Saturday, February 25, 2012

Nurse the Hate: Hate The Horrible Strip Bar

From the beginning, it was a horrible idea. We had driven by them for years. Sad little strip bars by the Airport, parking lots filled with cars and trucks in various states of disrepair. I had been in a few of the “better” ones years back when I sold rock radio, and picked up checks for small radio advertising schedules. I always left feeling like I needed a shower. Now we were going to up the ante. The ones we had targeted to visit were the ones that flew even further under the radar. My assumption was that each one was a little outpost of sorrow. Lost souls trying to swindle money from other equally lost souls devoid of companionship. When you can’t read life’s compass, you find yourself grinding your crotch into a stranger and/or paying for a stranger to grind their crotch into yours at Gigi’s Lounge. Yet, there I was, at Gigi’s Lounge at 545pm on a Friday.

When mounting an expedition of this nature, you need to have the right crew together. Leo was a no-brainer. If you are talking low rent strip bar, here’s a guy that won’t only willingly go with you, he will enjoy it to the fullest. Leo puts the “L” in sLeazy. Texas Pete and Krusty’s wife Erin were also immediately interested after their trip a few weeks back to the Lido Lounge where the highlight was the dancer approaching them for a table dance while eating Subway. Having that as a point of comparison clearly makes you well suited to this adventure. Me? I’m not much of a “strip bar guy”. I have never been very successful at the “willing suspension of disbelief” necessary to believe that “Mercedes” or “Destiny” was actually interested in me. I don’t like to feel like I am being hustled, and I am generally not attracted to girls that wear shoes bigger than Gene Simmons. However, I am interested in observing unorthodox social situations, and I’m always trolling for new song ideas.

Gigi’s Lounge reminded me of walking into a party some weekend bikers threw in one of their basement rec rooms. The motif is wood paneling with domestic beer signs in a very small box of a room. The music was supplied by a goateed DJ (of course) that looked like Ali G. He played a variety of horrible club music that no one in the place would ever listen to on his or her own volition. This was the kind of crowd where if someone put on Molly Hatchet, you would have heard someone else say, “Fuck yeah”. A small group of guys that had adopted a Cleveland version of the West Coast Choppers look were holding court with the heavily tattooed girls. Each one of the girls had at least five tattoos, with each design more awful than the last. One girl had “Double” and “Trouble” across each ass cheek, and another had something that looked like a terrifying panther with a skull head leaping into her vagina. My favorite girl was the one that looked like Charo, but only if Charo had taken too many Quaaludes and ended up on a missing persons poster in the early 1970s.

The most interesting thing about Gigi’s was the giant outbuilding out behind the club, which is easily three times the size of the cinderblock bunker of the “lounge”. Texas Pete has a theory that maybe that was some sort of glitter or giant stripper shoe outlet warehouse. “Ladies! Why pay retail for your glitter? Start saving today at the Glitter and Giant Shoe Warehouse! This week only, take 50% off any 55 gallon drum of gold glitter!” Who knows what goes on in there, but I am going to stop speculating so I don’t wind up in a shallow grave in the woods.

Our next stop was the Fox’s Den. The Fox’s Den from the outside is what I would think the last sports bar in Stalingrad would have looked like during the siege in 1943-44. While probably a good place to have a military defense, it doesn’t exactly exude hospitality. It is a cement pillbox of a building on a dodgy industrial corner road with a red block print sign that screams out “this is where hope dies”. Five working class guys and four girls glanced at us as we walked in. Leo ordered us a round of beers from the bar, and I stood behind him noticing a food menu above the bar. Now I have eaten at some rather sketchy places over the years, but this was past the limit even for me. As soon as Leo walked away, I immediately ordered him a menu item that flashed out like a beacon to me. Egg rolls. Two for three dollars.

The Fox’s Den is a more humble operation than even Gigi’s. The girls put money in the jukebox to pick what song they want to dance to, and climb up a small stage to gyrate to whatever horrible selection they just made. When I was there, the patrons all pretty much ignored the girls up on the stage. This may have been due to the fact that they were not very attractive, or maybe that everyone just seemed so bored. I’m not saying that the Fox’s Den does not have a huge amount of quality control on their dancers, but one of the girls looked like a floppy egg wobbling on cheap shoes. After that girl finished her song, another girl that was wearing non-ironic square wire rimmed glasses replaced her. Erin leaned over to me and said, “I passed her when I went to the bathroom. She really needs to wash her hair.”

It should be noted that if you ever go to the Fox’s Den, make sure and use the hand soap. Mounted on the wall in a giant plastic dispenser, this must be the only place in America that uses this Polish manufactured wonder cleaner. Before you even walk into the doorway of the men’s room, you are almost knocked to your feet by the odor of lilacs and chemical warfare. I didn’t want to use it on my hands, but if I ever had to clean up a murder site, this might be my go-to soap.

A woman named “Cream” sat down to talk to us. By the way, I am certain her real name is “Cream”. We had a real connection. She really seemed to like me. She would never lie to me. Anyway, when I asked her why she chose this particular establishment as her place of employment she said, “You know… It’s pretty hillbilly in here. There’s no chance anyone I know would ever walk in here.” That’s when the egg rolls arrived to the booth. Cream looked down at the plastic basket in horror. “I have never seen anyone get egg rolls before.” I asked her how long she had been working there. “Three and a half months.”

