He's been shot twice, and he once was the target of a murder contract. He wrote an autobiography and bought and sold 11 local topless clubs. He’s a rare Jew in Grosse Pointe. He once used a chimp in an act with predictably strange results.
He's about to become metro Detroit's latest TV ambassador in an HBO/Cinemax reality show called "Topless Prophet."
“I’m Alan Markovitz and I’m living the American dream,” he says in a 10-minute trailer, walking amid several dancers wearing very small bikinis.
“Together with my talented staff and my 700 beautiful dancers, I create the most elegant gentlemen’s clubs in the country, built right here in Detroit. Topless Prophet will let you look behind the curtain at the business of strip. Trust me there’s more to it than meets the eye.”
The series, which is slated to run early next year on HBO’s sister station, Cinemax, will feature Markovitz, his three metro Detroit topless clubs, his managers, agents who recruit dancers and the dancers themselves -- on stage, backstage and outside the clubs.
In one episode, Markovitz goes on a blind date at Bacco Ristorante, an upscale eatery on Northwestern Highway in Southfield. In another, he’s talking about the future with his managers.
"I got a new dream," he tells them in a meeting featured in the trailer. "The dream of building the club of all clubs. I'm going to draw on on all 30 years of my experience to make this thing the mothership, the club that finally puts Vegas to shame."
A Jewish Guy in Grosse Pointe
With a poofy, well-coiffed head of hair and what the younger generation might call “a porn mustache,” Markovitz operates four topless clubs -- three in metro Detroit and one in Philadelphia. He calls them five-star clubs with five-star food.
Markovitz, who doesn’t like to discuss his age but appears to be at least 50, lives in a 8,000-plus square foot home with a historical designation in Grosse Pointe Farms. But not for much longer. He’s moving to a 12,000-square foot home in Orchard Lake.
“All my friends are over there,” Markovitz said. “In all the Grosse Pointes, there’s 50 Jewish families. It’s nothing if you think about it. I’ve been feeling like a fish out of water.”
Ron Lipson, a good friend says, “He’s gotten older and smarter, and he’s a pretty good businessman. He’s very entertaining as a friend. When I go out for dinner, he has a big limousine come and get us. He’s got a beautiful boat with a crew of three people.”
The 11 clubs that Markovitz has owned at various times include Trumps and the Booby Trap, both on 8 Mile Road in Detroit; BT's in Dearborn and Tycoons. He currently owns the Penthouse and Coliseum clubs in Detroit and the Flight Club, in Inkster, near Metro Airport. He also owns a Penthouse topless joint in Philadelphia. His younger brother Paul helps out with the Penthouse club in Detroit.
How The Show Came About
The TV show came about by happenstance.
Rob Cohen, a Los Angeles film director, said he was directing a Tyler Perry movie, “Alex Cross,” that was filming in Detroit. When it was wrapped, some of the local staff involved in the film took Cohen out partying, and they wound up at the Coliseum.
Cohen was blown away by the "rocking" atmosphere, at what looked like an intense party in a city that was slowly going bankrupt. He met some people in the business, read Markovitz’s autobiography, “Topless Prophet,” and realized “the strip business is more complicated than I knew.”
Cohen went to Pilgrim Studios, known for its reality shows, and got it to make a sizzle reel, or a 10-minute trailer, to shop around. HBO/Cinemax bit and offered to bankroll a 10-part series. He said Cinemax airs HBO’s more risque material.
As executive producer Cohen is “creatively guiding" the 10 episodes. The episodes are still being filmed.
“The first three episodes, they’re outrageous, they’re sexy and they’re colorful," he said. "You get a real sense of the city. I’m thrilled about it.”
Without elaborating, Markovitz says he’s getting paid well to do the shows. But he says it is more important that show bolster his business.
TV Was Great for "Pawn Stars"
“I hope it does that, that’s why I’m doing it. You look at 'Pawn Stars' from Vegas. I hear now that sometimes you go there and there’s a line to get in.”
