Platform heels are better gauged in altitude than inches. They open
three-song sets in lingerie and end them in a lot less.
The women, hundreds of them, parade across Jack Galardi-owned stages around
the country like a strip-club translation of Dr. Seuss: tall ones, small
ones, dark ones, blonde ones (lots of blonde ones). Some are thin and some
are not. Some are very, very hot. Some have bellies like a ... pot.
Doesnt matter. Men slip bills into their garters and get a warm first-date
kiss, or sit back like astronauts during liftoff for a table dance.Welcome
to Galardi Nation, a smoky, windowless empire that stretches like a
plus-size G-string from Nevada to Florida to the Carolinas, at times
numbering two dozen clubs. Five operate in metro Atlanta, including the
just-opened Pink Pony South, in Forest Park, with its two-tier showroom and
upstairs sushi bar.While his dancers are on full display, the 76-year-old
Galardi remains one of the most successful and controversial local moguls
youve likely never heard of.
His residences include a sprawling Las Vegas estate near the Strip with
pool fountains and nature trails, and a 500-acre ranch across from a
Baptist church outside Flovilla, a no-stoplight hamlet 35 miles north of
Macon. Horses, alpacas and peacocks roam the ranch amid fences painted
bright primary colors.
He is flown between his 15 current clubs on his own jet but doesnt carry a
cellphone and tracks business with a pad and pen stashed in a shirt pocket
or a pair of his favored Wrangler jeans.He maintains a small army of
lawyers, yet named one of his countless companies IHA initials that stand
for I Hate Attorneys. Asked during a deposition in a local lawsuit whether
that sentiment applied to his own defense attorney, Galardi responded,
"Yes. I dislike him. I tell him this quite frequently."
Still, he has needed them.
Galardi was convicted in 1972 of stealing blank money orders and cashing
them on the overseas black market. He served about six months in prison on
a five-year sentence.Since then, prosecutors and police investigators have
claimed he was involved in drug trafficking with the head of a Nevada
motorcycle gang, ignored prostitution at his clubs and associated with
organized crime. But Galardi has never been charged with crimes related to
His most infamous local incident involved a 1998 lawsuit filed by a
contestant in a Miss Nude World International pageant held at a Galardi
venue. Vanessa Steele-Inman claimed Galardi blackballed her after she
refused to let him lick whipped cream off her bare chest at a pageant golf
tournament.A Fulton County jury awarded Steele-Inman $2.4 million. The
Georgia Court of Appeals reversed the decision, leaving the exotic dancer
with just $3,500 for attorneys fees.Galardi never attended the trial.
Steele-Inmans Atlanta lawyer, Mark Spix, calls him "the Buddha of the
strip club industry."
"Jack has been an enigma," allows John L. Smith, a Las Vegas Review-Journal
columnist. "Hes a very sharp guy. He might not be a Phi Beta Kappa key
holder, but he has a Ph.D. in a very tough business."Thats who he is."
Who Galardi is depends on who you talk to.He has been called "a low-budget
Hugh Hefner" (author of a book about Las Vegas strip clubs), "a scary big
deal" (attorney Spix), "a close associate of organized crime" (a Metro Las
Vegas Police investigator) and "a shrewd businessman [who]... just wants to
run his business and stay under the radar" (another investigator, same
He has also been called "top drawer" (a Nevada Republican bigwig), "a
troll" (the strip club author), "Santa Claus" (a defense attorney during
the stripper trial) and "a man with access to the entire world of female
pulchritude" (same attorney, same trial).
"People respect him and fear him," says Angelina Spencer, executive
director of a trade group for adult-club executives. "Hes considered a
maverick and a pioneer one of the first to enter into adult entertainment
as a serious nightclub venue and make good money.
"Some people consider him a legend, a real cowboy type," she adds. "Theres
always rumors flying around."
Seated inside his second-floor office on an access road just off I-85,
south of Clairmont Road, Galardi, in a rare interview, says he doesnt
worry much about what people think of him.His gravelly voice is even
gruffer since an operation three years ago for throat cancer. Hes bald but
sports a goatee and has lost 70 pounds from his former roly-poly self.On
the wall behind his desk hangs a plaster relief of a woman reclining in the
nude. Another wall is cluttered with family photos, including a sepia print
of his immigrant grandparents and a daughters recent "cowboy wedding" in
The opposite wall displays framed posters of Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack
brethren. Sinatras an idol. "Hes Italian, why else?" he says.Another
memento hangs near the office door: a chunk of brick from the underground
hotel vault that turned out, in a famously televised excavation, not to
hold the loot of Prohibition-era gangster Al Capone."People that know me
know Im no mobster type," says Galardi. "If you dont, I can imagine the
stories that go on about me. I can well imagine."
Part old-school hustle, part contemporary Western, part Vegas Strip meets
Southern Gothic, Galardis story needs little enhancement.
Hes gone broke twice and amassed a large, if indeterminate, fortune ("I
dont have as much money as [Ted] Turner," he smiles). He has four kids and
two ex-wives. Hes run gay bars, country bars, biker bars. He hates
partners and problems (a saying among his Flovilla ranch employees:
"Whatever the old man wants."). He seems to micromanage the big picture and
keep a layer of managers and lawyers between himself and many
details.Galardi: "Opening clubs, thats my thrill. Do I operate them? No."
Spix, who took Galardis deposition: "I think theres a deliberate attempt
to be able to answer questions with, I dont know."
