The Blast: Rock and Rollo's
Something is horribly amiss. The floor is dry and sparkling clean. The urinals are attached firmly to the wall, which is noticeably void of gaping holes, as is the drop ceiling with the snappy geometric pattern. A huge mirror, uncracked and whole, beckons from above a clean white sink. The Sani-flush hand-soap dispenser is full, and the chrome ashtray on the counter is unsullied. Paper towels are plentiful. The men's room is, in a word, spotless.
All traces of the nightclub's glorious, notorious past have been dry walled, spackled, painted, tiled over, and nowhere is the effect more pronounced than here in the john. Fans of the old place will be disappointed. The news that Rollo's -- one of the rowdiest drinking establishments on this blighted peninsula -- had brought in nude dancers conjured up visions of unrepentant debauchery, a veritable rock and roll Sodom and Gomorrah. Sadly, the real thing is more like Kendall.
The exterior of the building is essentially the same, as is the package store that has borne the Rollo family name for seventeen years. The bar is co-owned and co-managed by Carman Rollo, son of George Rollo, Sr., who founded the nightclub and ran it with the help of his boys for a half-dozen years, until he decided to move on and let the kids take over. The structure has undergone little renovation over the years and still looks like it just rolled off the Big Daddy's assembly line. The mammoth ROLLO'S sign that reigned over Dixie Highway just south of Dadeland for one and a half decades was replaced in time for this past June's transformation by a more demure placard that whispers the lounge's new name: Bare Necessity.
It is no small irony that Rollo's has gone from a live rock and roll bar to a T&A joint, and actually gained respectability in the process.
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Of course, as anyone willing to confess to ever having been in the place will admit, T&A was always a big part of Rollo's appeal. The difference is that it's now sanctioned, or at least watching it is. Fact is, the odds of actually participating in wanton behavior were better back when it was a rock lounge. You won't find anybody doing the nasty in the back seat of a Monte Carlo in Bare Necessity's parking lot, nor are you likely to encounter a young woman offering oral sex in the rest room because she thinks you're with the band. If you couldn't find sex at Rollo's, you weren't really looking.
Bare Necessity, on the other hand, is strictly leer-but-don't-touch territory. You enter through a brightly lighted hallway lined with Nagel prints. A curvaceous young dancer whose stage name is Vanity greets you near the bar and welcomes you to the club. She is wearing an outfit that is more Victoria's Secret than Frederick's of Hollywood. Her breasts are discreetly covered, as is the majority of her derriere.
There is no salacious come-on, no effort to entice you to buy her a drink, and no leg stretched provocatively across your lap so you can slide your tip under her garter and surreptitiously stroke her inner thigh. There may have been a time when nude-dancing bars were thinly veiled fronts for prostitution, but anyone patronizing Bare Necessity for that reason is likely to be disappointed. If it's action you're looking for, try a 1-900 number.
Chanel, an ebullient dancer with an acrobatic routine and a mysterious, Eastern-bloc accent (the specific origin of which she refuses to reveal), once danced at Bare Necessity and now shakes her booty further south, at Stir Crazy. She paints a picture of Carman Rollo and Bare Necessity that would make many of the musicians who worked for him choke on their Budweisers. "Carman was wonderful," she enthuses. "All the people there were great, the dancers, the bartenders, the DJ. They treat the dancers really well."
Chanel was a frequent patron of Rollo's (the club), and Rollo (the owner) has nothing but kind words for her as well. Why then, is she working for the competition? "Well," she says with a furtive smile, "it's hard to work for people you're friends with."
Suffice it to say that most of the musicians who played Rollo's never had to face that dilemma. "Somebody was saying to me the other day how great the scene was here, how we were all like one big family," says Carman Rollo. "No way. It was business. They were hired to give us 40 minutes of music for X dollars."
Peter Patrick, formerly of Z-Cars and the Peter Patrick Band, and currently fronting the original rock outfit Ready-Steady-Go!, remembers Rollo timing sets and docking bands if their breaks were too long. "Once we got docked something like three times in one night," Patrick recalls. "He was really strict. We started out doing all covers there, five nights a week, five sets a night. They were adamantly against original songs, but we were drawing a good crowd, so we had a little bit of clout. We would sort of sneak in an original here and there, and the crowd really responded. Eventually they let us do one all-original set per night, as long as the crowd was into it. But I don't think Carman ever liked the idea."
Rollo concurs. "The bands were getting paid to play the music the people wanted to hear," he explains. "And people wanted to hear music they were already comfortable with, so they could relax, shoot some pool, dance. They weren't there to become rock critics."
Fortunately, Patrick and his contemporaries were not averse to motivating their share of the dance-floor action. The singer has fond, if slightly hazy, memories of the club during its late-Seventies/early-Eighties heyday. "It was a magic, magic time," he opines, "like the glory days of CBGB's or the Manchester scene today. You had Rollo's, and One South across the street, the room with all the mirrors. It was like a huge party that just seemed to go on and on."
