There are two kinds of strip clubs in this world: gentlemen’s clubs and tittie bars.
Gentlemen’s clubs are sleek-looking nightclubs filled with fist pumping, white collar Todds who do more key bumps than tipping. They are more interested in how many people see them spending money than actually enjoying what they’ve spent it on. These clubs are systematically designed to make you feel like the big spender you probably aren’t. It’s genius.
Tittie bars are the often-overlooked little sisters of Gentlemen’s Clubs. Characterized by their retro neon lighting, tacky decor and poor ventilation, they exude a greasy disco vibe. They are typically patronized by the blue collar Johns of the world who are happy to spend their hard-earned cash in exchange for a compassionate ear and a simultaneous dry hump. The drinks are strong and the classic slutty rock jams blare.
From the permeating stench of gardenia and cheap cigars, to the hanging red lamps above its leather couches, The Girls of Glitter Gulch was a bona fide tittie bar – the last of its kind in Las Vegas. It breaks the hearts of many Johns and Destinys to report that, after 23 years of lukewarm tequila shots and enthusiastic motorboats, The Glitter is closing.
Like anyone who’s waltzed down Fremont Street, I strutted by The Girls of Glitter Gulch many times before ever venturing inside.
I was three years into my chosen career as a stripper, having gotten my start while traveling Australia. After twirling my way through strip clubs and burlesque houses across the globe, I eventually came to settle in stripper Mecca – Las Vegas. I took a job at an infamous corporate club: it was big, fancy, and I hustled there for a year before I could finally admit to myself that I was miserable.
Vegas’ corporate strip club politics drained me. To get ahead of the hundreds of women hustling the floors each night, you had to be prepared to pay off the right people for an introduction to the big spenders. This put the maximum earning potential in the hands of the men who worked at the club, not the women. This bureaucratic, power-tripping bullshit made me resent a job that I love and am really fucking good at. I was left to decide between adapting to their crooked system or going rogue and risking a significant pay cut.
Anyone who’s been stripping for more than a week is not naive. I welcome a pro quo scenario, so long as it’s fair. But there is a difference between “I help you, and you help me” and extortion. The nerve of these washed up former UFC and NFL athletes turned VIP Hosts had them literally forming a human blockade, denying me access to areas of the club where the big spenders were sat. This was because I refused to tip them more than 20%, which is the universal standard of gratuity when it comes to exceptional service in most other industries.
So I went rogue.
Defeated, I considered retiring, but the stripper moon blessed me with a sprinkle of good industry gossip that would change everything.
It was a perfect spring night (a fleeting occurrence in Las Vegas) when I got to talking about this very topic with Mercedes, a Puerto Rican seductress whose fiery attitude paired with her mega-watt smile worked wonders on a NASCAR crowd.
Over a frozen margarita (or seven) I lamented about the pickle I was in: I had finally made it to Vegas – LAS FUCKING VEGAS, STRIPPER CAPITAL OF THE WORLD – and couldn’t find a club where I could hustle without hating everything I’d grown to love over the years. Mercedes listened, sipped the last of her cocktail, and stared me dead in the eyes and said, “I know it looks like a dump, but come to The Girls of Glitter Gulch. Trust me.”
I trusted her because she was a kindred spirit who loved her job and strongly believed in strippers being protected and respected in the workplace. She was right. Two and a half years later, I’m still here. I will be until June 26th, the day it finally shutters its doors.
I’ve always preferred a no frills tittie bar to the pomp and circumstance of a gentleman’s club. Due to The Glitter’s sordid reputation as a hard hustle dive where strippers go to retire, I found myself constantly defending it. Any time someone asked why I chose to work there and not at one of the seemingly more polished corporate clubs, my response was always the same: “Because I love it here.”
Talk to any veteran Vegas stripper and she’ll wax poetically about the “good ol’ days” or a time I like to refer to as the Golden Age of Grinding.
Hitting its stride around the mid 1990’s, the enthusiasm for girls, girls, girls was so extraordinary that it wasn’t uncommon for dancers to have to turn away clients simply because there weren’t enough hours in a shift to accommodate them all.
Dancers were championed in their home clubs as the rock stars they were because the trickle down effect had everyone working at the club swimming in loot. This iconic era of rump shaking began to fizzle around 2008, when the economic shit hit the fan and many devoted rain makers had to forgo their strip club budgets in order to make ends meet. May they rest in peace.
Generous clients became less abundant, and club owners and management began heavily nickel and diming strippers in order to keep their pockets full. As much as 40% of what dancers earn from lap dances and VIP rooms became a mandatory tip out to the club, in addition to the requisite nightly stage fees*.
