The “Nightclub Guru” continues a decades-long mission of satisfying guests’ desires while exceeding their expectations

by Laura D.C. Kolnoski

Throughout a career on the stage and in film, television, and nightlife, Ivan Kane hasn’t merely maximized opportunities; he’s created them. From acting, to writing a screenplay, to segueing into successful nightclub ventures, Kane just keeps reinventing both himself and the experiences he offers his guests.

If Kane’s name rings a bell, so should Royal Jelly Burlesque, his nightclub at the former Revel Casino Resort on the Atlantic City boardwalk (a runway flowed famously from the club over the gaming area, upon which captivating dancers were a unique draw to the titillating entertainment within). Though Revel has closed, its interior remains largely intact. Should it reopen, Kane declared, “Royal Jelly will ride again!”

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That can-do spirit, combined with fearless risk-taking, have propelled the New York native since he graduated with a drama degree from Pennsylvania’s Franklin and Marshall College. A self-described “Broadway fanatic,” when Kane couldn’t afford theater tickets, he snuck into plays by blending in with smokers returning from intermission. A struggling artist’s life ensued, complete with bartending and cab driving.

Kane’s artistic yearnings were temporarily satisfied in off-Broadway productions until he landed the role of Tony (opposite Charlie Sheen and Johnny Depp) in Oliver Stone’s Oscar winner for Best Picture of 1987, Platoon. Before being cast, without an agent, and frustrated by futile auditions, Kane relied on talent, wits, and an ad in the Back Stage newspaper.

Cue the quintessential Hollywood story.

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“Upon reading a casting call for a Vietnam-era movie seeking men in their 20s willing to film in the Philippines, I decided not to follow the posted instructions to submit a picture and resumé and wait by the phone,” Kane recalled. Instead, he arrived in person and pushed the buzzer. When a voice asked, “Who is it?” Kane replied, “Mailman…package for [casting agent] Vickie Thomas.” He vaulted up five flights of stairs to the receptionist, who told him to leave the package.

“Oh, that’s not me, that’s the mailman I passed on the stoop,” the quick-thinking Kane replied. “I’m meeting a friend where they are casting and forgot the address.” He was sent to a hotel where, coincidentally, he was already taking jazz dance lessons. In the audition room, Kane encountered “twenty broke actors in camouflage. I sat and waited as each was called, not by name but by appointment time, until “4:30” was called, and no one answered. I stood up, marched in, and stood face to face with the casting director, who asked my name.” When she found no Ivan Kane on her list, the thespian’s instincts kicked in again.

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“I started yelling, ‘What do you mean I’m not on the list? This is the second time this has happened and I’m sick of it! Call my agent right now!’ and gave her a fake number.” Instead of dialing the non-existent agent, the woman allowed Kane to deliver a monologue. He nailed it and was called back to audition for Oliver Stone the next day.

He worked all night on a scene involving a character who loses a hand in an explosion. Through the door the next day, he could hear other actors doing the same scene, but stopping before the explosion.

“I didn’t understand why,” Kane said. “When I was called in, Oliver was behind a desk in a small room. At his ‘OK,’ I jumped out of the plane without the proverbial parachute and did the scene. When the hand was blown off, I screamed ‘boom!’ as loud as I could and fell to the floor screaming at the top of my lungs, literally drooling on his shoes. He offered me the part on the spot, and it was glorious.” The actor further
recalled that between filming takes in the Philippine jungle, he and other crew members hung out with the local Constabulary Army, smoking cigarettes and drinking shots.

Back in the states, Kane and his new bride drove cross-country in an old van over four days to make a Hollywood audition for a role in 1987’s Brian De Palma-directed The Untouchables.

“I didn’t get it; damn you, Andy Garcia,” he joked. Other acting work did follow, though, including parts in Born on the Fourth of July, Patriot Games, and Gettysburg, along with TV appearances on Murder She Wrote, Who’s the Boss?, and Fame. His bride, burlesque performer Champagne Suzy, whom he met in acting class, was then and remains his muse, as well as life and business partner.

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“Those were wonderful times, creating an act together by day, watching her perform at night, and falling in love,” Kane fondly recalled. “She was and still is beautiful, smart, and talented. I run creative decisions by Suzy; she’s my consiglieri and her taste is impeccable.”

