Strip Clubs: Taboo, or innocent fun, for a bachelor party or sleazy lunch, for a good time, or maybe not, depending on who you are and what you like. Sexist, or empowering, blushing, drunken, maybe, late-at-night, exciting, sad.
And then there are those who find something more at the strip club; a place of safety, a place of acceptance, a place where judgments don’t exist, and where the almighty American dollar is undeniable; where cash truly is king.
Much of Minneapolis’ Warehouse District (which more or less operates as the city’s Red-Light District) is defined by the overstated neons and flashing lights of Downtown Cabaret, Rick’s, Sinners, Dreamgirls, the show-all Deja Vu, Choice, the Seville…
We sat down with a few unique visitors, those who might not fall in line with the usual stereotypes (traveling businessman, bachelor/ette or birthday-partier, aging sad-sack, famous athlete, etc) who might have a different perspective of life visiting a strip club.
What it’s like to be sober at the strip club
Mike has been going to strip clubs consistently (“a few times a month at least”) for four years. At age 27, he’s a young man who also utilizes dating websites to try and meet people as he says, “in real life.”
He has also been completely sober (“No booze, no weed, no nothing”) for the last 2 years.
“I quit drinking after one of those nights where you don’t remember,” he tells us, “and sometimes has to tell you, in great detail, how much of an ass you were…
“I started working out instead. Any athletic activity I could get into. That helped. That made all of the difference.”
But you didn’t stop going to the strip club.
“That helped too.”
“It’s easier when girls at least pretend to like you. I go home feeling a lot more fulfilled than going to a bar where I know I’ll fail. I can’t talk to women very well.”
But it’s a fantasy.
And that’s enough for you?
“It keeps me from drinking.”
What’s your favorite club in Minneapolis?
“Downtown Cabaret. Hands down.”
And it isn’t hard to stay sober in that environment?
“Well, everybody is drinking and having a good time so sure it’s hard… A lot of my friends have said they don’t know how I do it. A lot of my friends have said they wouldn’t have fun at the strip club if they weren’t drunk.”
But you do.
“Yeah, sure. More so, I’d say. I’m clear headed. I can actually tell which girls I’m attracted to, and I’m not going to do something stupid like clear out my bank account. Those ATMs charge like six bucks to take out cash and I’d go to the ATM five, six, seven times a night.”
You don’t do that sober?
“Well if I do, I do it consciously. Of course there’s something creepy about the drunk guy sitting alone, waving one dollar bills at strippers but… I’m not that guy. And I’m proud of that.”
What it’s like for a virgin
“I went to my first one for my friend’s birthday party a few months ago and I loved it.” Joe, 19, tells us while smoking a cigarette outside of Deja Vu.
“I just loved it. I had never seen anything like it. I grew up in a small town. There was, like, a gentleman’s club or whatever close to the highway next to the Perkins, but it wasn’t a place you would go, you know? It’s not like in Minneapolis. And I never met many girls so like, when I first walked in [to Sinners], I just loved everything. All of the lights and the music and beautiful women.”
Joe is starting college this fall in Minneapolis.
“I’m not embarrassed about being a virgin” he says. “I have that unicorn effect.”
What do you mean?
“No one is a virgin anymore, right? It’s almost unspeakable. And for a guy? You lie. So I’m unique. The strippers here,” he motions him behind him, “they all love it. They say I’m their favorite.”
It’s a point of pride for you.
“It’s not like I’m waiting for marriage, I just really haven’t met anyone. There was no one to meet in high school. I’m hoping college will change that.”
Will you still go to the strip club?
“I’m 19 you know?”
“And it’s fun just to look. And touch, sometimes. When they let you. I don’t think that is going to change.”
And what it’s like for a sex addict
Jerry, 42, has spent most of his life dealing with his sex addiction. He has since sought help, he says, but continues to struggle with it.
“Unlike addiction to say drugs or alcohol, there aren’t any real side effects – I mean like physical side effects. I don’t get hangovers or stand shaking on street corners. But just because there aren’t any, I don’t know, side effects doesn’t mean it didn’t affect me negatively.”
“I used to watch porn at work. I got so good at hiding it man my boss didn’t know sh#t. But I couldn’t truly interact with my coworkers. Especially not my female coworkers. You don’t feel normal. You have to consciously switch your mind to something else. Consciously. Constantly.”
It was freedom for you?
“Sort of, I guess. I used to go [to the strip club] a few times a week. I would be there all night. Even when I had to be up in the morning or… especially when I had to be up in the morning. Walking into the strip club it was like the world would like, go quiet.”
