Las Vegas is in the business of separating you from your money as efficiently as possible. Whether in $100 increments on accommodation, $25 hits on casino tables, or even $1 bills disappearing into a barely-there g-string, the Strip is going to take you for a ride. No trip to Vegas is complete without paying an exorbitant door charge to see a selection of silicone-enhanced or time-sagged boobies bouncing, jiggling or dancing around, so take this advice; if you’ve lowered yourself enough to go to a strip club, you may as well go to the big one.
It’s late, and we’re standing outside the Flamingo casino, opposite the Bellagio. We’d lost most of our group, didn’t have enough cash to make a decent crack of it on the tables, and were approaching dangerous levels of soberness after a long night wandering the Strip. With options fast running out, a mate reached into his pocket, fished out a business card, and called up our new buddy Steve.
If you’ve ever walked Las Vegas Boulevarde, you’ll know that a solitary quiet stroll lost in your own thoughts is out of the question. You’ll be bugged by club promoters, begged for loose change, hustled by street performers and enterprising roadside salesmen; but most commonly, you’ll end up with a pocketful of cards for strip clubs and call girls thrust into your hands by promoters. The guys with call girl cards are the more brazen. They stand in busy stretches in brightly-coloured shirts, not saying a word but insisting you take the handful of paper they’re shoving under your nose. The ones looking after strip clubs are different. Usually handsome middle-aged in nice suits, standing alone on street corners, they quietly ask passing groups of guys “want to go to a strip club tonight?”
This is how we met our buddy, Steve.
On the intersection of Las Vegas Boulevarde and Flamingo Rd, under the kitschy and outdated awning of the similarly kitschy and outdated Bill’s Casino, we found the promoter for Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club. He outlined the same basic deal he’d been spruiking all night; limo ride to the club then back to our hotel afterwards, plus entry and a few drinks, for $30. We were a group of five, we had a few girls and we were all foreigners, so he knocked the deal down to $25 and gave us an extra drink ticket each.
Truth be told, I was exponentially more stoked on the idea of a limo ride than actually going to the strip club itself; but having been to a daytime pool party at the Encore, getting ripped off on nightclub cover charges and being a little too loose on the pursestrings on the blackjack tables, “3am strip club visit” was about the last thing left on the Vegas to-do list.
One quick phone call later and Steve had magicked up a proper limo to take us down to the Hustler Club. The ten minute drive flew by, with the driver picking up three other random dudes along the way and us fulfilling another Vegas cliché by yelling incoherently out of the limosuine’s sunroof. Arriving at the towering house of sin on Dean Martin Drive (an address far classier than such an establishment deserves) is an experience in itself. Two blocks southwest of Mandalay Bay (the unofficial end of the Strip) and within spitting distance of McCarran Airport, the 70,000 square foot behemoth sits in a darkened pocket of the city – which only serves to make the club’s blinding blue, pink and purple neon pop all the more. Officially ‘Larry Flynt’s Ultra Erotic Events Center,’ the wall reads ‘Hustler’ in giant capital letters. It’s the size of a small shopping mall. We walk between giant white faux-Roman faux-marble columns to a heavily tattooed doorgirl and the burly bouncer at the door, the latter of whom greets us with a cheery “how’s it going cunts?” – he’s from Perth, and he hooks us up with another drink card once we discover our shared nationality.
To walk onto the main floor is to cross the threshold into stereotype, to enter a Twilight Zone where every notion of Vegas excess and strip club debauchery coalesces into one big, loud, slightly nauseating maelstrom of lonely men and “boy’s nights”, g-strings and “private rooms” and wadded dollar bills clutched in sweaty hands. It’s nearing 3am, so the evening rush is over, but even now the plush white couches lining the outside of the main floor are liberally dotted with wide-eyed guys quietly drooling over the gyrating, bored-looking strippers they have paid for a lapdance. The club is marketed as more upmarket than your average seedy strip show, built upon a spotless and a frankly quite impressive nightclub-style interior; nonetheless, little but the decor differentiates Hustler from the local shack with peeling paintjob and buzzing ‘LIVE NUDES XXX’ sign. The first level sees three round stages spaced through the floor, more bored-looking girls exhibiting various interpretations of ‘beauty’ crawling the glitter-speckled platforms, snatching up dollar bills. Take a seat at the edge of the stage and you’ll be death-stared until you cough up an appropriate wad of paper bills. Put down enough, and you’ll be whisked away after the dance is over.
Upstairs is, if possible, even sadder. A crowd of zero watches the lone dancer grooving in time with the low droning remix pulsing from the monolithic sound system. The bartender picks her nails and curses drawing the short straw to man the deserted upstairs bar. There’s a roof section, but it’s apparently closed now.
The club website highlights apparently regular theme nights – indoor skydiving, S&M night, Haunted House, Zombie Prom Night, GI Joes and Barbie Hos – but tonight is just another regular night at Larry Flynt’s Ultra Erotic Events Center. The dancers look bored. Most of the customers look bored. The bartenders look bored. An easy way to tell the out-of-towners, vacationers and first-timers is to look for the smiling faces, the ones who seem to be having fun; if your eyes aren’t glazed over or if you haven’t got an expression on your face like you’d rather be anywhere else in the world right now, then you’re not a regular. Ten minutes was enough for me (ten minutes, coincidentally, being the exact amount of time taken to cash in a handful of drink cards).
We called up our limo driver for our promised free ride home. She said she’s got a flat tire, but suggested we go back inside the club and wait while she organised another driver to get us. We were too tired and bored to care about being swindled. We hopped in a taxi clearly meant for the guys who had been waiting outside for a while (probably waiting for their free limo ride, too) and while mentally checking off “strip club” from our Vegas to-do list, also added a small annotation in red ink next to it; “never again.”