The Daily Grind
Troy Lowrie's work clothes confuse his staff. Sometimes he's spiffed-out in a courtly suit, fine leather shoes and a shiny watch. Some days he comes dressed in Dockers and a smart polo. On the occasions he wears blue jeans and a T-shirt, it's not uncommon for one his female employees to sidle up to him and ask, "What? You're not working today?"
But Troy Lowrie is working every day.
One evening last fall, after he opened his family's tenth club, PT's Gold in Glendale, Lowrie arrived in dress pants, a finely stitched black button-down shirt and an evening coat. The night was a big one: the debut of what Lowrie cleverly billed "Colorado's only fully nude bar with alcohol."
In February 1999, Lowrie purchased the Mile High Saloon at 4451 East Virginia Avenue for a bargain price of $2 million. Even though Lowrie's new club was located just two blocks from Shotgun Willie's, one of Colorado's most popular adult clubs -- and one that had driven the Mile High Saloon into the ground -- Lowrie was eager to act on the property, since it came with all the right paperwork. The club already had a liquor license and a sexually oriented business permit, which meant there wouldn't be a high-publicity showdown between Lowrie and his neighbors. He just needed to get the permits switched into his name, and all that took was a majority vote by the Glendale city council.
The first time Lowrie opened the door to his new building, the floor was covered with more duct tape than carpet. Lowrie immediately began to replicate the style made famous by his father, Hal. Construction workers replaced the single, large stage with several small stages to give the club a crowded, dancers-on-islands effect. They put up angled mirrors for walls, so that while a customer's direct vision would be on sensory overload, his peripheral vision would be filled in with flesh-colored movements. Then Lowrie added the touch he himself had made famous: a circle of television sets above the bar, always tuned to sports channels. Neon lights were hung, speakers began to shake with music and clothing started to come off.
At first Lowrie's new club, operating on temporary permits, didn't exactly set the street on fire. Competition was tough, and regulars from the old Mile High Saloon weren't adjusting well to the new, upscale entertainment. So Lowrie loaded the club with obvious gimmicks: A porn star came to dance for a few nights, he offered two-for-one drink specials, and he set up a nice lunch buffet.
But one day while he was eating lunch himself, he got a better idea. If he could shrink the liquor license, so to speak, to exclude the VIP room upstairs, then he could use the space to let women dance without any clothes -- just as long as he could keep customers from sneaking booze into the area. The idea was so fantastic, Lowrie thought, "I'm surprised my dad didn't think of it first."
Lowrie went to the Glendale city clerk and proposed it this way: If I don't want to sell alcohol in the dressing room, can I remove the dressing room from the licensed section of the club? Sure, the clerk said. If I don't want to sell booze upstairs in the VIP room, can I remove that area from the licensed area? Again, the clerk agreed.
Next, he asked the state liquor board for a ruling. Lowrie asked, essentially, "Can you make me sell alcohol where I don't want to?" The short and correct answer came back, and it was "no." It might have appeared that Lowrie was trying to skirt the laws by performing legalistic sweet talk. "People can call it whatever they want to, but he's not selling alcohol upstairs," says David Reitz, director of Colorado's Liquor Enforcement Division. "Once they did that [modified the liquor license], they are no longer under our jurisdiction."
"Originally, my thinking was that if it didn't work, it was just a gimmick that would bring the club some attention," Lowrie says. "But it did work."
On the first night that fall evening, while Lowrie stood off to the side in an evening coat, Ron, a regular patron, paid for the right to be the first man to witness full nudity at PT's Gold. He selected the dancer of his choice, a tall, thin, olive-skinned woman with a long, jet-black mane. She offered her hand and led Ron up the flight of stairs.
Once there, Ron sank into a pillowy couch as the dancer took to a small, circular, knee-high stage directly in front of him. Leopard-skin print blanketed the room, from the carpet to the chair covers; off to the side, but no less worthy of attention, a taxidermied lion named Elvis stood tall on his hind legs, with paws and fangs outstretched, frozen in a permanently eager position.
On the circular stage, the dancer undressed herself completely, then lay on her back, stretched out her legs and dug her heels into Ron's shoulders. She then began moving as if she were riding a bicycle, very slowly, using Ron's shoulders as the pedals.
The expression on Ron's face confirmed that the VIP room had been an excellent business decision.