The egg rolls were a shade of gray I would not normally associate with food. It was if they had moved into a realm past freezer burn and into something new like mummification. Leo bit into the egg roll. I asked him how it was. “Horrible. It’s really horrible.”

He finished them anyway. We left.

We went briefly to a place called Secrets. This was way too much like a legitimate strip club. The mostly black dancers on staff were much more attractive than the flotsam and jetsam we had seen over the last couple hours, so much so that it was mildly off putting. When I was walking in, one of them playfully tapped me in the crotch. Unfortunately she hit me at just the wrong angle. The effect of this was like taking a soft ground ball to the cup in a baseball game, and I briefly saw stars. A word to the wise Destiny, this is not a good way to earn big tips.

We yelled over the horrible club music about finding our next destination, and Erin told us about a place she went to once called Touch of Gold that sounded perfect. I looked it up on my phone, and called the number to see if it was still in business. The number rolled into one of those cellphone messages where I was supposed to “enjoy the music while my party was contacted”. This was not a good sign. We decided to drive down the street and take a look anyway.

When I pulled up to the Touch of Gold, I felt an emptiness wash over me like a tidal wave. Dim blue lights struggled to illuminate the faded block building. Sleet and freezing rain mixed, and I had an immediate flash of a better life where I strolled by the California Coast in my own version of paradise. Instead I walked inside the foyer, where I discovered the metal door locked and not budging. I stood there a minute trying to understand why the club was locked, when the door buzzed open. A club I need to be buzzed into? Excellent.

Leo, Erin, and Texas Pete were at the bar already having animated conversation with the bartender, a surprisingly attractive woman with more ink on her arms than a 17th Century sailor. There was one woman dancing on a table, swaying back and forth out of time to a Skynrd song. A man stood to the left of the bar at a hastily constructed DJ booth controlling the music. That was it. No one else was there in the large room.

This was exactly like walking into a scene from a David Lynch movie. It all seemed slightly off kilter. A television that could be charitably described as “low-def” showed Sports Center, but it was almost like it was showing highlights from faded 1970s footage. The back corner of the room featured a collection of photographs that I thought of as “The Gallery of Despair”. Washed out color pictures from 15-25 years earlier showed weather beaten blue collar men grimly looking at the camera while smiling doughy dancers put their arms around them, assumedly after having secured the lion’s share of these men’s weekly wages into their garters. It’s a really fascinating collection of photos that rivals almost any art installation I have ever seen. If you dramatically mounted the best photos and put them in a gallery in SoHo, you could sell them for five figures each.

To the left is a collection of couches in front of a fireplace, which I bet is probably a functioning fireplace. If I’m not mistaken, there are fireplace tools to the left of the hearth. This is surprising, as I would have thought a stripper with a temper would have split a patron’s skull with the fireplace poker years ago. The tools would have then been quietly taken “in the back” until chatter from the regulars about how “Jim is still in the hospital” died down. Maybe they were just too far of a reach from the couches, so that sort of violence was avoided. The couches are all circa 1986, stained, and probably smell like every scary couch in a rock club dressing room. The room is old and tired, but it is clean and for some reason sort of inviting.

There’s a scene from Blue Velvet where Dennis Hopper’s character beats up Kyle MacLaughlin in a parking lot, and while that is happening, a woman climbs onto the roof of the car to dance to Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams”. That is exactly what it was like while “Crazy”, the only dancer, moved on the pole while we talked to the bartender. No one was paying any attention to her, and she didn’t care. If “In Dreams” had come on over the speakers, I would have exploded I would have been so happy. That sort of happiness was not in the cards for me though, as I think it was Marshall Tucker Band instead.

The dancer’s name was “Crazy”, and it quickly became apparent that it was not because she was wild, but probably actually receiving government assistance and was making a little on the side swaying around to Southern Rock songs in an empty room. She was nice though, and I really appreciated what she added to the scene. As I gave her some cash, I asked her if this is what it was always like. She said, “At 11 it jumps. It’s cagey.” I looked at my watch. It was 10:12pm.

Texas Pete looked over to me and said, “You know what? I could hang out here.” He was right. This place is a real find. It is so weird and just plain off, it’s perfect. If you tried to come up with a really fucked up place in your imagination, you still couldn’t come up with the scene in this joint. What sort of madness combines all these elements into one public space? It belongs somewhere in East Germany. Or Epcot. But it really works. Why? The three people that worked there were friendly. How friendly? When I kept asking to use the bartender’s pen to make notes, the man playing DJ went to the back and gave us all promotional “Touch of Gold-Adult Entertainment” pens. I triumphantly texted a picture of the pen to Krusty, who quickly responded “Classy giveaways to attract sophisticated businessmen”. Indeed!

Knowing that no location could possibly top Touch of Gold, I called it a night. Texas Pete and Leo were not pleased that I bailed prior to heading to West 25th Street, but as the hour had crept into actual nighttime, it seemed the right call. You can only judge the low rent strip bar by the quality of the afternoon shift. I drove home a more complete resident of NE Ohio, knowing my town just a little bit better. More importantly, I drove home with my complimentary Touch of Gold pen.


At April 10, 2012 at 9:54:00 AM EDT , Blogger David Iversen said...

The band Hank Sinatra from Raleigh, NC had a similar experience once. Then they wrote a song about it. Then we made a video. Check it out:


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