“It’s okay to like fat chicks,” says Lisa Marie Garbo, owner of the plus-sized nightclub experience named Club Bounce, which just debuted its second location in Phoenix after five successful years in Long Beach, Calif. The club takes over another location for a night — or two — per week; in Long Beach, it’s housed in the PCH Club, and its new locale in Phoenix is at Club Vibe.
With a warm demeanor and sincere heart, Garbo is quite possibly the most unassuming nightlife operator in the country. She doesn’t own the venues where Club Bounce takes place, and she is the first to admit she has never been involved in the nightclub business before. Even more amazingly, she never thought she would make any money with the concept. Instead, her genuine care for the plus-sized community is her sole motivating factor, which might be just why her plus-sized movement has been so well accepted not only by the BBW community (Big Beautiful Women) but also by professional athletes, celebrities and those who love BBW. “Plus-sized people are discriminated against in mainstream nightclubs,” Garbo says matter-of-factly, blaming the mainstream media for pushing women to fit into a size 2 dress. “I would look around the room and say, ‘Yeah, I’m the fat girl at the bar tonight,’” she continues. Garbo says that men who are attracted to plus-sized women would shy away at mainstream clubs because of the peer pressure and looks they got from their friends and other customers.
Through Internet chat rooms geared toward plus-sized individuals, the concept for Club Bounce was born. “The Internet brought us together as a plus-sized community, and people would meet and plan mixers or dance parties once a month, and it was so wonderful come together and have a great time in a fun and safe environment,” Garbo explains.
Since its inception, Garbo has used the Internet and word of mouth to promote Club Bounce. “Online (www.clubbounce.net) is my main advertising outlet,” Garbo explains. “The plus-sized community is very involved with being on the Internet; it’s a safe haven where they can get their information and socialize.” As for the promotions themselves, they range from Camouflage Night and Glam Night to Mini-Skirt Night and Singles Mingle Night. “It keeps things interesting,” Garbo notes. She also uses the club’s marquee, banners and tank tops for the staff to brand Club Bounce.
Garbo’s core audience includes some celebrities and a stable of NFL athletes. But even they have to follow the sometimes-stringent Club Bounce rules: “No one gets special treatment. Every single customer is equal,” Garbo promises, re-telling the tale of a time she wouldn’t allow a high-profile celebrity to dance on stage. “My staff couldn’t believe I asked him to get down, but it just wouldn’t have been fair.” Another strict rule is the dress code, which demands men wear collared shirts and no sneakers or ball caps, and even the NFL players have adjusted their dress to fit within the Club Bounce rules. For women, Garbo insists they “keep it sexy but classy,” noting that she wants the plus-sized community to respect themselves and care about how they present themselves to the public. “I have heard from so many customers how coming to the club has improved their self-esteem and how they interact at work and in personal relationships, they are more comfortable and confident now than ever before!”
The plus-sized community seems to be embracing the concept, even if it takes some time. The Long Beach location started slowly, but it now flirts with capacity levels both Friday and Saturday nights, welcoming nearly 1,000 guests on an average two-night weekend.
The Phoenix venue has been somewhat slow to build a crowd, but Garbo isn’t concerned. “In Phoenix we are doing Thursday night, which I see as a challenge because people aren’t sure yet and there is a definite learning curve.” But she looks back to the launch of the Long Beach Club Bounce when 50 people would show up. Now, the event has become so popular that it has expanded to two nights a week.
As the popularity of Club Bounce continues to expand, the mainstream media has come calling, including not only morning news shows in California and Arizona but national outlets such as “Dr. Phil” and NBC’s ”Today” show, which filmed a segment that will air in mid-June. But Garbo is quick to deflect any publicity for Club Bounce toward the larger issue of the plus-sized movement. “People see the story of Club Bounce but then become interested in the positive vibe that the club represents. People become enlightened by the social acceptance,” she adds. She does, however, also note the anger she has seen in response to some of the stories, but says it “just reinforced the reasons for Club Bounce. It really is the last accepted discrimination.”
There also has been talk of taking Club Bounce on the road for a tour of different cities. “I get so many e-mails asking me to bring Club Bounce to this city or that city,” Garbo says.
The popularity makes sense: With over 60 million people in the U.S. fitting within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s definition of obesity, there is a great cross-section of the population who might be choosing to stay home rather than go out and be uncomfortable or risk harassment. In an environment like Club Bounce, this demographic can be comfortable, have fun, meet other people, get out of house and dance.