"To me, this is just level two," Lowrie says of his ten-club, $30 million empire. "My dad was at level one. My son, hopefully, can get to level five. Who knows what's beyond this? From an early age, I knew that I'd be running a multi-club national chain, handling millions of dollars. I knew I'd have hundreds of employees. What I'm doing today was predicted when I was fifteen years old.
"Heck," Lowrie says, "I'd be doing something else if it paid the same."
Hal Lowrie got his son this far.
Hal grew up in Colorado and attended Denver's South High School. He dropped out after the ninth grade and, at age sixteen, jumped a train to Chicago. He spent the next few years sneaking into bars along the city's infamous Rush Street. When he was nineteen, Hal joined the Navy; in the Korean War, his duties included photographing enemy positions by hanging from the side of a plane. After the war, he returned to Denver and opened a photography studio, taking portraits of toddlers and their families.
In the early '60s, Hal gave up the photography business and sold advertising for a country-Western radio station. Blessed with the gift of gab, an entertaining personality and an ability to make people feel as if they were his best friends, Hal thrived in advertising. He even opened his own ad agency for a while, but that eventually failed and he returned to the radio station. On the side, Hal taught ballroom-dancing lessons, where he met his first wife, Lu.
The couple raised their two kids in a middle-class home on 67th and Fenton in Arvada, living mostly on the $150 a week Hal made from selling advertising -- but he longed to be his own boss again. In 1971, Hal made his first purchase: Aloha Beach at 56th and Federal. It was a ramshackle bar that made most of its money during the summers, when throngs of families were out at the nearby Sangraco and Rocky Mountain lakes. During the winters, Aloha Beach was a nondescript watering hole. As Hal poured the beer, he'd sit Troy, age five, next to the cash register. One night, while Hal and Troy were away from the bar, a female bartender did something playful: She took off her shirt while tending to her regular customers.
When Hal came to empty the till, the mounds of cash indicated the evening had been Aloha Beach's finest ever. Customers had stayed all night, bought lots of booze, had a great time. And they kept coming back again, on the chance that it would be like that night.
Within a few weeks, Hal had built a stage inside the bar and hired women to take off their clothes and dance around. The bar was located on an unincorporated patch of Adams County land where laws were loose -- people just did what they pleased and expected little interference from the cops. As business boomed at the Aloha, Hal began thinking big. He floated ideas about a grand, Las Vegas-style cabaret. His entertainment sense was growing as fast as his wallet.
But it was the early '70s, and the ink was just drying on a wave of newly drafted city, state and federal laws regulating where, when and how adult clubs could operate. Hal raced to open clubs as quickly as he could. By adult-business standards, it was visionary, if not downright otherworldly, to believe one man could open and operate a national chain.
But by 1974, Hal had opened Boogie Down, an all-nude club on 64th and Pecos, then PT's on Evans, which is still one of Denver's best-known clubs. (He named it PT's in honor of the man who guaranteed "the greatest show on earth.") The same year, the Colorado Liquor Enforcement Division followed other states in prohibiting full nudity where liquor was served. The ruling came with little reason, Hal believed, other than a reliance on a puritan belief system. "But by that time," Troy says, his father "was already making a small fortune."
Initially, the full-nudity ban cut Lowrie's business in half. Yet even without the full monty to sell, Hal Lowrie continued to open topless bars. By the early '80s, he added Saturday's on East Colfax Avenue and another PT's in Colorado Springs. He had also ventured out of state and picked up a club named the Red Garter in East St. Louis. Asked by a St. Louis reporter to explain his business, Hal Lowrie replied, "Ford uses pretty girls to sell cars. I use pretty girls to sell alcohol."
Hal moved the family from Arvada to a large house on top of a hill at 72nd Avenue and Wadsworth Boulevard, a neighborhood nicknamed "Snob Hill." Entering his teens, Troy hardly knew the difference between what his father did for a living and how other fathers made their loot. "I thought everybody's dad made a lot of money and had naked ladies everywhere," he remembers.
But in 1981, with things rolling along so grandly, Hal and Lu sought divorce. Troy was fifteen, his older sister eighteen. On the day Hal was moving out the last of his things, Troy told his mother he was going to live with his father. As Troy remembers, his mother was nagging Hal as he walked to and from the car, when suddenly she pulled out a handgun and shot Hal four times, twice in the left arm and twice in the left side of his torso.
