The Death of a Night Club

I have a friend in the web design business. He had a potential new client in San Jose who was re-opening a night club; Scarlett’s to be precise, and wanted to get a web site going. A meeting had been set up and my friend asked if I would mind coming along, to listen and perhaps give a little feedback based on my countless hours sitting in smoky clubs staring at girls dancing in their birthday suits. Since I am retired and have little better to do, I agreed.

My friend was there when I arrived and he told the boss was upstairs would come down in a few minutes. The place was quite a mess, as they were in the middle of rather major renovations. It was rather hard to tell just how the place would look cleaned up, but my guess was it would be pretty nice. After maybe five minutes the boss came down and introduced himself. We all went upstairs to his office along with the Tico who was going to be the manager.

The owner was a gringo, mid to late 40s, in good shape and somewhat stressed. He told us a little about himself. Apparently he had a club or two in the States, and a few other businesses. He was experienced at doing remodels and the like. My friend had put together a proposal to build and run the website, along with internet marketing. As we talked I was getting the picture that he had looked at the proposal and his main reservations were $$$ ones. He had been spending quite a lot on the remodel and didn’t want to lay out a big chunk all at once for internet stuff. I noted this told him we would modify the proposal to try to accommodate him.

As we talked I quickly realized the new Scarlett’s would not be a place I was going to frequent. It was $150 an hour for the VIP suite and $50 for a 3 song ‘private dance.’ $4 for a beer, $10 to buy a girl a drink and have her sit on your lap till the drink was gone. Well, the last 2 prices weren’t too out of line, but the first two? It would take somebody pretty rich or pretty foolish to pay that kind of money considering the other options in town. I asked him if he had checked out the competition. Oh yes, he had been to them all. He thought he could do a better job. The Tico manager assured us all that there were former customers already calling wanting to know when the club would be open again.

The business model, apparently, was to cater to the high end customer… guys who didn’t mind parting with a few hundred dollars for a night out and who wanted the “VIP” treatment. Okay, I thought, if the manager is right and there are all these fat “gatos” just waiting for the club to re-open, more power to them. I had my doubts, but it definitely wasn’t my place to butt in.

The grand opening night finally arrived and I was invited to be there to take some pictures of the place for the club’s web site. There wasn’t a big crowd, but it wasn’t empty either. The place looked very nice and the waitresses were reasonably appealing. There were maybe a half dozen dancers/hostesses and they ranged from quite appealing to “I’ll pass.” For a place that was going to compete with Pantera Rosa and even pricier venues, the talent level was nothing to shout about. I have seen comparable girls even at the lower end places that offer full service for $30 and under. But maybe their location on the east side of town and their loyal following would provide the customer base they needed. The boss admitted the girls weren’t all he had hoped for, but “once the place gets rolling” he would be able to attract a higher level of “talent.”

Fast forward a month, and my friend tells me that the boss is late paying his tab for the web site. Fast forward another month and my friend tells me the place is closed. The story he got was that the local “authorities” found something wrong with his “licenses” and he had to pay (bribes) to get things in order. He paid the bribes, but they were now demanding more money. The boss is fed up by now and Scarlett’s is once again kaput.

Everyone can draw his own conclusions. My take is that if the biz had been making decent money the boss would have found some way to get the bribe money and keep it open. Maybe I am wrong and it was all about being outraged by corruption in Costa Rica and had nothing to do with the profitability of the club. We’ll never know.

If you’d like to read more about some of the local night places, check the 5 Years in the Rojo series.

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  1. Don Quixote says:

    I also happened to be there opening night and went home with a very hot chica. Yes, the place did not have charisma for the prices they wanted to charge.

  2. Another popped dream of a fly-by gringo. I feel bad for him. This hyper stressed David guy should have learned the world of nightclubs here in CR first. And he should have talked to people that are here a couple of years.
    License problems? Everyone has license problems. Knowing the right people is key. I know nightclubs using a restaurant license and clubs with an ICT licenses. Crazy. If he had the right contacts, he wouldn't have had any problems. And having the right contacts here isn't difficult at all.
    And VIP service with great looking girls? His dream was to compete to Tango? Nobody can. His prices were crazy.
    Everyone could have told him him that things wouldn't work this way.
    And hiring a nice guy like Geraldo as manager/host doesn't work in a nightclub either. You need an asshole and a VIP manager.
    Stealing and bribing is normal. The trick is to get it under control. Either you do it CR style and empty the customers pockets by fucking with their bill or open a d'pelufos style club for the locals. Anything in between doesn't work anymore. And besides that, even the low end club next door had better girls.
    But, there are plenty of new gringos with dreams and a lot of Ticos that try to sell it again for the commission.

  3. It is not rocket science. If someone who opened one of these joints used somewhat sound business sense, it would succeed. Charge a regular amount for drinks, moderate for girls drinks, decent price on dances and a staff that look like they give a shit. Volume could make up for lack of high prices as word would get around.

  4. Another gringo learns that the way to make a million in CR is start with 2 million!

    Just based on the "business model" you had to know it was going to be tough, and this guy had experience, just not in CR – which can and in this case was, fatal.