Putting the Gentleman in Gentlemen's Club
An unswerving devotion to proper decorum is the hallmark of any gentleman. His behavior, his dress and his general mien should remain beyond reproach, especially when an evening’s pursuit of pleasure takes a somewhat seedy detour. As a bouncer outside one of North Beach's many strip clubs told me on a recent evening, “We may be a gentlemen's club, but to be honest we don't get a lot of gentlemen in here.” A gent's environs, no matter how tawdry, are insufficient excuse for shabby behavior, and thus I set out to chat up bartenders, doormen, dancers and janitors and alike at the Lusty Lady, the Roaring 20’s, and Mitchell Brother O’Farrell Theatre to compile a kind of
etiquette guide in the hopes that our fine city’s gentlemen’s clubs will be frequented by just that.
Let me commence by stating the obvious for those louts for whom it bears repeating. A gentlemen’s club is not a brothel and treating it as such will only net you the scorn, and with any luck, the drubbing, you so wantonly deserve. Though the women employed in a gentleman’s club shed their clothes for public enjoyment, they are at work and ought to be treated as such. Now then, on to a strip club code of etiquette that will separate the true gentleman from the average Joe.
A proper gentleman knows the score: At a strip club you are paying for an illusion, and as soon as both the pay and the illusion dry up, every one stops enjoying themselves. Regardless of their state of undress, dancers are performers, and as such, are in character during their shifts. Just as a gent refrains from singing along at the opera, he is well advised not puncture the fantasy a gentleman’s club offers by expecting a dancer to follow him home. As importantly, he doesn't think that he's getting anything for free. When a gentleman wants something for free he uses his library card.
Whether dressed up or down, a good chap is always well put together, and a trip to the gentlemen's club should be no exception. A rakish, well-turned-out sort will get heaps more attention than a workaday chump, even if he hasn't got the bankroll to match. Sport a fresh shirt, or splash on a little cologne as well. The performers do their bit not to smell like they've been dancing for the last six hours. Avoid smelling that way yourself, especially if you're getting cozy with a dancer.
Despite what you may hear from strip club owners, staff or even the dancers themselves, do not call the strippers “girls.” Even a cursory glance will assure that these are in fact grown women. “Dancer,” “performer” and “Ms.” are all appropriate ways to refer to and address the performers. A gentleman calls out “Honey!” only when his Darjeeling is too bitter.
Peep shows are the minority of gentlemen’s clubs in San Francisco, but the collectively-owned Lusty Lady on Kearny Street is well worth the visit. Bawdily dubbed a “whack shack” by door attendant Tristan Heydt (a gentleman will not repeat this colorful phrase, though he will smile inwardly as it will remind him of Falstaff’s lustier moments), the Lusty Lady does offer the most female flesh for the buck. A few dollars will get as many minutes watching three dancers on the main stage from the privacy of a tiny booth. The larger, more interactive and pricier Private Pleasures booth offers a one-on-one interlude with a performer (behind glass, naturally). As I was instructed by both Lady O and Prince$$, two of the charming and comely dancers at the Lusty Lady, don't be afraid to greet the woman you see behind the window. Ask her how she is, praise her beauty (Keats should be the model here), be gentle and genteel when you tell her what you want, and thank and tip her when you’re through. Bear in mind that keeping a tidy booth is of paramount importance, though a gentleman is naturally assiduous on this count. The peep show booth is like a rented tux. Other gents have used it before you and others will use it after you, so by all means, do pick up after yourself. Tristan needn’t do it for you.
Though the performers at a gentleman's club are ultimately more interested in your money than your praise (in this they differ little from professional athletes or politicians on the campaign trail), there is no need to be stingy with the latter. Compliment a dancer on her deft maneuvers on the pole. Whistles, winks and hoots should be left to common rabble. Wry smiles, kind words and genuine enthusiasm should not.
Gentlemen’s clubs all around the city offer a variety of stage shows. Many clubs have a main stage which features a dancer or two performing on a raised platform, while others have specialty shows, like The Mitchell Brothers O’Farrell Theatre's Green Door or Kopenhagen shows. A gent may view the show from afar, though once he takes a seat in the front row, a very particular etiquette should inform his conduct. He is most assuredly expected to tip the dancers on stage, and should generally view his presence in the front row as an act of conversation. The dancer speaks with her attentions and the gent with money.
Tipping small quantities-a few dollars at a time, say-is like exchanging pleasantries about the weather or upcoming weekend. Tipping large sums shows a deeper engagement. In either case, whether the dancer suits you or not, it’s quite rude to leave the front row in the middle of a dance. A good chap may move on once the dancer in question leaves the stage, but turning tail in the midst of her performance is tantamount to taking a phone call in the midst of dinner or some other graceless act of bad breeding. Better to linger on a lackluster dance and tip a few dollars than behave so churlishly. Should more than one dancer be on stage, tip accordingly. A bloke with no intention of spending a few dollars has no place at the table.
Just as in a confectioner’s shop, zoo or art museum, when it comes to lap dances, one keeps one’s hands to oneself. Granted, certain dancers will permit a fond caress, but a gentleman never expects it, nor does he take the liberty before he is told that he may. My guide in this vein was Coco, a fetching dancer at The Roaring 20’s on Broadway who took me through the general etiquette of the lap dance before treating me to as fine an example as I’ve seen.
She notes that as in all business transactions, one should agree to terms at the outset: a certain fee, a certain performance, certain rules of conduct. Insist on this arrangement, though permit the dancer to set the terms. Negotiate if you must, but remember that this isn't the flea market, and groundless haggling will only curry bad feelings. Money, and occasionally charm, may net you another song (Coco repeatedly told me I was nice and gave me a two-song dance) but once the dance is over thank her, and be on your way.
Generally speaking, the focus at a gentleman’s club is on the dancers, but should you find yourself interacting with the other men in the club, be a sport. The competitive, inebriated, and insulting ought to be ignored, and if needs be, a small army of bouncers may be summoned to escort them out. Rarely do things go this way, but there's little need to join in any buffoonery. You're a gentleman, after all.