Then they turned to organized crime associates and felons to help bankroll and run the enterprise. When it needed janitorial service, the club paid a firm founded by the suburb's mayor.
A Tribune investigation has uncovered the behind-the-scenes story of Polekatz: how political players, ex-cops and mob associates helped build and run a multimillion-dollar strip club, paying for high salaries, luxury cars and lavish homes.
The club's shadowy control and murky funding illustrate how easy it can be for felons to get in the business of selling liquor and skin despite laws aimed at keeping them out. The mayor is the first line in enforcing such laws, and Bridgeview Mayor Steve Landek's ties to Polekatz only heighten the concern of watchdogs.
The findings, gathered from court records and public documents, set off alarm bells for the Chicago Crime Commission, which has been exposing organized crime for nearly a century.
"It looks like this club is the result of investments by people with backgrounds that don't lend themselves to holding liquor licenses," said Art Bilek, commission vice president. "For a sensitive establishment like a strip joint, it is very critical the mayor understands who owns it, who is paying to operate it and who is taking the profits out of it."
Landek publicly opposed the strip club, but the village eventually settled a lawsuit that let it open in 2005.
Polekatz's listed owner has always been an attorney, Stephen Dabrowski. But by 2007 a lawsuit was filed that claimed Polekatz was secretly owned by Steve Reynolds, a former Landek aide and close friend of Dabrowski's. The lawsuit was filed by Reynolds' wife shortly after his death.
The lawsuit is ongoing and has spurred depositions and court records that detail the role of felons as lenders and high-paid consultants. Felons are not allowed under Illinois law to have an ownership interest in a liquor license unless granted an exemption.
Landek, who is also a state lawmaker, declined to give a detailed interview. He said he listens to the advice of attorneys when it comes to approving Polekatz's liquor license.
Bridgeview attorneys said it is best for the judge overseeing the lawsuit to decide who owns the club. Meanwhile, they said state law gives Landek little wiggle room to shut it down since no felons are listed as "owners."
Dabrowski denies he is a front, saying he controls "everything" about the club.
By several accounts, the idea for Polekatz started with Reynolds, a muscular political insider who was a warehouse supervisor for the Cook County Forest Preserve District.
Back in 2001, Reynolds talked about building a southwest suburban strip club with political consultant David Donahue, as the pair worked to re-elect Cicero Town President Betty Loren-Maltese.
"It started out just the two of us," Donahue said in a 2009 deposition.
An untapped market existed in the southwest suburbs' middle-class region. Most of the area's strip joints were in struggling towns such as Harvey or Markham.
And Reynolds was establishing connections with a political up-and-comer in the region: Landek. He had been in local politics since the 1970s, first at the park district, then the village and township.