-pressed to resist the challenge. After consulting Dr. Google, I discovered that Clermont Lounge offered karaoke on Tuesday nights! There was no way I was going to miss any type of karaoke activity at a new and mysterious “den of inequity.”
That first time there, I was blown away. There’s no other way to put it. The Clermont Lounge is a dive bar. It’s not fancy. It’s not plush. It’s not luxurious. It’s ratchet AF. There is no pole and there is no catwalk-esque stage. Instead, unclothed entertainers perform on an elevated platform enclosed by the bar. On most nights, there is no DJ. The dancers do their thang to songs they pay for on a jukebox.
I recall sitting down with my future second ex-husband at the bar, ordering a Long Island Iced Tea and initially thinking, “Oh wow, dude at work was right.” The dancer on stage at the time, and every subsequent dancer that night, looked like they could have just as easily been walking down the street after a long shift of ringing customers at Kroger Supermarket and decided yep, I’ma just go in this dive bar and strip now. They were regular women. Older women. Younger women. Wrinkled women. Supple women. Chubby women. Skinny women. Flat-chested women. Big breasted women. Tattooed women. Scarred women. Black women. White women. Latinx women. Punk rock women. Pierced women. Any and every kind of women. All making money for daring to shake it in the buff. I was struck with feelings I didn’t expect to have. I felt sexy and empowered and proud of my imperfect body. Hence, following my divorce from husband numéro deux, I was drawn to Clermont Lounge on karaoke night (and other nights too) whenever I needed to tap into that same liberating energy.
As Atlanta’s oldest strip club, Clermont Lounge isn’t just a place; it’s an institution. It’s a mood. It’s a vibe. And the primary figure who has contributed significantly to this come-as-you-are atmosphere is the subject of this Black History Month post. Her name is Blondie Strange.
I saw Blondie that first night and every subsequent night I’ve been to Clermont Lounge. As of 2019, she’s been working there for 40 years and she’s hard to miss. At 62 years of age, she looks like someone’s grandma only she strips, wears an over-the-top blond wig and can crush a beer can with her mammary glands.
Born Anita Rae Strange in Dayton, Ohio, Blondie studied jazz, ballet and tap dancing before becoming an exotic entertainer at the age of 19 in Indiana. Before landing in Atlanta, she tried performing in Nashville and Chattanooga but was rejected because of her race. Clermont wasn’t her first stop once she arrived in Atlanta but it became her performance home when she, a classically trained Black dancer with bleached hair in 1978, demonstrated how her special brand of “strange” fit perfectly with Clermont’s penchant for celebrating the unconventional. In doing so, she racially integrated the exotic dance scene in Atlanta.
Blondie, a pansexual before there was even a word for it, is a published poet, a gay rights activist and a Christian who sticks around the Clermont these days to be a mentor and support to younger women in the trade. I love this woman. I love her with all of my heart because she reminds me that Black is sexy, maturity is sexy, and being unafraid to be me in my body is sexy.
There’s a documentary about this woman’s life that I tried like hell to find months ago when I learned there was much more to Blondie than her powerful bosom. Funny how I could not find that documentary anywhere online until writing this post tonight. Anyway, here it is.