Markovitz grew up in Oak Park, where he attended high school. He described himself as a “Jewish Greaseball” who drove a motorcycle and worked at a gas station, Sol & Ziggy’s at 10 Mile and Greenfield.
“My parents wanted me to be a doctor or a lawyer, the typical young-Jewish-guy-does-well-for-himself success story,” he writes in 'Topless Prophet.'
“Instead, I wanted to ride my Triumph Bonneville down the hallways of my high school -- and I did! What a hoot. Got suspended for a week.”
After high school, he traveled to Israel, wanting to be a pilot in the Israeli military. He took the tests and was accepted in the program. But he was told 90 percent of recruits wash out. He didn’t like the odds, so he returned home to attend Wayne State University.
But he says he “got ants in his pants” and dropped out. Meanwhile, he noticed a neighbor in Oak Park, Sol Milan, who seemed to be living the good life. He owned a strip joint.
Neighbor Inspired Him
“We’re all driving Chevys and he lived kind of kiddy-corner to us and he’s driving a brand new Eldorado Cadillac,” Markovitz says, sitting his Grosse Pointe Farms mansion, in a room adorned with photos of stars like Bogart and Bacall. “They always seemed to have the best of the best.”
So he stopped by Milan’s club, La Chambre, at Telegraph and I-96 in Detroit, and asked for a job. He became a bartender and later helped manage the club. Eventually, he got Milan to partner on a shuttered club on 8 Mile near I-75 that they renamed the Booby Trap. Markovitz wanted it to be a first-rate club that looked more like a TGI Fridays than a dive joint.
“We opened up and it just took off," he recalled.
In time, some people thought of Markovitz as a Detroit version of Hugh Hefner, surrounded by beautiful women. He said he had some relationships with dancers, but tried to keep romance outside of business hours.
“Let’s put it this way, in high school and college, I didn’t really have that many girlfriends. I had a couple steadies. I made up for the lost time in a hurry.”
At the Booby Trap, there soon were problems when a motorcycle gang, The Renegades, started showing up.
“We got crushed, the whole biker thing,” he recalled. “Customers were scared.”
Markovitz posted signs that forbade gang colors and motorcycles in the parking lot. The bikers ignored them. The cops came on a couple occasions, guns drawn, and kicked them out.
One day his father, Max Markovitz, who had been helping with the club, marched down to confront the bikers. Max, who spent time at the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II, told the leader he had survived Holocaust and wasn’t afraid.
“I had dealt with a lot tougher situations in the war,” Max said in his son’s book. “What could they do to me? Kill me? I’m not stupid, but I wasn’t afraid. I went into the clubhouse that day in May and I talked to their leader. People understand when you mean business, and he listened to me. I told him we had a lot of money invested in our new club and we weren’t going to put up with any nonsense. Follow the rules, I told him, and they were welcome in the club like anyone else. I think he liked that, and we sure never had a problem with the Renegades after that.”
The Booby Trap thrived. It didn’t hurt that Tigers Kirk Gibson and Dave Rozema hung out there and eventually married two dancers who happened to be sisters.
“I remember once somebody coming to me about somebody on the phone for Kirk Gibson. I get on the phone and it’s Spark Anderson,” asking for Gibson.”
He said Gibson told Markovitz to tell Sparky he wasn’t there.
“So I go, ‘No, he’s not here. I haven’t seen him.”
Business was good, but it came with plenty headaches.
"Boom, Boom Boom"
One night in 1983, Markovitz fired a dancer on the spot for taking a customer into the bathroom to have sex. Later, she was in the parking lot, claiming someone had stolen her purse. When Markovitz opened the club door to the parking lot, she shot him.
“Boom, boom, boom. She nailed me,” he recalled. “ She hit me once, but she hit me real bad. I remember flying into the wall. That bullet just lifted me off the ground. I got hit here right in the lung in the chest. I was fucked up. She tried to finish me. I remember her over me and I remember having enough strength, I grabbed her hand and then everybody just jumped on her."
