By Grant McDonald
In a world of flickering neon lights, $8 domestic beer and beautiful women swinging on poles, I ask myself: Is romance dead?
I set out to see what these strip joints are all about. Who goes there? What do they do? What’s the appeal and why oh why is there so much lace? I started at Filmore’s gentlemen’s club. A man at the front waved a bill in the air to summon the server. It worked.
He was well taken care of. Howard Adams, the 43-year-old president of Filmore’s, said his business is based on romance, not sex. “Guys come here. They come for entertainment … then they go home, and they saw something that was erotic and sexually charged, and they got their batteries charged up, and they are going to go romance their wives,” he said. Romance? I see. I had always thought strips clubs were where I went if I couldn’t get any action.
But, Adams said, many other places offer sex. There are about 40 strip clubs in the Toronto area compared to an estimated 3000 “rub-and-tug massage parlours.” The peelers must cater to a niche market: the average man in search of entertainment after the work day.
“The stereotype is that strip clubs are a sex trade, but that’s not true at all, because by law, it says that you are not allowed to have sex in a strip club. If what you want is sex, there are many more options,” he said.
I set out to test Adams’s theory, to profile the atmosphere and clientele of similar establishments. Are these clubs as classy as he claims? In Yonge’s The Zanzibar, a bartender to my right opened beer for the waitresses, whose white lingerie glowed under the black-lights, throwing a purple haze across the room.
Some men flirted, some simply watched. I dished out $7.25 for a Molson Canadian. I didn’t tip.
The waitress wasn’t coming back; she spent her time with a more affluent, balding man. He was a flirt. “I love you” could be heard amongst the banter between stage and seat. It was a romantic scene, but more in the literary sense of the word. Indulgence and sensuality bombarded my mind.
I lost track of time. At For Your Eyes Only, a flashy joint on King Street West, the pale red light crawled seductively from the stage. It had a different vibe than the others. Dare I say, classier. More suits. The club was intoxicating, though the pricey beer brought me down to earth.
Dancers skipped by me at regular intervals. The suits next to me remained unfazed; their deal must be progressing. I left with a sense of bewilderment. These clubs are a crude arm of the entertainment industry. Women are, I suppose, exploited, though I’d be more embarrassed to be a regular than to work there.
It was Adams, though, who best put my experience to words. “We don’t sell the steak,” he said. “We sell the sizzle.”