Porn At Peace

A voyeur dorm Web site finds a happy home in Houston

On one side of Fairdale Lane, the signs at Rick's Cabaret beckon the breast lovers of Houston, as they always have. As many as a few hundred customers daily may be drawn to the topless dancers of this club. Rick's bills itself as an upscale adult establishment, but it was one of those targeted in a 1997 campaign that tightened the restrictions for sexually oriented businesses. Brighten the lighting inside, and broaden the distance between the semi-naked women and customers, the city decided.

Since that sweeping SOB ordinance was enacted, a new neighbor has arrived right across Fairdale from the cabaret. It has set up shop in a bland corrugated tin building with darkened windows and no indications of life inside. The only clues to activity are an SUV parked outside and a handwritten note (in red marker on yellow notebook paper) that instructs callers to ring the doorbell to the far right.

Though the building is as still as a morgue, its owners boast that this new offshoot of Rick's attracts upward of 70,000 daily visitors. As offended as earlier antiporn activists were to the adult action at Rick's, the new neighbor lets visitors watch totally naked women cavort in hard-core ways that no Houston club could get away with.

"What do you get when you cross one house, 32 well-placed cams and a bunch of horny dancers? DancerDorm, of course!" But Houston, it seems, also gets a strange contradiction with the coming of the city's most visible virtual-reality adult Web site. And nobody's complaining. Not the community activists or even the cops. By all indications, cyberspace has brought peace, as well as pornography, to the populace.


Quietly occupying the former after-hours club Tantra is Rick's Internet production studio -- and its product, www.DancerDorm.com, which was launched in November. While hardly blazing a new trail through cyberspace, the gimmick is somewhat novel for porn sites: Three of Rick's dancers -- Jennifer, Stella and Cassandra -- live in the "dorm," complete with a bar, renovated kitchen, workout area, hot tub, guest room, hidden cameras and several computers.

For a $34.95 monthly membership, viewers can spy on the dancers as they party, shower and pee. Members can chat with them, buy them gifts and access 13 other picture-saturated sites such as "Orgy Shack," "Asian's Abound" (grammatical errors and all) and "love2fuck." The additional sites, on loan from the company managing Rick's sites, provide an eyeful, from blowjobs to vibrator play to group sex.

"100% Live! Our high-quality feeds let you catch every second of the action!" the dorm site boasts. DancerDorm's home page displays two nude women, one tonguing the other's right breast, insinuating lots of fem-to-fem action. Take the dorm "tour," and the next screen shows muff-to-mouth resuscitation and a woman penetrating herself with what looks like a lime Popsicle. The site promises "hot tub parties, naked twister, naked pool tournaments, oil wrestling and more!" "You've seen us at work," it touts. "Now see us at play. All of us. All the time."

Well, maybe not all the time. During two one-week trial memberships by the Press, the server and DormChat were continually down. When the Press pointed this out to Rick's CEO and president Eric Langan over the phone, he tried to and couldn't get the live camera feed on his own computer, either. Langan then shouted to someone else that other Netscape users were having problems.

Langan is 110 percent businessman. When he speaks, his sentences drip with terms such as profit margin, gross sales, cash flow and market support. In the Web, he sees a potential Internet bonanza for Rick's, which in 1995 became the world's first publicly traded topless entertainment business. The profit margin for the average adult Internet site is 38 percent, he explains. The market consists of many small companies, and he wants to acquire a large percentage of those gross sales. While the cash flow from the clubs is great, the future of adult entertainment is on-line, he says.

"It's definitely a market that some of the other public companies are moving into, and we hope to be there first," Langan says. So Rick's hired a consultant to manage the site, built a recurring database of 1,400 members and is now poised to expand membership by renting its content to other Web sites for between $800 and $1,200 a month. Jennifer, Stella and Cassandra's friends at Rick's can earn extra cash by bounding across the street to chat and romp for the cameras. Rick's pays them $15 an hour, plus tips.

As part of the marketing blitz, Webmasters, like cyberpimps, can display the Rick's banner and earn $35 per signup. Rick's even has the hard-core hard sell. When Web surfers try to exit the site, they're blocked by an ambush of pop-up referrals to other explicit Web sites. Urgent messages beg visitors not to leave, promising ten free nudie pictures for those who hang around.

Despite those come-ons and comely dancers, Rick's new venture is having trouble getting it up in one important place: the stock market. In a period when many Net-related stocks have skyrocketed, Rick's has been downright flaccid. The company's report for the quarter ending last December reveals a 19 percent decrease in total revenues from the same quarter the previous year. Rick's press release notes that part of the decrease is due to losses from the operation of DancerDorm and related company Web sites.

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