Lost Girls in the Night

Lesbian nightclub promoter tangles with heavyweight businessman over jinxed property leased from a bewildered City of Miami

When Lisa Cox staged her weekly "Girls in the Night" event earlier this month, everything ran smoothly. Women boogied with women to a thumping disco beat. Above the bar, silent videos featuring topless females cycled endlessly. A few girls made out in a dark corner.

There was only one problem: Cox's party was at the wrong venue -- Splash, a gay nightclub on Dixie Highway in South Miami. It should have taken place at Gadyva Bar, a nightclub she helped create in a split-level restaurant space at the rear of the Coconut Grove Exhibition Center on Dinner Key.

On February 13 Cox arrived at Gadyva to oversee another Friday night of revelry, as she had for nearly three months. But she was soon escorted out by the club's security men after manager Armando Perez informed her she was no longer allowed on the premises.

And so began another chapter in the turbulent saga of Cox, the city-owned restaurant space, and the man who controls the master lease for the property, Stephen Kneapler, owner of Monty's restaurants.

Lisa Cox is no stranger to turbulence. In the early Nineties, she fought aggressively for lesbian clubgoers against rival promoter Caroline Clone. Their very public skirmishes were as entertaining as they were vicious. In keeping with her feisty reputation, Cox, a few days after being ejected from Gadyva, wrote in a newsletter circulated among several thousand "Girls in the Night" devotees: "It is a nightmare to realize that I invested every part of myself financially, emotionally, and spiritually into finally giving lesbian women in South Florida a place of our own, only to have it stripped away by greed and envy.... Mr. Steve Kneapler and his associates are attempting to steal a concept that was not born of themselves."

Kneapler too has known his share of controversy. For years he has wrestled with the City of Miami over its terms for leasing municipal waterfront property, usually in an effort to turn over less money to city coffers.

And the site over which Kneapler and Cox are doing battle? It has chronically suffered from a commercial curse, always showing promise, always falling flat on its financial face -- from J.P.'s restaurant in the Eighties to the ephemeral Havana Clipper in 1990 to the short-lived Radiator Grill in 1996.

Long before Gadyva Bar opened November 21 of last year, Cox had been planning to create a lesbian nightclub using that name. But she needed the right space. She says she shared her ideas with David Tambasco, a Kneapler employee who had often attended her Friday-night parties at Splash.

According to Cox, Kneapler proposed that she relocate her event to his financially sputtering Radiator Grill. Though Cox thought the move might be a step toward her dream of opening a nightclub that catered to lesbians, she rejected the offer because Radiator Grill's decor was too ugly for her taste. "The place was disgusting," she says flatly.

Further discussions followed, however, and eventually Cox offered to open Gadyva Bar in Radiator Grill if Kneapler would cover the cost of redecorating. By this past October, Cox recalls, she and Kneapler had struck a compromise: They would split redecorating costs. "Tambasco said, 'Oh, we'll take care of you,'" Cox claims. "'You're going to be there ten years. Steve really wants you there. I can convince him to spend the money to get the place the way you need it. It's going to be your club. We're not going to have any say in it. He just wants to make money. He just wants to show up there and pick up the money.'" (David Tambasco could not be reached for comment.)

After two months of remodeling, Radiator Grill morphed into Gadyva. On the second level were two separate dance floors, one indoors and one on a veranda. Next to each dance floor was a small stage for go-go dancers. Over a bar in another interior room, video monitors displayed the omnipresent tapes of topless women. An outside bar area included tables and chairs while the ground level featured a lounge with couches.

Gadyva enjoyed an enthusiastic opening in late November, with Cox acting as promoter on Friday and Saturday. Bar receipts for December, the first full month of operation, totaled $47,000, according to a computer printout provided by Cox. "Gadyva was supposed to be a place that was built by women and all about women, and if men felt comfortable, they could go there," Cox explains. "Gadyva is supposed to be a women's bar and that's what it looks like."

Then came that fateful Friday the 13th in February: Cox was out; Armando Perez was in. According to Perez, son of well-known Cuban radio talk-show host Armando Perez Roura, Cox became persona non grata because she had not paid him $15,000 for ten weeks of work as manager of the club. He refused to comment for the record except to say, "I don't make comments. I just let God bring to people what they deserve."

Cox maintains that Kneapler was responsible for paying Perez. "It's weird that every other manager has been paid by Steve Kneapler and all of a sudden it's my responsibility to pay Armando," she scoffs. "It has never been my responsibility to pay managers at any club where I've worked. Why would I hire somebody to be manager who makes more than I make?"

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