Doc Wiley, currently bassist with the Planets and musical director of Washington Square, remembers sitting in with a band and getting docked $25 for leaving the stage to partake of some powdered recreation in the women's rest room. "I'm a recovering addict in my sixth clean year, so I'm not particularly proud of what I did back then," Wiley says. "This town was like Dodge City, with the cocaine cowboys running wild, and Rollo's was like any other bar on the circuit, only more so. They had the prototypical metal nymphs; there were always girls fighting over guys or coke, guys fighting over the same thing. In the mid-Eighties Rollo's didn't really pay that well, so you used to catch bands that were either just starting out and on their way up or over the hill and on their way down. A lot of musicians used to say, `My drug problem's so bad I had to play there.'"
Ramon Corugedo, a 22-year-old drummer currently working with original rockers Big Deal and gigging with classic rockers-bluesmen Money and Cigarettes, grew up with Rollo's. "I started going there when I was, like, fourteen," he says, "hanging out in the parking lot, which was always full of musicians. Sometimes I'd sneak into the club with the band. Usually they threw me out." Corugedo played Rollo's more than 100 times with a variety of different bands, most notably the Breeze and Johnny and the Jammers. His overriding impression of the nightspot, from a musical perspective? "Loud!" he says, shaking his head. "Sometimes you'd get A-circuit bands in there with tons of equipment and they'd just, like, blow people out the door. But that was one thing Carman loved, a band with lots of big, bulky equipment."
Adds Big Deal guitarist Jeff Bazemore, who was Johnny and the Jammers' axeman, "You could tell if they were in a bad mood or didn't like your band, because they'd start charging you for drinks. So we used to sneak in our own beers. One time Carman caught me, and he banned me from the club right in the middle of our gig. Another time, after we had done two or three sets, I was covered with sweat. I went out to my car and changed from my shirt into this leather vest. They wouldn't let me back into the club because it didn't have sleeves."
"Musically, it was pretty decent," says Corugedo. "They never hired a music director or a full-time sound guy, so bands usually brought their own lights and PA. They had bits and pieces of equipment, but it was better if you brought your own. Sometimes we'd use smoke, but the stage was already kind of small and if you had four or five people and PA cabinets up there, it could get real crowded, so if you used smoke you had to be careful not to fall off or knock something over.
"Some excellent musicians used to play there -- Kirk Richards, the guitar player for the Breeze, was really hot," Corugedo continues. "He lives in Fort Myers or something now. Vince Moody, a bass player. Lyle Lingle, another bass player, used to be in Seventh Heaven and a bunch of other bands. Those guys were always at Rollo's or One South."
"The thing about Rollo's was you could go there on a Wednesday night and see some band nobody ever heard of do on-the-money covers of songs like Deep Purple's `Highway Star.' You'd hear the obligatory `All Right Now' or `Born to Be Wild' covers, but you'd hear some off-the-wall stuff, too," reminisces Norman Bedford, local concert promoter, writer, arranger, and cofounder of Ready-Steady-Go! "That's where I first met Peter Patrick, when he was fronting Z-Cars back in '78-'79. The first time I saw him I think he was wearing a nurse's outfit or something. They were playing stuff you didn't normally hear from a cover band -- Easybeats, the Move, Roxy Music -- not to mention a killer rendition of `Time Warp.' And you have to remember, this was when disco was king. It was pretty amazing."
None of these musicians has been to the club since the introduction of strippers. "It's too bad," says Patrick, "because it was about the only place you could go back then -- this was before Flynn's or 27 Birds or Churchill's -- and hear bands like the Cichlids or Charlie Pickett or Gypsy Queen. Johnny Depp used to go there a lot. Nobody was ever carded in those days. It was wild. I remember sitting in a room with George [Rollo, Jr.] after our last set one night. We were just hanging out, talking about the gig, waiting to get paid. They had an old air conditioner that was sort of falling apart, real noisy. George got this huge revolver and just blew the thing apart, like, `The hell with it.' That's what Rollo's was like."
While Patrick invokes the specter of Hollywood with his mention of the Cry Baby-face Depp, Rollo's never held much appeal for the cutting-edge trendoids. Vice never shot there, nor did Don Johnson bless it with his off-camera pastel presence. The bar was too real for Tinseltown, too blue-collar and unapologetically heterosexual for the house-and-Ecstasy nightclubbing crowd. It was never the biker hangout that many who couldn't work up the nerve to venture inside seem to think it was, but neither was it a quiet little yuppie fern bar. Rollo's in its prime was an adventure, a trip to a place where hormonal fires raged out of control, stoked by loud music, cold beer, and the imperatives of postadolescence. It was the perfect antidote for a world of gridlock and mortgage payments; no problem was so grave it couldn't be washed away with a few 25-cent drafts or dollar Heinekens and a spin around the dance floor to the sounds of Wolfgang or Cameron covering "Black Dog" or "Radar Love."
Testosterone and alcohol have always been a volatile mix, and Rollo's was not immune to the occasional barroom brawl, although most violence was directed at the bathroom walls and fixtures. "We'd replace the mirrors about once or twice a month until we got smart," says Carman Rollo. "We reinforced the bathroom doors with 3/8-inch plywood, heavy-duty. They'd still knock 'em down every couple of months. Finally we just got tired of it, we'd just leave the doors there with holes, or the urinals half out of the wall, or holes in the ceiling big enough to land the space shuttle through. Nobody seemed to mind."
