Peep & Tell
I first heard about the Lusty Lady while watching the film Paris, Texas with some friends last January. One of the scenes takes place in an old-fashioned peep show. I asked my buddies if there was anything like that place in San Francisco, and one suggested I head to the Lusty Lady in North Beach.
My initial visits to the Lusty were brief, but they made a lasting impact. Long after I left, neon lights and mirrored hallway reflections coursed through my mind, as did images of mysterious women dancing to sultry rhythms behind glass. The venue is a powerful tool for one’s imagination.
The same vibe that attracted me to the Lusty Lady seemed to encourage my girlfriend, a college graduate and luxury lingerie shopgirl, to call the place home. She went in for an interview this past April and, being of sharp wit and strong mind, was promptly welcomed as their newest dancer. Before she started working there, I saw the Lusty as a venue where you could watch a woman dance behind glass, knowing nothing about her, and avoid all forced conversation. The setting there seemed otherworldly. Once I had a personal connection to the place, it became an opportunity for me to become close to the elusive breed of women we call the Lusty Ladies.
After many visits, usually with a group of peers, I began to notice a strong sense of companionship and humor among the dancers. They seemed to be genuinely smiling as they worked, and there wasn’t any sort of pretense on either side of the glass. I found myself asking, could this sense of camaraderie be real?
Over the months that my girlfriend has worked at the Lusty, it’s become clear that this unionized co-op is more than just another neon-sign strip club. These women are well-educated — many hold college degrees — and they’re constantly pursuing their interests with a sense of adventure and personal conviction. I’ve met dancers who are working on a Ph.D., starting a queer sex-positive porn company, and participating in community-based performance art.
Through my conversations with the Lusties, I've realized that North Beach holds a special place in their hearts. We decided to do a shoot in their hood, with the dancers taking me to their favorite spots. Forget exotic locales. There was no need for lavish restaurants. These streets of unbridled simplicity and underlying mystery suit the dancers just fine.
The locations seemed to choose the women – the wood-paneled hotel lobbies, poetry annexes, Barbary Coast saloons, and hole-in-the wall diners they frequent were the perfect backdrops for our photos.
Our photographic journey passed by far too quickly. All at once it dawned on us that it was well into the midnight hour, and these ladies deserved their beauty rest.
As we wrapped up, I reflected on conversations we’d had about how the Lusty empowered these women to truly explore themselves. They’d explained how the club protects the boundaries of its workers and prohibits backroom deals – what you see is what you get.
I had one question for the women before we split for the night — I asked them why they worked at the Lusty Lady and not one of the many other clubs in San Francisco. The dancers had different personal experiences that had led them there, but they all said they were looking for an ethical, sex positive, and tight-knit female community. The Lusty offered a sense of freedom for these women, who felt their radical ideas on sexuality and beauty might not fit anywhere else.
There’s no cover charge at the Lusty Lady, so tip well if you’ve had a particularly enjoyable experience. Be respectful to the dancers – if you’re going to talk down to them or talk dirty, ask their permission first. Has one of the Ladies caught your fancy? Ask for a V.I.P. show. Couples are highly encouraged to visit – ask the front desk for details and accommodations. Visit the private pleasure booth if you’re the particularly kinky sort.
Auditions for new dancers are held twice a month. Call the front desk with inquiries or visit their site for more infoGain insight into the history of the Lusty Lady from the worker-made documentary Live Nude Girls Unite!