Troy tackled his mother and wrestled the gun from her hands. He removed his own belt, and his father's, to stop the blood gushing from Hal's wounds. Hal survived, and Lu spent the next six months in a psychiatric ward; Hal didn't press charges, but he continued the divorce proceedings.
"We've never been real close after that," Troy says of his mother. He seldom speaks to her.
After Hal recovered from his wounds, he got back to business. The bullets hadn't knocked down his larger-than-life personality. He still wore a suit and tie to work every day, and he still rolled around town in a big Mercedes.
Eric Peterson, area director of Lowrie's three Denver clubs, began working for Hal fifteen years ago. "It was much looser when Hal was running the business," Peterson says. "But back then, the bar staff was partying, the girls were partying. Today, it's all business."
Peterson, who sometimes piloted Hal's personal plane on recreational flights, recalls a time when Hal would order his barmen to pour him a drink and one for themselves. Sometimes Hal was testing his staff; other times he wanted them to let down their inhibitions and knock back a few shots. For the employee, it was an uneasy gamble.
"More than anything, Hal loved to laugh," Peterson says. "He hated stiffness in his employees, in anybody. If he saw one of his employees standing there, he might walk up to them and jerk on their tie just to loosen them up."
For years, strip clubs had been designed with one main stage where a performer would prance out, dance for two songs, then sashay into the crowd looking to do personal lap dances so she could make real cash. This lineup, which needed just four or five women to provide an hour's worth of entertainment, was coined "The Texas Rotation." Hal Lowrie's mark on the business was to do away with one main stage. Instead, he filled his club with seven or eight mini-stages. Up to a dozen men could gather around each one.
"If you don't like that one girl, you're bored for the next fifteen minutes," Troy explains, admiring his father's invention. "But six or seven girls on different stages -- you're going to fall in love with at least one of them." Having several stages also allows the patrons to spread their dollars evenly, throughout the night, on separate dancers -- not just one girl for fifteen minutes.
"My father knew what he was," Lowrie says. "A guy with a ninth-grade education. He saw the trend, he saw what was happening in the future. He knew that the men who were going to run these businesses needed degrees. When I was five years old, I knew what an MBA was." Better yet, Troy was instructed to get one. He did his first two years of college at CU-Boulder and finished his undergraduate degree the next year at Fort Lewis College in Durango. He enrolled in an MBA/JD program at the University of Denver and received his MBA in finance and securities when he was just 21. (He's three-quarters shy of completing his JD, something he doesn't intend to do.)
At 22, Troy took his first real steps toward entering the family business by writing a computer program for his father that calculated the theoretical perfect profit margin from each bottle of booze. Hal had long operated with a theft/overpour rate of 15 percent. Troy trimmed it to ten. "I said, 'Look how much money you're leavin' on the table, Dad.'" That same year, Troy was hired by his father to manage Shotgun Willie's. A few years earlier, Shotgun Willie's owner, Gary Mintz, had been sent to prison for trafficking cocaine. Mintz's wife, Debbie Matthews, had been allowed to keep the club as part of a deal with the government, and Matthews had hired Hal Lowrie to manage the business. Though Hal was technically her competitor, he was also the only man in town who knew how to run these clubs, and Matthews agreed to split the profits fifty-fifty.
As Troy continued to learn the trade, his father was being monitored by law-enforcement agents. In 1993, Hal and six other men were indicted for laundering $3 million over the course of four years, using Hal's East St. Louis clubs as the front. The feds also accused Hal and the others of slipping bribes to the police chief and the mayor of Brooklyn, a small city near East St. Louis where Hal owned a club. The indictment alleged that prostitutes worked in the Red Garter's basement and second floor. Hal was looking at six felony counts, with charges of pimping, racketeering and conspiracy.
The charges shocked Troy and his family. Hal adamantly denied his involvement. Before he was arraigned, however, on April 17, 1994, at age 58, Hal died of lung disease. He had smoked most of his life, but had quit two years before his death. He never faced his accusers, many of whom turned out to be those he was indicted with. Several of his club managers took guilty pleas in exchange for light sentences, but not before outlining Hal's involvement. The police chief, Eugene Douglas, admitted taking the bribes from Hal's businesses in exchange for ignoring the brothel. And, just four months after Hal's death, lawyers for Hal's company, H.L. Enterprises Inc., pleaded guilty to the charges, agreeing to sell off a business and create a $1 million trust fund for Brooklyn's residents. Still, Troy maintains his father's innocence. "Moneywise, I would have noticed. He wasn't the ringleader of any Mafia like they said he was."