Galardi grew up in Trinidad, Colo., a foothill town near the New Mexico
border filled with immigrant Italians who came for coal mining and railroad
jobs. He joined the Navy, then moved to California, tended bar and found
his calling. With a wife and two daughters, he opened a rock and roll club,
then built other bars with varying success, including a Los Angeles
nightspot that sometimes featured Ike and Tina Turner.From 1967 through
1972, Galardi was either on the move or cooling behind bars.
He promoted an all-girl rock band on military bases across Vietnam (his
one-word explanation: "Divorce"); opened a club in Alaska; and was
convicted of stealing blank money orders from two U.S. post offices in
California. The money orders were cashed, through someone else, for more
than $160,000 on the black market in South Vietnam.
"He was an opportunistic person looking for something new and exciting,"
recalls Dianne Reardon Cameron, drummer for the Pretty Kittens, the band he
promoted.Galardi moved to Las Vegas with a new wife and stepson and
continued bar building. He got into strip clubs when he bought one that had
been owned by a former nightclub partner of his in California. The club
became available after the mans severed head turned up in the desert.
Galardi learned "that if you had booze and you had naked women, you could
get more business," says "Buffalo" Jim Barrier, a Las Vegas wrestling
promoter and auto repair shop owner.His success swelled beyond the skin
trade. He opened an upscale nightspot in the mid-80s that lured the citys
social and political elite. He soon became a Republican Party go-to guy.
"He provided the hootch for every one of our events," says Annabelle
Stanford, then state GOP events chairwoman.Galardi also held fund-raisers
at his mansion, which he bought from comedian Shecky Greene, razed and
rebuilt. One gala was chaired by a woman who headed a pro-family
organization, Stanford said. Former city councilman Steve Miller, who
attended, said devout Christians sat beside elegantly dressed strippers.
"Nobody had the bad manners not to show up," Stanford said. "As a
personality in Las Vegas in the 80s, Mr. Galardi was top drawer."Nor did
politicians have the bad manners to turn down his support."Around election
time, youd go to his catering service, where the secretary would present
you with a check," said Miller, who made the trip several times. "Shed
usually say, Wait, Jack wants to say hello, and then Jack would come out,
shake your hand and youd leave usually with $5,000." (Galardi says he
never gave more than $500.)
Las Vegas was still a small town, and Galardi was wired. He was pals with
Nevada Sen. Chic Hecht. His closest friend was late municipal court judge
Seymour Brown. A photo of the two ("Were drunk as skunks") hangs in his
office.He came to Atlanta in the late 80s on other business. Checking out
local bars, he walked into The Cheetah Lounge, a Midtown strip club, and
thought, " Oh, my God. I need to get in on this action. There were
beautiful girls everywhere. All blondes."
He opened the after-hours Club Anytime in Midtown and the original Pink
Pony in DeKalb County. But the 1993 opening of the Crazy Horse Saloon
sparked such outrage in Forest Park that the mayor and city council were
booted from office. Other clubs followed, and this months Forest Park
council approval of Pink Pony South passed without a peep.
Galardi Nation has taken hits. The most public came in 2003, when Galardis
estranged stepson Michael, a club partner, pleaded guilty to bribing
officials in Las Vegas and San Diego. Hes serving a 30-month sentence in
federal prison. Original asking price for his Las Vegas mansion: $20
million. "Mike wouldnt listen to me," says Galardi, never charged in the
two-year FBI investigation.
"Jack knew how to play the game. Michael didnt," says columnist Smith.
"There are ways to juice the system thats accepted. Jacks no choirboy,
but that doesnt make him the big corrupter of political virgins."
Outside Galardis office window, a pearl Cadillac Escalade is parked in a
space "Reserved for Mr. G." Earlier, Galardi had called himself "a car
freak," yet wasnt sure how many he owned. When his secretary recently had
him sign a stack of insurance papers, she asked Galardi to guess the
number. He said maybe 20. She laughed: It was twice that.
"Mike was flamboyant. He threw his money around," Galardi continues of his
stepson. "How he got that way, I dont know."A few hours later, Galardi
sits with three women two blondes at an upstairs table inside Pink Pony
South. Dressed in a multi-colored leather jacket, he soon moves to a center
booth downstairs. His eyes are wide and darting. Its the clubs "soft
opening" it wasnt advertised yet customers stream in.
Galardi often stops at his original Pink Pony, in DeKalb County. He has
coffee or bottled water (he quit drinking after the cancer surgery), then
heads to his intown house to "open a can and have some soup. Its me, the
newspaper and the dog." A Galardi operations manager, Mike Kap, sees
another side. Some nights Galardi hits "every one of his clubs until three
in the morning. Thats how involved he still is."
His "haven" is his Flovilla ranch. Beyond the stone wall and iron gate that
announce the "Circle G," a long driveway winds past a garden that blooms
with wildlife statuary: a horse, an eagle, an elephant, a bear. A big
American flag flaps in front of the long, low-slung main house.Most locals
only know Galardi for his annual July Fourth party, a kid-friendly affair
that lures as many as 1,800 invitation-only guests to middle-of-nowhere
Area fire departments work the event because of the giant fireworks
display. Galardi is a big donor to the Flovilla departments fund-raising
drive for a new training vehicle.Firefighter Shaun Lamb jokes they might
christen it the "Pink Pony."But Galardi says he can take only so much peace
and quiet. He has no plans to retire.
"My hobbys building clubs," he says. Next project is in Romania."When I
open a new club, and I walk in and the lights are on and the dance floor is
flickering the hair on my arm raises up. "It gives me a thrill watching
that club come alive and saying, You did it.
Still, Galardi always covers his bets. Peeking from his shirt pocket: a