Kane wrote a screenplay in 1997 and sold it as an original HBO Movie, No Alibi, which starred Eric Roberts and Dean Cain. With the money, he bought a bar on Hollywood’s Melrose Avenue opposite Paramount Studios, a place he gutted, redesigned, and opened as Kane.

“I didn’t want a cookie-cutter club, I wanted high concept,” he related. “It was one part 1960s Vegas Rat Pack, one part 1970s Superfly cool. A female DJ played funk, flanked by two go-go dancers.” The venue drew the likes of Mick Jagger, Brad Pitt, Justin Timberlake, and Cameron Diaz, and often had lines of customers around the block. Three years later, Kane opened Deep at Hollywood and Vine, an homage to director/ choreographer Bob Fosse. Director/producer Steven Soderbergh was an investor, and featured the club in his film Ocean’s Twelve.

“The club had a Plexiglass box over the dance floor and two rooms over the bar behind two-way mirrors where dancers performed,” Kane detailed. “It was nightlife as art, and hot with a capital H!” In 2002 he opened Ivan Kane’s Forty Deuce Burlesque Nightclub in Hollywood. Super agents, producers, rock stars, and A-list actors flowed through its door.

“They all came to see this unique nightclub where I redefined burlesque, put it back on the map…dragged the concept into the 21st century,” Kane said. Live jazz helped make it what he termed the “hippest room in Hollywood.” The scene’s audacious reputation reverberated to Las Vegas, and the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino came knocking. A branch of Forty Deuce soon opened there, which Kane called, “a dream come true.” The process of constructing and opening the club was filmed for the Bravo reality series Forty Deuce, directed by Zalman King and with Kane as executive producer. The finale was opening night, for which a private jet full of celebrities arrived.

“It all made for damn good TV,” said Kane. “The show was a hit here and became a cult favorite on the BBC.” Realizing writers can lose control when their work lands in the hands of directors, Kane “decided that whatever I did next, I was going to pull the creative strings. My nightclubs have allowed me to do just that, and I haven’t looked back since.”

The vision for Royal Jelly began in 2007 during a meeting with Kevin DeSanctis, the original creator of Revel, who went to Mandalay Bay to investigate the hoopla for himself. Royal Jelly opened along with Revel five years later, and Kane described it as “delivering an experience unlike anything previously offered, with a mix of DJs, dancing, live music, and other performances.”

“I was frequently on the VIP line at Royal Jelly with my NBA and NFL players and hip-hop superstars, and Ivan would always greet them at the door,” said former Revel VIP Marketing Executive Allen Samuels (now player development executive at Philadelphia’s Sugarhouse). “Ivan is innovative. At Royal Jelly, he created a cool, upbeat, classy yet risqué dance club that was incredibly popular and successful.”

A similar concept opened last year at Kane’s Kiss Kiss at the Tropicana, where all ages gather and the calendar is filled with bachelor and bachelorette parties. When Revel closed, Tropicana President Tony Rodio invited Kane to open the new club on the second floor of The Quarter, in the space formerly occupied by Comedy Stop, and gave him carte blanche.

Open Thursday through Saturday nights, the club, which Kane calls “a trip down the rabbit hole,” is launching a “Kiss My Burlesque Show” on Thursdays.

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“I fell in love with AC; it has been a wonderful experience and I love being there,” he said. “I have my finger on the pulse of this town and see it on a nightly basis. Atlantic City remains a vibrant and relevant entertainment destination with amazing casinos, celebrity chefs, exciting nightlife, and an abundance of amenities. It’s not getting older, it’s getting better!”

Kane, who splits his time between New York, Los Angeles, and Atlantic City, has also conceived, written, and will direct a musical called Burlesque American Style, a “happy, old-school burlesque with sexy showgirls, baggy pants comics, variety acts, straight men, world-famous striptease, singers, and low comedy—pure and simple entertainment. All my clubs reside outside the box of convention and go beyond the barriers of predictability. I strive to excite, inspire, and surprise through a fusion of exceptional talent, extraordinary production values,
and seductive design.”