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The Tits Are All Right

Our queer Nightfly agent gets in a little over his head

There's nothing quite like going to a strip club with an ex-stripper.

I was in the DJ booth at The Men's Club of Houston (3303 Sage) when Dallas strutted onto the main stage. White Zombie was pumping, red lights were red-lighting, and suddenly my ex-stripper friend Jenn was going to the stage to put $1 bills in Dallas's black garter belt.

The DJ, Andy Kogut, just laughed as he watched Jenn make her way to the stage, and continued with the story of his life:

"So here I was, having never been in a titty bar more than four times in my life, and I went for an audition for this DJ spot. It was a special night, and a porn star came out. I told the audience that tonight she'd be signing Christmas cards. I got the job. People always tend to think that we're just skanks, drugs and prostitutes, but these places are really just [about] girls' titties."

Andy was moving as much as Dallas was on the stage: lecturing me on the differences in lighting (red and white for no cellulite, blue and indigo for lots), radioing with the managers, setting up the next song, and always watching the stage.

"Jeff, what's your friend's name again? It was Jenn, right?"

Jenn? Oh, yeah, Jenn. I looked out onto the main stage and saw that Jenn's head had disappeared under Dallas's legs.

"Dallas," Andy's voice boomed out over the loudspeakers. "Why don't you give Jenn a kiss? I didn't mean on the lips!"

Just another normal night at The Men's Club.

Jenn and I had arrived for the 5-to-7 p.m. happy hour ($1.50 wells with free buffet). She could read my nervousness as we walked in. I'm no stranger to strippers at happy hour, but this just wasn't my normal scene. I prefer the Montrose bars where gyrating husky men, well, gyrate, and cute bartenders pour overflowing well drinks to keep the young guys satisfied. But this? Houston's most elite strip club? Women? Breasts? Huh?

The Men's Club tends to bring a more elite, white-collar crowd than most Houston strip clubs, as Wednesday night's general manager, Lloyd Ace, attested. Other clubs may have more volume, but The Men's Club brings in more revenue with its well-heeled Houstonians and C-list actors. (When I asked for celebrities, Lloyd's list included that guy with the blond hair from Scream and some former NFL players with busted knees.)

Like most strip joints, The Men's Club tries to entice daytime customers with drink specials, no cover and complimentary buffets (fried mushrooms, fried beef, fried vegetables and fried french fries), but once the darkness descends and the married "not telling my wife" crowd comes out, the club goes more upscale.

"We don't regulate what the girls can charge. At most clubs in Houston, a standard dance is $20, but here the girls can negotiate what they want. Most of our business is actually hourly, where it's a lot cheaper to have a girl for $200 for the hour than to pay $400 for 20 dances," says Lisa, the entertainment manager (and The Men's Club's first female manager).

It was now time to put a $1 bill into a garter belt. Going to the middle platform stage, I extended a shaky hand toward the black lace. Jenn, on the other hand, talked with the dancer, checking out her moves and elegantly slipping her a bill. I have much to learn.

On normal nights, anywhere from 40 to 70 girls might be working, with 300 to 400 in the club's rotation over the last several months. They strut, sway and bend on the main stage for two or three songs (depending on the time and the night), coming out first in a skimpy outfit, then removing pieces and, finally, going topless.

The girls on Wednesday were as varied as their music. One minute I was head-bopping to Madonna (a clear tell of my homosexual tendencies, as I'm well aware) as a beautiful, bouncy black woman graced the stage, and the next I was feeling subdued as a slightly lethargic Tonya sleep-ground her way through her well-choreographed routine. The girls shook their asses on the main stage under the faux Roman frescoes on the ceiling, in front of about 200 comfortable chairs beckoning businessmen to sit down for a few beers.

As Tonya brooded and twisted, Jenn explained the business to me. All the dancers are contract workers, who pay anywhere from $1 to $58 a night (at The Men's Club, at least) to dance on the stage. It's a sliding scale that increases with every hour, so the girls who come in earlier have the potential to make more money. While the management claims girls can make anywhere from $500 to $1,000 a night, Jenn says the bottom is probably lower, and that on nights when you need to make money, you often don't because it shows in your attitude.

The aggressive girls tend to earn more, and all the profit lies with lap dances. One girl, who Jenn said in all likelihood had had a boob job because "they just can't be that round," approached the table of thirtysomething guys to our right, and within 20 seconds was leading one back to a couch where she would soon be on his lap.

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