On the edge in Edge City

Brad Tyer finds fun, more fun and big fun on the Richmond Strip

Why was I asking all these questions? Well, I said, because I've never been to a titty bar before, and because I'm a reporter. Which had about the same ring of truth as saying "I'll take that large pink dildo over there, for this sculpture I'm doing."

Finally, and without any particular hope in her voice, Tracy asked if I wanted a table dance -- "You knew I was gonna ask sooner or later..." -- and in the interest of journalistic integrity, I said yes.

We waited for a fresh song to start, and Tracy walked me over to one of the wall-hugging booths. I don't know why we went to a booth, but I assume that the male patrons appreciate the minor illusion of privacy. Then Tracy discarded her top and danced. Knees rubbed groin, ass bobbed over crotch, and my nose was treated to several large doses of sternum. I was stiff as a board, posture-wise, and much too self-conscious to be aroused. For one thing, there's no place to aim one's eyes. To look at her face would have invited giggles. To look at her body was unavoidable but absurd. And to look away seemed to defeat the entire purpose. It was a relief to have the thing done with.

We went back to the table and I casually slid her two $10 bills. She said "thank you" and stayed for a while, mostly ignoring us and commiserating with a co-worker named Melanie about the evening's dearth of serious business.

Centerfolds draws a different sort of crowd than the Richmond Strip's other establishments. Its clientele seeks a specific sort of entertainment '-- tits and ass, to be blunt -- that sets Centerfolds apart from the all-fun-for-all-people-under-one-roof odus operandi of the majority of Richmond's nightclubs. It hosts businessmen's lunches, corporate parties, out-of-town visitors and individuals with such suitably large wallets and small conceptions of drama as to be willing to repeatedly pay cold cash for acts of pseudo-sexuality without climax. It escapes my personal appreciation, but again, not that of a large and avid patronage.

Tracy told me that Houston, Texas, is the titty-bar capital of the world, and though I found no way to confirm the statistical truth of that statement, it seems believable enough. For some, paying a woman to perform an unconvincing slink in the proximity of your privates provides the height of jollies. And if an indulgence of the drinks and food and music and dancing and unpredictable company of the rest of the Strip fails to bag you an insignificant other for the ride home, a little T&A just might provide that feigned crumb of interaction that we fun-loving humans require to avoid having had that nightmare on Richmond -- a Bad Time.

(In the interest of serving the needs of our female readers, it should be noted that just down the Strip from Centerfolds is a place of business called La Bare, whose male dancers provide essentially the same services to a female clientele, but I wasn't about to spend my hard-won expense account on something I get to see a vague approximation of in the shower every day.)

Big Fun: Credit Cards and Cobras
If Richmond Avenue is about Big Fun, the biggest, funnest wad shot by the developers has to be Dave & Buster's: 53,000 square feet of the-customer-is-always-right attitude packed into a gimmick- and trivia-laden building with all the dust-less charm of its closest structural cousin, the mall. Dave & Buster's is the nightclub as mall, operating on the can't-go-wrong premise that if absolutely Ievery possibleI recreational whim is placed under the same air-conditioned roof, accessible to safe parking, and cleared of all possible undesirabilities, Middle America will spend huge chunks of its time and money in support.

They do. According to Dave Corriveau (yes, Dave himself), the Houston version of Dave & Buster's (there are also two in Dallas, one in Atlanta and another under construction in Philadelphia) does between $9 and $10 million in business every year.

Why?
Well, as the three young women who came bouncing out the door and across the parking lot on our first visit fairly bubbled: "Oh my God, wouldn't that be just the best place to have, like, a company party?"

Depends on the company you keep.
As you walk through the doors, you're confronted with what looks like a hotel lobby, complete with a You-Are-Here map of the premises, a gift counter, racks of promotional literature, a list of "House Policies" ("Disrespectful conduct strictly prohibited," "Loud and/or abusive language not tolerated"), a Dress Code ("No soiled work clothes, plain T-Shirts, cut-offs or tank tops. Clean, neat, untattered clothing required. All shirts must have sleeves and be tucked in") and a handy automatic cash machine. Once you've had your ID checked, you're free to explore.

There are seven bars, a full-service restaurant, five areas filled with pool tables (though nobody in D&B's employ will refer to them as anything but "World-Class Pocket Billiards," and the equipment lives up to the title), dance floors, corporate meeting rooms, a just-for-fun blackjack casino, a six-lane state-of-the-art bowling alley, a "Million-Dollar Midway" stocked with over 250 video games, a computer-tracked golf simulator, and a dollar-a-minute virtual-reality game in which up to four people ensconced in elevated, padded command posts and wearing wraparound audio-visual headgear simulate tracking and killing each other. D&B's is staffed by twelve managers and 268 employees trained to say "Welcome to Dave & Buster's" with an inclusive smile, though nobody said that to me, even though my shirt was untattered and tucked in.

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