Immediately after Hal's death, the FBI also threatened to take the clubs from the Lowries unless Troy was willing to pay a $2 million fine. "The first thing I did after he died," Lowrie says, "was pay for the sins of my father. I was basically being extorted by the FBI." It's a payment he doesn't regret: He got to keep the clubs, and now, he believes, his clean record has established a bond of trust between his family and the authorities.
A few weeks after Hal's funeral services, at age 28, Troy Lowrie showed signs of his moneymaking abilities. He had been working on a concept of his own, a 50,000-square-foot cowboy-country hall called A Li'l Bit of Texas (located just outside St. Louis). It was the second-largest club of its kind in the country. The company went public on the NASDAQ, which made Lowrie the youngest CEO of a publicly owned company trading at the time. He was big into the country-Western scene, perennially looking out from underneath a large cowboy hat, and had married a dancer from one of his father's clubs in San Antonio (a union that lasted only a year). A Li'l Bit of Texas continues to do well -- but shortly after the opening, Lowrie returned to the real source of family bread: the strip clubs.
Immediately the differences between father and son were apparent. "He took over every room he was in," Lowrie says of his father. "He made everyone feel good about themselves, wanted to buy everyone a drink. He had the gift of gab. But I'm not like that. I don't drink in the clubs, and that's upsetting to some of the regulars who were friends with my dad. A lot of employees have told me, 'It was a lot more fun working for your father.' They also say, 'But our jobs are a lot more secure now that you're running the business.'
"My dad liked the limelight. He enjoyed stretching the boundaries. I don't like the limelight. And I enjoy existing inside established boundaries. My dad used to tell his lawyers, 'Show me the line, so I can take one step over it.' I tell mine, 'Show me the line, so I can draw mine just inside.'"
On the U.S. Supreme Court's general outlines of "time, place and manner," which are used as criteria for zoning adult businesses, Lowrie believes in two out of three. "Time is certainly appropriate. These clubs don't need to run 24 hours." Troy makes sure everyone's out of his club by 2 a.m., while Hal was known for closing the doors at 2 a.m. but letting his buddies stay inside drinking until the sun came up.
"Place is also very appropriate -- that doesn't mean we don't want great location. But, of course, we don't want to operate right next door to a school." Hal had opened clubs wherever and whenever he got the chance.
Manner, however, is where Lowrie pauses. He cites Glendale Mayor Joe Rice's attempt in 1998 to regulate tipping procedures inside the city's clubs.
"The more you place economic sanctions on adult businesses," Lowrie says, "the less caliber of entertainment you're going to get." Forcing cheap entertainment, Lowrie believes, brings loss of revenue, which leads to an inability to upgrade, until the place deteriorates into the stereotypical cesspool.
Troy rarely uses colorful language. "I do tell people when I hire them that they're going to hear a word like 'tits' in the office. We also fire girls for having a big ass. You won't hear that at IBM, but in my business, it's part of the business."
He says he drinks sparsely at home and has never done a hard drug in his life. He smoked half a cigarette in high school. At age 34, Lowrie's ten clubs make him the owner of the nation's second-largest chain of cabaret-style adult businesses, second only to the North Hollywood-based Déjà Vu chain, which has thirty. Six years ago, he got married again (to a waitress at one of his clubs), and he picks up his two children, a boy and a girl, ages three and four, from daycare in Boulder daily.
On a Thursday afternoon last month, while driving between clubs, Troy made this observation while waiting at a stoplight: "I'm appalled at myself sometimes," he said, his three-year-old son's toys scattered in the backseat of his Ford Excursion Limited. "For not being as exciting as I could be."
Troy Lowrie's legal life, however, is a little more exhilarating.
On January 8 last year, a dancer filed a civil suit against Troy Lowrie and his company, WCC Acquisitions Inc., for violating her civil rights. One year earlier, the dancer had accused Laurence Ballani, the second-in-command of Lowrie's Denver clubs, of raping her after work in a basement office at All Stars. There were no eyewitnesses to the crime, only an "outcry witness" -- the victim's boyfriend, who was a DJ at the club. While Ballani denied penetration, he did admit sexual contact had occurred, arguing that the dancer had consented. Ballani's lawyers attempted to use the results of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation's "rape kit" exam which, according to their documents, showed that Ballani's DNA had not been found inside the victim. Rather, only samples of the victim's boyfriend's semen had been found. But Ballani's defense wasn't allowed to use that argument after the victim invoked the Rape Shield Statute, which prohibits defendants from dredging up a female's sexual history -- including any sex with her boyfriend -- as evidence.