Women would dare each other to enter the men's room and lipstick-scrawl obscene invitations to the guys in the band onto what was left of the mirrors. Sometimes the musicians took them up on it. Hustling wayward guitarists, drummers, and bass players out of the bathrooms, alcoves, and the parking lot was a nightly ritual.
"A lot of strippers used to go there from the Organ Grinder or Stir Crazy when they weren't working," says Corugedo, slightly wide-eyed at the memory. "You had sex, drugs, and rock and roll all rolled up into one place."
Bare Necessity dancers are strictly prohibited from fraternizing with customers or boyfriends/husbands in the parking lot, and the back-seat lovemaking and petty drug deals that were such a rich part of the Rollo's heritage have all but disappeared, as have most of the conflicts that used to arise as a result of such shenanigans.
Carman Rollo bids them good riddance. He says he will not miss having cue sticks broken over his head, getting sucker punched more times than a B-movie stunt man, and being threatened with tables, chairs, and lawsuits. He remembers most vividly the night, a few weeks before the switch to Bare Necessity, when he broke up a domestic dispute at the pool table. Rollo dodged a swinging cue to subdue a belligerent male patron, only to experience a most distressing crushing sensation between his legs. A young woman had grabbed him by the family jewels and was squeezing with all her might. Luckily, one of Rollo's assistant managers leaped to his aid. As the woman with the vise -- or was it vice? -- grip and her stick-wielding cohort were escorted to their car, she paused to apologize. "I had to do something," she explained. "He's my husband."
Rollo relays this anecdote, and many others, with only the slightest hint of wistfulness. "It's a completely different kind of customer now," he notes. "More mature, more upscale. We used to sell a lot of booze cheaply. Now we sell less alcohol for a lot more money. The customers rarely get out of hand, and if they do, we offer to call them a cab or whatever. And that's usually the end of it. Problems with customers are almost nonexistent."
Rollo's is not the first South Miami- area rock and roll nightspot to have resorted to strippers when the baby boomers started spending more time changing diapers than CDs. It would not be farfetched to assume that the runaway success of Lipstik (formerly One South), just a table dance or two north of Bare Necessity on Dixie Highway, had something to do with Rollo's decision to change formats. Lipstik's patrons are a cabaret owner's dream -- well-dressed young professionals in three-piece suits with fat wallets and $40 haircuts. It is a far cry from the days when the late-evening crowd from the Village Inn or Monty's would head to One South for a nightcap. At one point a synergism developed between Rollo's and One South as bands and musicians hopped from one watering hole to the other until the wee hours. As David Sierra, current general manager of Lipstik and one-time patron of the hotspot in its previous incarnation, says, "When no one else was open, there was always One South."
Lipstik employs an operating staff of twenty in addition to the 75 or so independent contractors who bare their flesh in the course of a week. While the rest rooms at One South sheltered a veritable bazaar for vendors and users of illicit substances (as did Rollo's), Lipstik employs two full-time floor managers whose sole job is to keep an eye out for drugs. They are not about to risk shutting down the gold mine due to a customer's or a dancer's indiscretion.
Carman Rollo and partner John Travaline stress the fact that Bare Necessity is clean, even by "sophisticated adult entertainment" standards. No illegal substances or behavior. "We're doing clean, drug-free, prostitution-free adult entertainment, strictly for fun," says Rollo. "Before we opened Bare Necessity we looked at a lot of different bars and the one thing the bad ones all had in common was that the DJ ran the club. Here the DJ just keeps the music rolling and announces the dancers. He doesn't have to go into the dressing room to pull a dancer onto the stage because she's too stoned to hear her cue."
Adds Travaline, "When we made the decision to switch to nude entertainment, we decided to go first class. If I'm gonna sell smut, I'm gonna sell nice smut. Our doormen wear tuxes. The girls are fully covered when they're not dancing, nothing poking out or anything like that. And no hustling drinks."
Bare Necessity is still a strip joint, of course, not exactly a stronghold of the Women's Christian Temperance Union. It is a saloon where women bare their nether regions and undulate suggestively while men drink $3.75 Budweisers and pretend to look at the dancers' eyes. Five bucks still buys an up-close-and-personal table dance, and buying a dancer a drink will get you some conversation complete with expertly feigned interest. Travaline says that a lot of men come by just for the conversation, the chance to talk to an attractive woman with no fear of rejection.
The interior of the lounge has been completely modernized and updated, creating a tasteful, glittery showcase for the dancers to do their thang. As strip clubs go, Bare Necessity is one of the classiest. Rollo's was the kind of place where the sexual conduct these dancers work so hard to suggest was actively being sought, agreed to, and occasionally consummated on the spot, an Animal House without university affiliation. Bare Necessity is safer, cleaner, more expensive, and, if a guy can't exactly grab for all the gusto, at least he can get a good look at what he's missing. It's like the difference between actually going to France and visiting the French pavilion at Epcot Center -- not an unpleasant way to pass the time, but ultimately it whets your appetite for the real thing.