Longform

King of Diamonds: How America's Favorite Black Strip Club Won Its Crown

A prodigious bare ass gyrates hypnotically in the face of San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis, whose huge body is sprawled across a red-velvet and gold-painted chaise. A buddy enthusiastically slaps dollar bill after dollar bill onto the glistening butt of Blac Chyna, a stripper whose light-brown skin contrasts with snow-white hair and Betty Boop eyelashes. At a nearby table, NFL rookie of the year Cam Newton and his posse dump their own mountain of green stacks onto a gaggle of nude dancers.

Rick Ross's "Stay Schemin'" booms through the wide expanse of King of Diamonds, a massive strip club bordering I-95 near Miami Gardens. The acrid aroma of California medical-grade chronic mixes with the sweet scent of designer perfume, while a boisterous crowd of a thousand watches two burly African-American women pummel each other in a boxing ring. Dollars flutter to the ground everywhere, accumulating like puddles in a rainstorm. There are so many loose bills that floor hosts — nattily dressed in black slacks, white dress shirts, and bow ties — sweep up cash with push brooms. Even the ring is littered with dollars, which the winner of the amateur boxing bout gets to keep.

Behind a velvet rope in the VIP area, Disco Rick carefully watches the action. Once a hit-making Miami booty bass pioneer, the pudgy 47-year-old in gray jeans and a leather jacket stamped with KOD's crest now makes his living corralling exotic dancers.

"This club is just one giant vending machine," Disco Rick says, grinning. "Everything in here is about money. It's more than just a strip club. It's the Super Walmart of entertainment complexes."

This indoor Colosseum of naked pleasures is frequented every week by a who's who of African-American pro athletes and rappers, from Drake to Lil Wayne to Miami's own Rick Ross and from boxer Floyd Mayweather to Denver Broncos running back Willis McGahee to Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson. In turn, the celebs draw throngs of real and wannabe hustlers to a place that's by all estimates the largest black strip club in America, where more than 200 dancers, bartenders, and staffers ply their trades in a 50,000-square-foot warehouse of decadence.

"It's not your typical strip club," says Lee "Q" O'Denat, founder of WorldStarHipHop.com. "It's like going to a party at LIV [at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach resort], but only bigger and with a lot of beautiful naked girls."

Behind the velvet curtains, KOD's rise to becoming a hip-hop and pro sports cultural icon is the tale of an octogenarian nightclub impresario's latest success after a career marred by accusations of mob ties, political corruption, and prostitution. It's also the story of a phoenix-like rebirth for Disco Rick, whose music career died before he found an even more profitable line of work.

But even as KOD's national fame peaks — thanks to a star turn by its most famous stripper on a cable television news program — cracks are forming in the kingdom. That stripper, an athletic marvel named Tip Drill, whose acrobatic routine inspired gasps, has quit and is threatening a lawsuit after smashing her face on the floor during a dance gone awry. Rival strip clubs, meanwhile, are cloning KOD's formula and trying to steal its hip-hop glory. And the health of its infamous owner is quickly deteriorating as he weathers numerous legal fights.

As Disco Rick watches the packed house throwing fistfuls of cash into the smoky air, though, he doesn't seem particularly worried.

"There is no recession when you're looking at naked women," he crows in a deep baritone voice. "Tonight you might see at least a couple hundred thousand dollars hit the floor."

On a recent Tuesday afternoon, Disco Rick reclines on one of the black leather VIP sofas on the first floor of King of Diamonds. Seven days a week he's at the club, and between managing the strippers and shepherding the rappers and quarterbacks, he gets three hours of sleep many nights.

"If I sleep, then a bitch might get away with some money," he says.

Rick scrolls through text messages as he tries to answer a simple question: How did KOD get this big, this fast? There's one real answer, Rick explains knowingly: Jack Galardi.

"I wish I could spend some time traveling with him or hanging out with him at his ranch because I would learn a lot," he says reverentially. "My boss man has the blueprint for building successful clubs."

Galardi isn't well known in Miami, but he should be. In Las Vegas, he's been dubbed by local writers a "low-budget Hugh Hefner" and "the Buddha of the strip club industry." Galardi owns more than two dozen cabarets around the country, including Pink Pony South, Crazy Horse Saloon, and Jaguar. In Dade he owns KOD and the Pink Pony in Doral, and he's fighting the City of Marathon to expand to the Keys.

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Francisco Alvarado was born in Nicaragua and grew up in Miami, giving him unique insight into the Magic City and all its dark corners. An investigative reporter with a knack for uncovering corruption, Alvarado made his bones as a staff writer at Miami New Times and remains in dogged pursuit of the next juicy story.