Politics killing the mood at Barcelona's storied sex club

Barcelona (AFP) - The sequined curtains of Barcelona's Bagdad nightclub have seen a few sights in their 40 years -- from red-lit sex shows to burlesque troupers hauling gas canisters with their genitals.

But the legendary nightspot, opened in the 1970s during Spain's swinging return to democracy, is now feeling the pinch from a new sideshow -- Catalonia's drive to declare independence.

"It's because of the political crisis, all these images broadcast abroad," says Bagdad owner Juani De Lucia. "People are scared to come to Barcelona and I hope that changes fast."

The maitre d' reckons business has slumped 70 percent since Catalonia organised a banned referendum on independence on October 1, plunging Spain into a constitutional crisis.

Normally a favourite haunt of tourists, businessmen and bachelor parties on the hunt for titillation, the mirror-lined club one recent day had just two sole punters on its cherry red seats, taking in an x-rated show that often requires audience participation.

Down the road, an avenue lined with theatres and cinemas is similarly bereft of visitors.

In a reminder of the region's tumult, the face of a pro-independence actor, Quim Masferrer, appears on a poster for one show. "If we want a normal country, we need to have a normal life," he told local radio station Rac1.

De Lucia feels much the same.

"When you live in Barcelona, you know you can come and go as you please, but people outside of the city don't realise this," she says.

"Here many foreign women are getting frantic phone calls from their families."

- 'Slump' -

Catalonia, home to 7.5 million people, Mediterranean beaches and world-renowned architecture, is Spain's most-visited region, attracting more than 18 million foreign tourists in 2016.

But in just two weeks following the October 1 vote, tourism saw a 15 percent year-on-year drop off, according to employers' federation Exceltur.

The Bagdad, named to evoke the tales in "1001 Nights", was founded in December 1975, a month after the death of dictator Francisco Franco.

The country's return to democracy hailed an era of sexual liberation in traditionally conservative Spain, including a surge in pornographic and erotic art, particularly in the film world.

It was during a trip to Hamburg's red light district -- around the lurid, buzzing Reeperbahn once home to The Beatles -- that De Lucia came up with the idea of her own hommage to hedonism.

"I was super young. Just seeing all these amazing halls, the sex shops, the peep shows, I felt I was on another planet," she recalls. "Everything was open 24 hours, everything was legal."

With her husband she decided to let an old flamenco cabaret near Barcelona's Las Ramblas Boulevard owned by local screen luminary La Bella Dorita.

She says it turned out a wise move.

"There were lines of people waiting down the street. Back then you had to travel to France just to see 'Last Tango in Paris', so it was an impressive success."

The club has produced its share of legends, including famed porn actors Nacho Vidal and Marco Banderas and performers Kumar and Tiger Man, who perfected the improbable feat of lifting a 30-kilogramme bell and a gas canister by their penises.

Banderas admits he's "never seen such a slump" in clientele, but De Lucia is defiant.

"Bagdad is over 40 years old, it's a solid business," she says. "It will still be here, you can't erase 40 years overnight."