When The Lodge opened in 1996, winning awards wasnt the top priority.
"We simply had a vision of how this business could be," says Dawn Rizos, owner and CEO of the renowned Dallas club. "We were sure we could have a beautiful, sophisticated club, where customers would be proud to visit and men and women would be proud to work. And we hoped that by doing it all with class and integrity, we could have a positive effect on our industry."
The recognition came quickly: local and regional awards for elegance, service and cuisine; praise from widely disparate sources ranging from USA Today to Howard Stern to GQ Magazine; books, films and TV shows invoking The Lodge or filming there.
But now theyre at the pinnacle. In 2008, two years after Dawn was named Industry Innovator of the Year at the Gentlemens Club Owners Expo in Las Vegas, she returned to the stage to accept the award for Best Overall Club, the industrys top honor.
"Its a wonderful tribute to all the great people who dedicate themselves to making The Lodge so unique," Dawn says. "We have a lot of fun here, but we also have serious goals, and we keep both those things in mind every day."
That success is evident from the first moment of a visit to the The Lodge, which is located near a busy highway in Northwest Dallas near D/FW International Airport. Leave your car with the friendly complimentary valet if youre a VIP member, youll get it back washed and detailed for free and head up the stone steps to the massive wooden doors.
If your image of gentlemens clubs leans toward the seedy, smoky Bada Bing stereotype, get ready for a shock. The Lodge looks like it was airlifted to Dallas from one of the great national parks of the American West, with a little tinkering by Ernest Hemingway on steroids. Stone and cypress wood dominate the front room, with dozens of impressive animal trophies gazing down from the walls (a big EXIT sign actually sits inside a hippo's mouth). Huge boulders form a cave leading out to the main stage, and a giant fireplace lends an aprs-ski ambience. The center room, called The Library, offers a more laid-back atmosphere, for intimate conversations amid a backdrop of book-lined shelves, antique rifles, a humidor and oil paintings of foxhunts and safaris. In the back is The Wine Cellar, a secluded area able to host business meetings and special dinners for 60 people that also, as the name indicates, safeguards The Lodges choicest vintages.
Upstairs, the Casablanca Room features arches and ironwork reminiscent of Rick's Cafe from the fabled Bergman/Bogart movie classic. That leads to The Lost Caverns, a web of 10 individual caves, each with plush seating, speakers and romantic lighting. The attention to detail worthy of a Disney park attraction extends all the way to the specks of gold embedded in the rocks.
"This is a new concept unlike anything else in the country, and our customers are thrilled with the new look," Dawn says. "As good as we think we are, we're always looking for ways to make it better."
Complementing the jaw-dropping beauty of the 25,000-square-foot club is a kitchen that turns out casual fare and upscale entrees on a par with Dallas' best restaurants. But behind the luxury and style is a philosophy of doing business known here as The Lodge Way, treating staff members and entertainers with respect, generosity and appreciation that draws some of the best talent from around the country.
"Every time I deal with somebody, I think about how I would feel if that were me on the other side of the table," Dawn says. "Thats the attitude we instill in everyone here."
As much as she appreciates the national recognition, Dawn gets far more satisfaction as a hands-on CEO in the club, helping young women support families, put themselves through school and use their years at The Lodge as a springboard to the rest of their lives.
The Lodge standards focus on beauty, of course, but they dont stop there. "I compare our approach to geishas in a Japanese tea room," Dawn says. "We think our women should be interesting, intelligent, good conversationalists, as well as great eye candy. Our customers want good company for an hour or an evening, not just a dance or two."