I hope this club goes tits up before it gets its sex licence

By William Rider Sitting in the council chamber of Camden Town Hall I am struck by how similar the building is to the layout of the Spearmint Rhino Gentleman's Club in a basement on Tottenham Court Road. The Rhino as described in the licensing report is an establishment with a large open plan entertainment area with small private booths arranged around the edge. Much like the council chamber surrounded by its committee rooms. Both venues open until late at night. The similarity doesn't end there as Camden's former police licensing officer Bob Dear is now the designated premises supervisor to the lap dancing club. A source of confusion for Rhino's solicitor who accidentally referred to him at one point as "Sergeant Dear" during last night's hearing for a 24-hour seven-days-a-week licence application.

Sitting down on the green leather seats on the periphery of this bordello I recall the conversation with a friend of mine as she described working in a sex club and how it wasn’t the sexual entertainment which the women performed that they felt uncomfortable about but, rather, it was having to put up with talking to the men. I have the same feeling: it is not the morality of sexual entertainment that bothers me but the type of men that are sitting in front of me arguing the case for a licence.

Not only that, every other owner of a similar establishment who is looking for a licence appears to be seated around the council chamber making the place look like a pimps’ convention.

There’s something which makes me uncomfortable about Rhino’s corporate operation. Those who patronise this form of entertainment have been discussed elsewhere recently.

The Independent newspaper did an interview with Spearmint Rhino’s UK boss in April.

The first thing you notice about John Specht is that he has massive arms. Not in a this-guy-does-push-ups way. More like, “How does he get through doors? He must have to turn sideways”.

A New Yorker who joined the military, retired with a back injury and started working as a bouncer on the door of the Spearmint in Los Angeles. Ten years later, he’s vice-president of the company. He has moved from club to club – New Mexico, Texas, the Czech Republic – earning a reputation as a lap-dancing troubleshooter. He arrives at struggling venues and turns them around.

Simon English went on to describe him as

one of those straightforward all-American guys that you’d need to be deeply uptight not to like.

I find myself looking at the back of his neck as it swivels on his huge shoulders, but I find nothing likeable about this brash, American man.

When he is asked questions by one of the councillors about the welfare of the women at Spearmint Rhino his answers are that of a man more concerned with the protection of private property and the clubs assets. The Rhino operates a policy of issuing fines against dancers for breaches of the club’s code of conduct. Dancers are not employed but “lease space”.

Last year Specht defended comments he made about students working at the club saying:

I do not want to come across as some disgusting person who targets innocent, vulnerable students. I would never ‘urge’ students to come in and strip.

Residents living nearby the club complain of nuisance from those touting for business outside the club and people making a noise arriving and leaving, mini-cab doors slamming and people urinating in doorways. Most of the 22 letters of objection to the club’s licence are concerned with public nuisance.

Rhino may be run by hard-nosed businessmen but its UK business is struggling, The Telegraph reports:

Companies House filings show Spearmint Rhino Companies (Europe) had net assets of £9,737 at the end of last year, at which point it owed £918,554 to HM Revenue and Customs, and was waiting to be repaid £903,963 by parent company Spearmint Rhino Ventures (UK) Limited.

“These conditions … indicate the existence of a material uncertainty which may cast significant doubt about the company’s ability to continue as a going concern,” downgraded book-keepers Hillier Hopkins.

And in the US the company had to make a settlement to its dancers for non-payment of earnings.

With a bit of luck the whole outfit will do down the pan. It won’t be missed.

Camden’s licensing committee will make a decision at a later date.

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