Ballani was convicted of second-degree sexual assault and sentenced to ninety days in jail and eight years' probation. The sentencing was extremely light for the allegations, but before Ballani had even been sentenced, the victim had filed a civil lawsuit against Ballani, Lowrie and All Stars.
In the civil trial set for October, Ballani's lawyers hope to use the rape-kit evidence to argue that unless the victim had sex with her boyfriend after she had been raped, it's impossible to find Ballani guilty. Lowrie also is depending on the admittance of the rape-kit exam. He had been friends with Ballani for several years and knew him, he says, to be a good man. After Ballani was charged with the crime, Lowrie kept him as an employee, though he transferred Ballani to East St. Louis until the jury returned with a guilty verdict.
"All Stars and Lowrie's negligence in hiring Ballani, failing to properly supervise him and retaining him after they had knowledge of his inappropriate behavior proximately caused the physical and emotional injuries to [the victim]," the dancer's attorney wrote in her civil lawsuit.
Even after Ballani's conviction, Lowrie still wonders if it didn't happen differently. Though he makes it clear that Laurence Ballani will never work for him again, Lowrie's been around clubs for a long time, and he's seen a lot of disturbed relationships. "Some of the girls are attracted to power," he says. "I could just as easily see her throwing herself on Larry."
Lowrie's lawyers have their own theory: that the victim and her DJ boyfriend conspired to reap a financial reward out of Lowrie and the club. Even with his lawyers suggesting he's the victim of extortion, Lowrie has not fired the DJ, who still works at All Stars. "He's still a good DJ," Lowrie says.
But the case immediately changed operating procedures in Lowrie's clubs. Ballani had violated Lowrie's first rule for male managers, the "stern but loving father" rule, which dictates that managers are trained to be female dancers' disciplinarians -- but not to be so harsh that the women stop coming to work, begin fearing the club and end up jaded, rotten performers. It's a ploy to keep dancers feeling like they are wanted, yet not wanted. "There is no girl who grows up saying, 'I can't wait until I turn eighteen so I can take my clothes off for a living,'" Lowrie says. "Usually, somewhere along the line, for many different reasons, they've learned how to use their sexuality and their body to get what they want. That's why they are naturally good strippers." Lowrie stops himself from using the word "all," but he does believe a good number -- maybe even most -- of his dancers suffer from low self-esteem. And, as a result, Lowrie believes, "it feels good to have guys throwing money at you while you're on stage." He adds, half-jokingly, "And it feels good to have a hundred women throwing money at us."
As a result of the Ballani case, PT's is now fitted with eight security cameras in the office and behind the bar. Lowrie can, and does, click into the system nightly from his Boulder home. If a manager has to go into the office alone with a dancer, the manager is to call Lowrie at home so he can monitor the interaction. The cameras are also trained on the stages, though they cannot distinguish customers' faces. If Lowrie dials in to his computer and notices a girl isn't on stage at precisely 11 a.m., as she should be, he calls the club. "They're all scared to death," he says. "No one knows when I'm watching."
But despite his attempts to curb lawsuits, Lowrie is facing more and more of them: three in just the last three years from the Denver clubs, compared to none in the previous ten years. He's been sued for allegedly firing a bartender for being pregnant("The Fruits of Her Labor," August 12, 1999), and he recently settled a claim with another dancer who alleged sexual harassment. Sexual harassment, he notes, is a relatively new legal trapping. "If there was sexual harassment in the '70s, my father would have had hundreds of cases against him. Back then, he'd walk by a gal, slap her on the butt, and she'd say, 'Hey, Hal.' If I did it, I'd get a lawsuit."
The lawsuits are what makes headlines, Lowrie believes, but there's another side to himself, and to his business, that won't make the papers. Inside the conference room above PT's on Evans, there's a bronzed bust of Hal Lowrie perched atop a waist-high marble pedestal. It was put there by Hal himself well before he died. It reads, "He walks the world proudly with love."