But not completely – you couldn’t actually do anything with the dancers?
“Oh yeah I’d solicit the dancers. Usually I would get shut down. Most of the time they would shut me down. Until I offered enough money and then… I’d pay $300 for the private rooms, because chances were always better in the back behind the curtain.” He reflects for a moment. “Until I lost my job and I ran out of money.”
“There was a place in St. Paul, it’s not there anymore, called the Payne Reliever. That’s where I went when I didn’t have anymore money. And the Lamplighter. I think that’s still there. Sundays were no cover and dances were cheap and the women were [much more] willing to…”
“To give me what I actually wanted. Or needed.”
Eric works for a real estate company in St. Paul. He goes to regular Anonymous meetings to find the support he needs. His career is back on track. And he stays away from places like the Lamplighter.
“I never go to the strip club anymore.” He says. “It’s maddening. It’s insane. I went once maybe six months ago. I just sat there and chewed on my fingernails.”
“I could barely stand to look. And I couldn’t get a dance. I would have exploded if I did.”
What it’s like at a strip club for a devout Catholic
“Well I’m not thinking about God too much when I’m at the strip club.”
What it’s like working at a strip club as a bartender
“There’s a stigma of course. Some people wouldn’t know when I’d tell them the name [of where I worked], but most people would be like, oh you’re a stripper! And I’d say, no I’m a server, and they’d look at me, like, eye roll, like, okay, sure, whatever you say.”
Krissa, a 29-year-old marketing manager, laughs when she remembers her times serving at two different gentleman’s clubs in downtown Minneapolis.
“But you know, patrons were rarely disrespectful, and they tipped well.”
But you were making much less money than the dancers.
“Not always. And some dancers just don’t make that much. Some women… I’d wonder why they were doing it. They’d make less than me almost every night.”
What was the biggest difference between serving at a strip club versus, say, Manny’s?
“I’ve served at Manny’s!”
“But you know, besides the obvious (nudity) not much. Men will say lewd things to you anywhere, sometimes even more at a whatever ‘normal’ restaurant.”
“Of course people were much drunker at the club. I’d watch the bouncers throw people out most weekends for touching, or getting so drunk they couldn’t stand up or pay for their dance. But it was fun. And exciting… when you’re young.”
So it was a good experience?
“Well I wouldn’t say that. I’m not still doing it, am I? But it was fun. We were a team, more so than anywhere else I’ve ever worked. Everyone who worked there was closer than anywhere I’ve ever worked. It was really like a family. Some of my friends still work there, dancers, bartenders, whatever. They still treat me like family.”
What was your worst experience?
“I don’t know about the worst… We had to throw out a guy for jerking off under the table once. He thought we couldn’t tell. The money he left on the table was damp and I didn’t touch it…
“Another guy and his girlfriend got drunk and started fighting and he hit her. Just laid her out. That was hard to see… Probably the worst experience was when a friend of mine overdosed [on heroin] before her shift. Some of those stories are true. She collapsed, like a seizure, in the dressing room. Like I said we were all family there. I cried all night until the manager told me if I didn’t stop he would have to send me home. I went home. I didn’t go back.”
What it’s like working as a dancer
“We work hard, you know,” Sunny says, smoking a cigarette on a patio outside. Watching the traffic of Washington Avenue in downtown Minneapolis. “It’s real skill, real strength, to do what we do. I like when people compliment my dancing, like, I work hard for this shit!”
“Because it’s not just sex. Like that’s most of it. You can go to the opera or ballet or cirque du soleil if you want to. I know that because we’re half-naked is why we’re in business and I make all the money I make…”
She pauses for a moment.
“It’s no different than any other job. Really. I’m just here to hustle, make money, and do the things I want to do. Some girls talk about subverting society – you know, here the women are in charge, and we’ve turned the whole patriarchy on its head and we’re taking back control of our bodies and all that…
“But really. I made more than two grand last weekend, like, what am I going to say to anyone who has a problem with what I do? I’m different? I made more money than any of them. And I didn’t know anything wrong to get it.”
“It’s funny. Women and men are different. Not always. Not always, of course. But at least once a night a woman will walk in, and you can tell she thought she was ready for it, you can tell she’s trying not to give us the stink eye and get all jealous, but she can’t help it, and you know…
“And then then men, they want to seem like it doesn’t phase them. Like they’re the coolest ones in the room. Like they aren’t about to empty their bank account for me. They always do. Some are honest, you know, some you can tell right away how excited they are to be at the club and they can’t help but stare. And it’s cute, you know. I like them the best.”
Note: All names in this article have been changed.