They also started enforcing rules and codes of conduct that essentially negated our status as independent contractors** and closely mimicked that of an employee, albeit without the legal protections of minimum wage, overtime and health care.
Defying these rules and refusing to fork over a hefty portion of your earnings resulted (and still does in most strip clubs) in additional fines which you’re obligated to pay should you want to continue working there.
Not at Glitter.
True to their old school roots, we were never told how to run our businesses. Any gratuities we offered back to the house were not extorted, they were earned. Management had our best interests at heart, and they were quick to bounce a patron should he or she ever cross a line.
We were given respect and in return, they had our loyalty. Some dancers have called the place home for over a decade.
The Girls of Glitter Gulch was renowned for its open door policy, so long as you wanted to hustle and were able-bodied, then you could strap on your stilettos and march on in. In our industry, having a reliable home club where you can come and go as you please is as valuable as the potential money you’ll earn there.
They were also nontraditional in their hiring process, which contributed to the harsh way outsiders judged it. You didn’t have to represent a conventional beauty ideal to work there. In a world of increasingly impossible body standards for women, I appreciated this. I know I’m tall and thin (and very blonde) but diversity is important. When strip clubs hire different kinds of women, they fight dangerous conventions that bombard our society with notions of what it is to be sexy. It also makes the experience more dynamic for customers who come to clubs to indulge in their personal fantasies, not a narrow corporate idea of what they should be turned on by.
People love dismissing women past a certain age as sexual beings. It’s painfully evident in our culture, and quite ironic, that our desirability is completely devalued once we actually begin to come into our sexual prime. You are then twice as demonized if you should, heaven forbid, choose to work in the sex industry past said expiration date. For every crude joke (and believe me, I’ve heard them all) made at the expense of the older babes at Glitter, there were twice as many men enthusiastically emptying their accounts to spend time with them.
A veteran stripper is the hardest hustler I’ve ever met. She is profoundly adept at her job and teaches me new things every night.
It was because of Serene, a mesmerizing Haitian vet whose cascading curls could rival Beyoncé’s, that I began effectively asserting myself when talking money.
On a slow summer night, just after I began at The Glitter, she offered some unsolicited — but forever appreciated — pearls of wisdom. In her silky patois she cooed: “Behbeh, you young girls don’t get it. These people coming here because they have money and you are the reason they wanna spend it. Stop suggesting nicely and start demanding what you’re worth. If you value yourself, they will value you. Don’t waste your time.”
It was a fundamental life lesson, taught to me by a woman well into her forties who had the hustle down to such science that she could sometimes earn thousands a night without ever removing her bra. Respect.
In fact, the only people in this business who don’t respect the veteran dancers are strippers on their first ever shift. You quickly realize that if you want to earn the big bucks, these industrious babes who’ve spent years honing their skills are something fierce to aspire to. There is so much to be learned from their finesse and keen understanding of negotiation and sales, just ask any savvy business man who’s wisely invested in her time.
Anna, a raven haired Bulgarian vixen, told me that because of the lack of opportunity (read: ageist discriminatory vetting process) for more experienced entertainers in our industry — especially in Las Vegas — a lot of her older friends at The Glitter will be forced to retire.
I am outraged at the idea that a woman, still viable in her industry, is forced into retirement simply because someone else has a problem with the idea of her commodifying herself past the deemed “appropriate” age. I worry what will happen to these women when all the Glitter Gulches close their doors.
As for me, I will continue to comb the valley for remaining tittie bars with hints of the Golden Age of Grinding left to it, if they exist. Though I already know nothing can ever replace the magic of Fremont’s greatest salacious treasure. It’s closing marks the end of an era, not just in Downtown but in all of Las Vegas.
Through and through, The Girls of Glitter Gulch was one of a kind, and above all I loved it because it felt like home. I knew every single person working there, and I made friends with some fascinating and kind-hearted people. We treated each other with respect, and ultimately had each other’s backs. Traipsing around The Glitter was some of the most fun I’d ever had working in this industry, and I’m heartbroken to see it go.
*A stage fee, also known as a “house fee,” is a fluctuating amount of money, determined by the projected busyness of the shift to be worked that is to be paid every day you choose to work it. It is likened to “renting” the club to conduct your business. You receive no base pay or benefits from the club because you aren’t an employee, and therefore everything you earn, in theory, is yours to keep.
** Strip Clubs have been classifying dancers as independent contractors since before I was born. What this allows clubs to do is legally avoid paying state and federal tax on said “contractor.” It’s also a neat loophole that excuses the club from paying dancers minimum wage, overtime, or providing health care or 401k.
Photo Credits: Sophia Phan