Troy's office is nothing like his father's. When Troy was a kid, pictures of girls hung on these walls. Today they're decorated with framed stocks and bonds and black-and-white photographs of American Indians. The room is lined with well-lacquered wood paneling rather than clouds of cigarette smoke. The chairs are made from hand-stitched leather. "I tried to give it a lawerly feel," Troy says.
Lowrie has come up with his own mantra for the business: "MBI" -- management by involvement. Top managers in Lowrie's business can expect to make $125,000 per year. Says Peterson, "Troy has opened the business to the employees, where Hal didn't have it that way." Now, Peterson has a small stake in the business and a retirement plan.
For a time, Troy flirted with the online sex trade, a potential waterfall of cash. But the online game didn't work the way he liked. Even though Troy had a built-in profit margin with the in-house talent, the facilities to produce a Web site and millions of cocktail napkins that could advertise his dot-com address, he pulled out after a brief stint. "The girls were just going to have to get nastier and nastier to compete. I don't know that's there a real good way to do upscale sex on the Internet."
Now, he's focusing on his children's trust funds and the Lowrie Family Foundation.
He's donated to the Colorado Boys Ranch and the United Way, but, as he found when he signed the checks from PT's, "It's hard to give it away sometimes." So he started the foundation "to create an entity that can be more accepted" and "to create, personally, a large charity foundation to pass on to my kids." Last year, he gave $30,000 to the City of Sheridan for civic services. During a parade, he rode in the back of his Hummer with All Stars posters plastering the side. A woman came out of the crowd to hug him. "Thank you," she said. She told him her son hadn't been able to afford a wrestling uniform, but because of Lowrie's grant, he could. Also in Sheridan, Lowrie fronted the Alice Terry Elementary School $10,000 on a $200,000 project to expand the school parking lot. Currently, school buses can't fit into the lot, and there are only ten staff parking places. While others continue to make donations, Lowrie opened a line of credit for the project through Bank One. If the kids can't sell enough commemorative bricks to reach the goal, Lowrie's line of credit guarantees the project will be completed (it's scheduled to break ground next year). In East St. Louis, he's pledged $100,000 over the next five years to build two prenatal birthing centers for indigent mothers.
Most recently, Lowrie's side project, New Millennium Media Inc., which manufactures revolving advertising signs, reached $1.50 per share. Lowrie owns two million shares. Since trading rules prevent him from selling them all at once, he's pledged to donate much of his stock to Glendale, Sheridan and Denver. He's also planning to give some of the stocks -- which could be worth as much as $1 million -- to HOPE, Healing of People Everywhere, to help finance a new library at Columbine High School. This week, when parents of Columbine survivors gather at a board meeting, Lowrie will learn whether they'll accept his money. "I really think they will," he says. "Angela [Sanders, daughter of slain teacher Dave Sanders, who dances at PT's Gold] came to me and asked for help. I want to do this donation."
Despite his philanthropy, though, Lowrie still meets resistance. He attempted to give $10,000 to the Glendale Victim's Assistance Fund, but says he was told that another of its supporters, the Catholic Church, objected to the donation. Lowrie also tried to give the Glendale Police Department a donation, but the department turned him down, citing a conflict of interest since it may have to enforce laws against Lowrie's business.
Still, he notices a difference between how people treat him and how they approached his father. "I can get a handshake from a police chief and a hug from a principal. For my father, it wasn't that way. It was, 'Hey, that's that guy.'"
When Troy Lowrie opened PT's Gold in early 1999, many people wanted him to be their guy. At the time, the six-person Glendale city council was still propped up by a majority from the Glendale Tea Party, councilmembers who had come to power in 1998 when they successfully opposed Mayor Rice's attempt to regulate the strip clubs. Lowrie's entry brought financial support to the Tea Party, but it also brought Lowrie vehement opposition from the anti-Tea Party faction.
While Lowrie stood before the city council attempting to get the Mile High Saloon's licenses switched into his name, non-Tea Party members eagerly dredged up his past. In 1998, Lowrie's All Stars license had been suspended for twenty days after a dancer -- a featured porn star, Lowrie says -- was engaging in inappropriate sexual touching (touching her own nipples and grinding into customers). Lowrie says his managers were hesitant to stop her, intimidated by the large crowd she was bringing in and the fee they were paying her. Lowrie's own criminal record was also revealed.
