UPDATE: In the midst of its remodeling, Rick's strip club was hit by a fire that destroyed much of the interior about ten hours after this story was published, leaving an estimated $650,000 in damage. Was it Frank's revenge? Details after the jump.
At age 69, Roger Forbes can finally declare victory as Seattle's stripper king - the new Frank Colacurcio Sr. Big Frank may have gotten a 20-year jump on Forbes, who was still dabbling in porno theaters when Colacurcio was launching his topless dance empire in the 1970s. But in recent years Forbes caught up, then overtook Colacurcio with his ever-expanding Deja Vu chain of nudie joints.
Next week, Forbes makes his conquest official when he opens his seventh local club, planting his flag on his rival's home turf - Colacurcio's last Seattle strip house, Rick's, in Lake City. "We've gradually managed to become the dominate player in the city," Forbes says on the phone from Lake Tahoe where he was having champagne with his French wine maker who'd just flown in from Paris, "and," clink!, "it's very satisfying."
Forbes paid $2.35 million for the property at federal auction last month. Rick's and three other clubs that were the remains of a onetime ten-state strip club chain run by the Colacurcio family were forfeited as part of a plea deal by Big Frank's partners, including son Frankie, to settle U.S. racketeering and prostitution charges last year. Facing his eighth felony trial, 93-year-old Colacurcio Sr. was the only defendant who turned down a plea, then beat the charges - by dying six months before trial.
"I think it's a reasonable deal in that the dirt alone is valued at a million," said the multi-millionaire Forbes, referring to the earth below - not to the history of - the club. "And look at the building. It was very clean, there is very little we need to do to it - just new decorations, nothing that requires a building permit. We have all the licenses in place and we're planning to open August 5th, we think - just in time for the big Seafair weekend."
A sign already announces that "Dream Girls at Rick's" opens soon. Forbes says he's retaining the club's original name but none of its hand-to-mouth-practices that brought the feds and cops swooping in for what proved to be an empire-ending raid in 2008. As Colacurcio liked to tell his girls, according to one of them: "If you give a hand job, charge for it. If you give a blow job, charge for it. If you don't charge for it, then you'll be fired."
The sex made Colacurcio rich, but ultimately cost him everything, says Forbes, who keeps homes in Tahoe and Seattle. "Rick's will be operated as a gentleman's club and not a cover for a brothel," he says. "If customers are coming in for what they got before, they're going to be disappointed."
Forbes, a partner and major stockholder in the 75-club nationwide Deja Vu chain, outright owns nine clubs in the West, including three downtown Seattle, two in Lake City, and one each in Tacoma and Sea-Tac. His clubs do seem to toe the line. A dancer at one of the Seattle clubs says performers are told they'll get fired for in-club sex and won't be re-hired within the chain. And during the Colacurcio probe, undercover agents reported that when they tried to talk Deja Vu dancers into offering sex acts, the girls told them to go to Rick's, where the action was.
This is Forbes' 40th year in what he calls "this business," going from from adult theaters and burlesque to topless and nude dancing. He opened his first porno houses in 1971 in Seattle, then two Renton. They included old downtown Seattle theaters such as the Green Parrot, the Garden, and the Embassy - the latter now the Triple Door night club.
Forbes took one of his porn-theater First Amendment disputes all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and more recently beat the Seattle Mariners in a court fight over his new Dream Girls club near Safeco Field.
"I don't mind going to court in civil disputes," he says. "I don't mind standing trial on motion pictures or the reading of books. But defending yourself against pimping or prostitution? Sorry, I'm way too old for that." Clink.
UPDATE: A Seattle Fire spokesperson says the two-alarm fire that broke out around 7:30 last night appears to have started in the ceiling of the main performance room, extensively damaging new decor and the club's roof. The $650,000 loss was covered by insurance.
In the past two weeks, Forbes had taken out five permits for electrical work as part of the club's remodeling. Work on the wiring and new security, sound, and stage-lighting systems was being done by four different firms, updating a renovated electrical system installed in 2003 under Frank Colacurcio's ownership.
Perhaps the rival moguls' crossed wires just didn't mesh. It was as if, only hours after Forbes declared victory in his long nudie war with Colacurcio, Big Frank struck back from the grave.
The fire was probably accidental, says the SFD, but will likely delay the club's re-opening.
Hot, Hot, Hot Night at Rick's/KING-5 News