It took him several months to recover, and he lost a lot of weight. The managers and his father helped run the joint.
“It definitely takes your innocence away.” The dancer was convicted in the shooting and served time in prison.
In 1993, several years after Markovitz had bought BT's in Dearborn, his partner, Freddy Giordano, was charged with putting out a murder contract on Markovitz. The suspected hit unraveled after one of the parties involved, Alan Howard of Boston, got cold feet and went to the FBI to cooperate. He ended up overdosing before the trial.
Markovitz says he first learned of the plot while watching the 11 p.m. news. He heard the anchor say that he was the target of a $12,000, murder-for-hire plot involving a man named Dino Tilotti. Giordano was charged later on.
“I was stunned, I didn’t think I heard it right,” Markovitz wrote in his book about hearing about the plot on TV. The case went to trial. Tilotti, who had been cooperating with the prosecution, froze on the stand and decided not to testify that Giordano allegedly put out the hit.
So Giodarno walked. Tilotti ended up getting sentenced to more than 12 years in prison. When the trial was over, an angry Markovitz told Giordano to sell his interest in the club.
On Jan. 9, 1997, an off-duty rookie cop from Inkster left Club 747 near the airport, another club Markovitz owned at the time. (It later became The Flight Club following a trademark battle with Boeing.)
The cop had been drinking, arguing with a dancer and “being a general macho prick,” Markovitz wrote in his book. Markovitz came outside and the officer fired a shot, hitting Markovitz in the face.
A U-M Medical helicopter came and picked him up. He made a complete recovery, and after several reconstructive surgeries, there was no noticeable scar on his face -- though the .40 caliber bullet remains lodged in his neck.
He couldn’t believe he was shot a second time.
“You go, wait a minute, I live in America. People go to war and don’t get shot up a couple times.” The officer ended up with a sentence of probation, according to Markovitz's book. The cop also lost his job on the force.
Despite the gunplay, Markovitz continued to thrive.
He understood marketing. He promoted his topless joints as classy clubs, not dingy joints, though on occasion some were busted for "lewd" behavior.
Markovitz wasn’t above a little gimmick. On the one-year anniversary of BT’s, in the late 1980s, he brought in a chimp named Gonzo to do circus acts on stage. But the trainer had different ideas, and the dancers wound up giving the animal a lap dance -- taking turns straddling him while he sat on a chair.
“Gonzo got intoxicated all right -- the hot chicks swarming over him must have kicked in some primal instinct -- he be started to go bananas!” Markovitz wrote in his book.
“In the blink of an eye, Gonzo screeched like a chimp possessed and started grabbing at the unfortunate dancer who was straddling him -- grabbing her by her breasts and throwing his legs around her. The girl began screaming bloody murder as she reared back onto her four-inch danger platforms, trying to stand and back away from the monkey as the monkey did his best to hold on!”
The handler eventually loosened the chimp’s grip and dragged him off stage.
Not the Bada-Bing
Markovitz has a 17-year-old daughter from a previous relationship who lives with him. He was married for two years to a woman he met at a friend's birthday party at an Auburn Hills restaurant. But they recently divorced. He said his wife, a native of Slovakia, was cheating on him with someone he knew. She moved in with the guy two days after moving out of the house.
“He broke the Man Code. He’s a total freakin’ asshole,” Markovitz says. “Real men don’t do that to another guy.”
Markovitz said he made it clear when he met with Cohen, the director, and others on the TV show: “I didn’t want to be portrayed as the stereotypical adult entertainment bar owner/strip-club owner, that it would mostly be about these machines," -- the clubs -- "because that’s what they are. There’s so many moving parts in my business.”
He knows what some people think about topless joints; they think of places like the Bada Bing, Tony Soprano's club in the popular HBO series “The Sopranos.”
“Yes, this is going to be the opposite of that. This is like the anti-Soprano. That was a cheese-ball bar. They were the real mob and that’s a whole different thing. Me, I”m a businessman, I run these clubs.”