By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Cabaret Royale's opening in December 1988 was an event. Politicians, celebrities, sports stars, and CEOs descended on the place, where they were treated to an elaborate floor show and cabaret.
At the time, Cabaret Royale boasted a "champagne room," where the richest guests mingled and bought copious amounts of wine.
Izzedin also reserved a section of tables--collectively known as "Salah's table"--where his friends conducted private parties amid the revelry. Salah's underlings would pull waitresses and dancers off the main floor to cater exclusively to Salah's table, where the guests ate and drank for free. Waitresses grumbled that the "honor" of working Salah's table often meant they didn't make any money, because the VIPs seldom tipped.
The dancers were beautiful and sultry--yet there were rarely enough of them. Cabaret Royale managers solved the dilemma by "flooding the floor." Because it was easier to recruit pretty waitresses than pretty topless dancers, Cabaret Royale hired many more waitresses than it needed. When a gorgeous waitress realized there were too many waitresses working at one time to allow her to draw much in tips, she was encouraged to make hundreds of dollars more as a dancer.
Often, after a few free drinks, the waitress would gather the courage to take the stage that very night. She either liked it and stuck with it, or she quit, according to former employees.
Izzedin himself would go to upscale dance clubs to recruit beautiful women. He often invited women to Cabaret Royale for dinner, where they would sit at Salah's table and take a tour of the luxurious Cabaret Royale premises, which include a weight room, a boutique, a VIP loft, and Las Vegas-style dressing rooms.
Often the young women were so impressed, they started work the next day.
Izzedin knew how to cater to the rich and powerful, applying what he'd learned at Rick's to Dallas. And the happier the customers were, the richer the club became. Cabaret Royale grossed more than $4 million in its first year. The dancers share stories of rich benefactors who bestowed thousands of dollars in gifts and cash on them.
Despite its country-club affectations, Cabaret Royale still endured the problems of a typical nightclub--countless police calls for car thefts, drunken fights, and an occasional drug overdose. And occasionally guests cried foul when the bill came--like the customer who caused a scene when he learned his bill for the evening was $700.
The vice woes that beset Rick's, however, were never a problem at Cabaret Royale. Dallas police have no record of vice violations at the topless club since its opening in 1988.
Thanks in part to an aggressive marketing campaign, Cabaret Royale's reputation reached dizzying heights. Several upscale magazines featured the topless club in their pages--including Elle, Vogue, and Details. The television show "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" profiled Salah Izzedin, and Robin Leach, the show's host, reportedly had a grand time when he visited Cabaret Royale. More recently, New York magazine made much ado about the nightclub taking over Studio 54.
And when Playboy came to Dallas to feature several upscale topless clubs in its magazine, Cabaret Royale had the gumption to turn it down.
"We told them that we didn't want to be lumped with all the other clubs," says the company's vice-president of public relations, Dianne "Birdie" Bird. "They dispatched someone who [looked us over] and went back and said, 'you should really look at this place.' We've had a longstanding, cordial relationship ever since."
In October, Cabaret Royale filmed the "Great American Strip Off," which was scheduled to run on the Playboy Channel this month. It recently exported a group of dancers for an auto-parts show in Germany.
But every now and then, Izzedin's past invades the present.
In 1990, Bank One sued Izzedin for defaulting on a $357,000 real-estate loan in Houston. The bank had trouble contacting Izzedin "because he absents and secrets himself and evades all service," according to a complaint filed in Harris County District Court.
And in 1992, at the height of Cabaret Royale's public exposure, the bank would garnish Izzedin's checking account, drawing out $45,810.
"Oh, I'm a writer," says Simone, a doe-eyed topless dancer at Cabaret Royale. "I mostly write poems."
After slight urging, she recites one of her originals. It's a poem about writing poems.
She apologizes and says she has to turn her attention to the man at the table. That's where the money is.
But she's too late. Margo has arrived, plopping down on the man's lap. Simone tries to gesture the interloper away, but Margo ignores her. Simone sighs in frustration, cuts a withering glare at Margo, and leaves the table.
They're typical Cabaret Royale dancers, pretty, wholesome-looking, and confident about their attractiveness to men.
Like most of the topless dancers and scantily clad waitresses, they seem to enjoy working at Cabaret Royale, where dancers and waitresses can pull in $500 on a good night.
Many have other aspirations, too. Margo is an artist. There's also a teacher, a student, and an aspiring model.
Yet there's little incentive to leave the harem. The most beautiful and talented illusionists at Cabaret Royale have been known to walk out with $1,000 in cash from a single night.