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Thu, Mar 07, 2002 - Page 19 News List

Larry Flynt moving upscale for greenbacks

The irrepressible publisher of porn is looking to expand -- and plans to do it with high-end strip clubs stocked with his trademark `Hustler Honey's'

By Michael Kahn  /  REUTERS , SAN FRANCISCO

Porn king Larry Flynt wants to bring Hustler's naked "girl-next-door" to cities around America. With an eye to opening a string of " Larry Flynt's Hustler Club" strip parlors across the US and possibly Europe, Flynt hopes to extend his X-rated empire beyond print, video and the Internet to stiffen limp revenues from a stable of publications led by Flynt's raunchy flagship, Hustler magazine.

PHOTO: REUTERS

Porn king Larry Flynt wants to bring Hustler's naked "girl-next-door" to a city near you.

With an eye to opening a string of "Larry Flynt's Hustler Club" strip parlors across the US, Flynt hopes to extend his X-rated empire beyond print, video and the Internet to stiffen limp revenues from a stable of publications led by Flynt's raunchy flagship, Hustler magazine.

Love him or hate him, Flynt, 59, knows sex sells -- and few are better at minting money from it than the controversial publisher whose eye-popping publications have tested America's legal and moral limits. Hugh Hefner may have his Playboy Bunnies but Flynt is betting his Hustler Honeys will be just as desirable -- and have more staying power.

"It is not about how much you can take off," Flynt said in San Francisco, where he recently opened his second Hustler Club. "It's how much you can bring to the entertainment."

The clubs also mark an attempt to cash in on Flynt's famous name -- burnished by Milos Forman's award-winning 1996 film chronicling the flamboyant pornographer's First Amendment court battles.

In the steamy world of girls, sex and the American dream, Larry Flynt believes that he is as hot a commodity as any of the chesty models who shed their clothes and inhibitions for his company.

"The value in the brand name was instrumental in deciding to open up the clubs," Flynt said. "The name is the big draw and the Hustler Club is part of using the name to branch out and diversify."

A merchandising bonanza

Flynt, who has used a wheelchair since a would-be assassin's bullet partially paralyzed him more than 20 years ago, said the idea to begin licensing his -- and Hustler's -- name clicked a few years ago with the popularity of the Hustler Web site.

Since then, he's opened a handful of Hustler boutiques offering lingerie and sex products, the first-ever Hustler Club on Bourbon Street in New Orleans and a profitable Hustler Casino in a Los Angeles suburb.

But Flynt, who got his start running strip clubs in Ohio before turning his hand to publishing, doesn't plan to stop there. As far as he is concerned, the sky is the limit for Hustler-adorned merchandise.

"Postcards, cologne, key chains, there are a zillion things you could do with the name," Flynt said. "We can continue to diversify as far as products go. That would be pretty much unlimited."

For now, though, fans will have to settle for items such as T-shirts emblazoned with Flynt's face on sale at the clubs and boutiques -- profitable additions to the porn conglomerate Flynt said saw revenues of around US$200 million last year.

Sitting in his gold-plated wheelchair in his San Francisco hotel room, Flynt noted his club in New Orleans raked in US$3 million in its first year.

This was enough to convince him the Hustler Clubs are the future, and he now hopes to see as many as 50 such night spots scattered across major US cities and Europe. Possibilities include Chicago, Miami, London and Paris.

"What people don't understand is lonely guys like to have someone they can sit down and talk to," said Flynt, casually dressed in a pair of slacks and open-collar shirt.

He explained the clubs offer an upscale setting where businessmen will sip pricey champagne in the company of Hustler Honeys. In a word, Flynt says, it's all about "class."

Some gyrate, others irate

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