Family Values Second-generation strip-club owner Troy Lowrie at home with his wife, Pam, and their children, Houston and Gabrielle. The Denver society columns first took note of the Lowries last year after their $100,000 donation to the Susan G. Komen Foundation.
The midday Colorado sun is squint-inducing as Lowrie tosses his keys to the Diamond Cabaret valet. Walking into the dark bar from the sunshine, it takes a minute for the eyes-and perhaps expectations-to adjust. Blinking to clarity, standards conform as quickly as pupils. Identities are difficult to discern; a man is just a guy, a woman is just a stripper.
Every city has its premier gentlemen's club, and the Diamond is Denver's. The formidable brick building sits stoically upon prime downtown real estate. With a sturdy exterior of brick and concrete, it stands, fittingly enough, like a vaulted bank, filled with money and naughty secrets. What happens in the club, patrons trust, will stay in the club. Pay your cover charge and the doors open to velvet curtains, cushy armchairs, and beautiful women. Adhering to the "gentlemen" part of gentlemen's club, there are no poles in the Diamond. There are, however, $20 glasses of wine and prime porterhouse steaks. Waiters occasionally drop the names of prominent guests: assorted Broncos, local high-profile businessmen, and even visiting celebs like Jon Bon Jovi and Sting, who both recently enjoyed post-concert meals in the Diamond's steak house. The A-list clientele undoubtedly appreciates the opportunities the darkness affords: the ability to anonymously enjoy what Lowrie refers to as the "entertainment."
Seven nights a week, women stand atop big, round tables, slowly undulating to bass-thumping songs, sporting porn-star heels, tiny thongs, and perfect pedicures. Put some clothes on them and they'd pass for the ladies who lunch in Cherry Creek North-except for those brutal Lucite stilettos. Of course, the strippers don't actually dance: They bend. Backward, forward, squatting and splitting. The lighting system is carefully engineered; it washes over the women, flattering their assets. Inside the Diamond, everything and everyone looks good. Inevitably, the strippers drop to their knees and snap their G-strings for dollar bills. Anywhere else, it would look like a subservient pose, but here it's the move that commands the currency. The money comes and is quickly tossed to the center of the table, and when the song ends the bills, some cool and crisp, some sweaty and crinkled, are crammed into tiny purses.
This afternoon, Lowrie waits in the buffet line and takes inventory of the scenery. Among the socioeconomically diverse patrons, clad in business attire ranging from suits to Carhartts, he's wearing the same business suit he wore when he dropped his little girl off at school. It's his personal policy: If he's on the floor of his clubs, he's in a suit. Today, along with what will be a usual buffet of strippers, the Diamond has laid out a Mexican spread. All you can eat for $4.99. The buffet table isn't a big earner, but a wise investment nonetheless, providing customers with an ostensibly respectable cover to hit the Diamond on a lunch break. It's an incentive that lures men to the club during a normally slow time of day. Now there's only a single entertainer dancing. She's on a table top, performing for a man seated alone. He stands up, and the topless dancer presses her hands on his shoulders, drapes her long, blonde hair over his face, and slowly starts to groove. "These guys could go to any bar in LoDo," Lowrie says. "But they come here because they know they won't be rejected." It's this philosophy that is the financial foundation of VCG Holding Corp. and the cornerstone of what is becoming Lowrie's Denver-based empire of skin.
When Lowrie bought the Diamond almost a year ago, some locals, like those boys who talk business at the Palm and later retire to the Diamond to close the deal, undoubtedly viewed the buy as the top prize in the local girlie biz. But they underestimated Lowrie's master plan. Acquiring Denver's most famous strip club is merely another step Lowrie has taken in an effort to bolster his larger strategy. Lowrie visualizes that his chain of strip clubs, which already dot the country's midsection, will connect him to America's $10 billion porn industry. Everything he needs is all right here in the Front Range. From the Diamond Cabaret's front door, pick a direction, north or south, drive 45 minutes, and you'll run into Colorado companies already cashing in on sex. Just south on I-25, in the Tech Center, you'll find the offices of On Command, which distributes movies-adult and otherwise-to nearly a million hotel rooms worldwide. Also in the south suburbs are the offices of satellite provider EchoStar's Dish Network and cable's Adelphia Communications, two content providers that list porn on their channel guides. Drive northwest from the Diamond up to Boulder, and you'll find New Frontier Media, which distributes porn flicks to other cable TV and direct-broadcast outlets, which in turn deliver porn to more than 63 million subscribers. Fiscal-year 2005 was New Frontier's most profitable to date, with reported earnings of $11.1 million. The cable and satellite providers won't break down the numbers, but porn must bring in big money-it has to, otherwise companies like these wouldn't dirty their hands with it. And although Los Angeles is where the vast majority of porn movies are made, to hear Lowrie talk you get the sense Colorado-the big red Focus-on-the-Family state-could become the nexus of big-money porn-distribution deals. "This company is my father's legacy," says Lowrie. "I took it to the next level. In 20 years I hope to take it two or three levels higher, and I'll be proud to give it to my own son. I wish my dad could've seen what his business is today."