Clermont Lounge going nowhere … for now

The eulogies have started anew for the Clermont Lounge, the subterranean nightspot known for its aging roster of strippers and purposeful lack of pretense.

“Looks like the end is near for the Clermont Lounge,” tweeted country rocker Jason Isbell upon hearing the news that out-of-town developers have purchased the vacant hotel that rests atop the landmark Ponce de Leon Avenue club. “I learned a lot in that place, for better or worse.”

But the building’s new owners insist the Clermont isn’t going anywhere.

“The Clermont is important to the Atlanta community, and the beloved Clermont Lounge is part of our redevelopment, as we do not plan on interfering with it,” said Ethan Orley, principal of the New York real estate firm BNA Associates. “We look forward to this project and believe the community will like what we have in store.”

Still, its hard to square the gritty, grimy Clermont with the “boutique hotel” the new landlords envision — especially in a city that has historically shown contempt for its institutions.

“I don’t really know what a boutique hotel is,” said Dee Bronner, a security guard at the lounge. “That doesn’t sound like this place.”

True, but developers tend to have a soft spot for profits, and the Clermont has never been more popular. In recent months, celebrities ranging from Robert DeNiro to Lady Gaga have stopped by to pay homage to Blondie, the bar’s biggest star, who is famous for crushing beer cans between her bare breasts.

“If they want to make money, they’ll keep us open,” said night manager Haley Faircloth. “I’m not going to worry about it.”

But some of the Clermont’s loyal patrons, wary of the condescending hipsters and khaki-clad frat boys who have recently discovered the ramshackle lounge, can’t help but be concerned.

“There’s people who come here, who act disrespectful, who don’t tip the dancers or the bartenders, who think this place is a big joke,” said Suzzette Devine, 40. “But for me, this place is family.”

For years the Clermont has been right at home on Ponce de Leon Avenue, which, save for a few pockets, has resisted the gentrification that surrounds it. But change is coming.

Just a few blocks away, construction has begun on the Ponce City Market — the $200 million mixed-use redevelopment of the former City Hall East and Sears warehouse into upscale apartments, retail stores and office space that’s expected to spur new investment on the aging avenue.

The new Clermont will fit right into Ponce 2.0, say it owners. The building, which was ordered closed by health inspectors in late 2009, has “all the ingredients” to become a “destination hotel.”

Complete with a dive bar?

“We all have faith this place will stay the same,” Devine said. “It’s not going to change. It can’t.”

Dancer Jeena Ari, who’s worked at the Clermont for 20 years, agrees.

“You don’t mess with an icon,” she said.

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