In 1984, 21-year-old Lowrie got into a fight outside a Taco Bell -- he says he was with the jocks when they rumbled with a group of stoners. Three years later, another arrest came after he got into a barroom brawl inside Neo's, a Glendale nightclub. In 1989, he was charged with solicitation for sex, but that was eventually reduced to disorderly conduct. Lowrie says he'd heard a rumor two dancers from his father's Boogie Down club were moonlighting for an escort agency, and he called the agency and arranged to meet the girls at an apartment, hoping to catch them red-handed and fire them. Instead, he walked into an Arvada police sting. After Lowrie pleaded his side of the story, the charge was reduced and Lowrie paid a $50 fine. And in 1992 he was charged with assault after a dancer at PT's accused him of choking her. Lowrie had fired the dancer for refusing to remove a nose ring, and maintains his innocence -- he believes the dancer's angry boyfriend left a red mark on her neck after he learned she had been fired.
Rather than let the facts unfold in a courtroom -- "Who's going to believe the strip-club owner?" he asks -- Lowrie paid a fine and agreed to attend an anger-management class. "All of this was early-age, growing-up type stuff."
At the time of these disclosures, Mayor Rice was quoted as saying, "If this management group qualifies, I'd like to see the group that doesn't qualify."
But Lowrie got the votes he needed, with Tea Party members in the majority. It was the beginning of a cozy -- if forced -- relationship.
In the early '80s, when Hal Lowrie managed Shotgun Willie's for a fifty-fifty profit split with Debbie Matthews, Hal negotiated with the landowner when the club's lease was to be renewed. According to court documents, Matthews believed that Hal was using the negotiations to usurp ownership of the club. Matthews sued Hal, alleging a conspiracy, but lost her case and settled out of court with the Lowries. Troy says Matthews agreed to pay the Lowrie family $20,000 per month to give up the managing contract and Hal's share of the profits. The payment is split three ways among Troy, his sister and their lawyer.
When Lowrie moved into Glendale, he met with Mike Dunafon, Debbie Matthews's boyfriend (she had divorced Mintz by then), and Lowrie agreed to forgive his third of the payment from Shotgun Willie's -- as long as the money was used as a monthly donation to Dunafon's Glendale Tea Party. From the outside, the agreement between Lowrie and Dunafon appeared as a form of extortion: Dunafon would make sure the Tea Party-controlled council granted Lowrie's licenses if Lowrie forgave Shotgun Willie's monthly payment.
Lowrie calls it a deal made between friends. "I knew the political climate of Glendale when I came here. I just wanted to help get behind their cause," he says. "And they knew I have a war chest."
When Glendale Police Chief Ken Burge learned of the arrangement, he approached Lowrie outside city hall one afternoon and asked Lowrie about the deal. Burge told Lowrie he needed to follow up on a rumor that Lowrie was a victim of extortion. Lowrie recalls the meeting this way: "I said, 'I don't feel like I'm being extorted.' He said, 'Well, then, you're not being extorted.'" Through a spokesperson, Burge tells Westword there was no need to follow the claim any further.
Lowrie's sweetheart relationship with the Tea Party went even further. Along with Matthews, Lowrie offered his employees an incentive to move into Glendale: The club owners would pay for it. Lowrie says he's paid the rental deposit for about ten to fifteen dancers who have moved into Glendale in the past year, but he scoffs at the suggestion that he was trying to stack Glendale's stripper population in order to influence elections. "All we ask is that they register to vote -- not how they vote. But we encourage them to get behind us." At the same time, he has never offered to pay rental fees for dancers in other cities where he has clubs, saying, "There's not many places like Glendale, where one vote truly makes a difference."
Last Tuesday, however, Lowrie's financial support of the Tea Party ended. In a mayoral election decided by just 41 votes, Joe Rice maintained victory while Tea Party candidate Mike Dunafon was defeated. Only one of the three Tea Party council candidates, Mike Barrett, won a seat (after tying for the final spot with another Tea Party member).
Lowrie now says he'll stop his monthly donation to the Tea Party and ask that Shotgun Willie's resume the full payment. "There's no reason for it now," he says. "I'd much rather have the money go to charity than the Tea Party. This is a chance to show Glendale that we're not only a good neighbor, but a charitable neighbor."
Here, sitting behind his walnut desk in his office, the same one his father used, Troy takes the third person, speaking as a law-enforcement official might when describing Troy Lowrie: "Troy's trying to do it right. He learned a lot from his father. He learned a lot from the law. He's not trying to push it. He makes enough money."
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