Music » Local Music

Stripper economics


Metro Times' crack Hit Singles squad dived into the neon wilds of Detroit's strip club row, to Eight Mile and beyond. It was research, to be sure. We commandeered back booths and climbed frightful staircases to speak with fearless DJs. We interviewed waitresses, managers and the dancers themselves, all while keeping our eyes and ears open on one of the prettiest fronts of the XL economic war.

10:45 P.M. — Player's Lounge, 13710 E. Eight Mile Rd., Detroit.

Player's has the colors of a contusion inside, smoky violet and cerulean, with a faint scent of jasmine hinting at transient pleasures. David Banner's "Play" and Kanye West's "Gold Digger" give immediate weight to the interior glow.

Kristen is spinning records for the dozen or so girls working the half-full room on this Wednesday night. She's one of only a few female DJs working Motor City strip clubs, and knows the politics of this very particular dance floor. She tries to accommodate dancer requests, but it's a matter of knowing what's best overall. "I keep [the dancers] happy," she says, cueing up the faux-Madonna twitter of Exposé's 1986 freestyle hit, "Come Go with Me." "But I have to keep a decent mix in the bar too."

Fact: Detroit — actually, Pontiac — hosted the Super Bowl in 1982. Blond, willowy Savannah can't use that as any kind of a comparison — she wasn't born until 1985. But she agrees that local dancers can be a frontline voice for the city as they face down and chat up out-of-town moneybags and pro athletes skulking behind Dolce & Gabbana shades. "It's our time to shine," she says brightly, fingering the strap of her red satin brassiere. Can a push-up bra boost the local economy all by itself? As Savannah leaves the interview to crawl lithely into the lap of another happy customer, the answer seems to be a resounding yes.

Player's attentive manager and in-house den mother, Dana Belli, says the reservations are streaming in for Super Bowl week. The monetary windfall makes her happy, sure, but she shrugs at the shortsighted thinking that sees — for this week anyway — the lines between Detroit and its suburbs all but vanish. "Would that happen any other time?"

Cache is poetically shaped, a raven-haired, light-skinned Nubian whose round hazelnut eyes imply incorruptibility. She's a divorced, single mom of a 6-year-old, and is in a "steady relationship." Besides, "I'd never date a customer." The 27-year-old daughter of a pastor once worked in a factory assembling plastic auto parts. After a year of dancing she forgot all about the plant. Her best single-night dance earnings? A cool grand. The budding fashion consultant and self-described homebody figures that her best-of wage will be more than fortuitous with XL free-spenders in town.

"I haven't been too excited about the Super Bowl," she says, tugging at her silver sequin tube top. "But I'm taking advantage of it while it's here." She considers the random economic impact that XL might have on Detroit, and says, "It seems like they're building stuff in hopes of having a better city. But when everyone leaves the day after the Super Bowl, what then?"

Center stage and clad only in V-backed G-string and spiked, fuck-me slingbacks, Cache's supple derriere is as poetic as her shape — dividends earned, no doubt, from myriad night hours of hip-hop grind-outs. With arms akimbo, her cheeks virtually lip-sync Mariah Carey's Tom Tom Club-fettered "Fantasy." You can mouth the lyrics to her giddy shudder-tremble bun tweak: "Mmm, baby I'm so into you/Darling, if you only knew ..."

Moments later, Cache whisks to squat on a lap belonging to a hefty patron in a Miami Dolphins jersey; her legs spread over his knees and thighs, crotch to crotch, breasts to face. As Nena's "99 Luftballons" fills the room, her lower-back tat gently distends in time with her hips' slow and affectionate revolve. Nena's soaring tenor carries the line "Everyone's a superhero/Everyone's a Captain Kirk" as the workin' mom works her jurisdiction, hawking a rosy scenario, feeding her customer's ill-defined yearn to be somebody else. His eyes glow, looking into hers, with thoughts of touching the untouchable, of doing the no-doing — he's unwittingly worshipping the disconnected. But in him there's a perceptible ache, some unuttered need not to be alone, masked by a simian smirk and the omnipresent, if barely perceptible, look of superiority.

Customers at strip clubs more often than not have some need to feel superior, as if born of better-quality stock and breeding; and it fuels their incentives to tip, to pay a small fortune to drink, to burn mortgage payments and child-support cash. The girls cagily feed that; they are, in every way, in complete control here.

"I work here once or twice a week," says 22-year-old Destiny, who's raising her 5-year-old daughter while working days as customer service rep in an insurance office. When pressed, the blue-eyed Michigan native thinks hard about who's actually playing in the Super Bowl, as if that would ever matter. After a minute's thought, she offers sheepishly, "I don't know, Seattle?" And why should she know exactly what teams are playing? To her it's the money that counts.

Warrant's hair-metal laff-riot "Cherry Pie" is playing as we head out the door. It must've been a patron request — the girls onstage barely lift a clear stiletto.

12:25 A.M. — Tycoon's, 12210 E. Eight Mile Rd., Detroit.

Tycoon's is hopping, so much so that we can't get in, not for interviews and photos anyway. Seems there's an amateur dance contest tonight and the den is jammed with comely dancers, ravaged strippers and Guns N' Roses riffs. There's a multi-cultural mix of rapper mooks and mustachioed goons in button-downs.

1:05 A.M. — Crazy Horse, 8140 Michigan Ave., Detroit

The Super Bowl isn't in Jacksonville this year. But that wasn't going to stop a group of J-Ville dancers who called Crazy Horse VP and general manager John Ellis offering their services. "That's when I knew how huge it was really going to be," Ellis says, standing at the bar of his newly remodeled club. Rammstein's gothic metal bleat blasts from the speakers as he talks, and two dancers taunt a group of middle-aged dudes in cockeyed neckties with haunches that would crack the toughest walnuts. Girls from out of town? No, this is homegrown talent, Jack, and they're making the Mitten proud.

Bud Bowl flapper ads and sundry flatscreen TVs make sightlines choosy, but most eyes are fixed on doll parts. Ears take in Juelz Santana's "Oh Yes" and Staind's "Right Here." The mirrors that line the lengths of either wall in the large, oblong club feed stripper narcissism, giving the illusion that they're beaming at you when they're actually deferential to their own reflections that gyrate just above and behind your head. Nevertheless, it makes them appear gracious, and there's far less disconnect; it seems less calculated, and without the boredom.

A natural-chested dancer with bills flapping from practically every inch of her g-string is out on the spanner-shaped stage giving it her all. She's pure, lithe sex on wheels — this athletic show of tricky bends and butt views — for the male and female tippers.

A chatty Crazy Horse waitress fills us in on the competition outside. Wait, on the way in we didn't notice any stripper poles on outdoor decks. She clarifies. Evidently the streetwalking contingent near the club has grown exponentially in the weeks leading up to Super Bowl XL. She tells of Russian hookers too young and pretty to be "crack whores" fighting for patches of scarred pavement out on Michigan Avenue.

In a neighboring stall, a dancer hovers about a customer as if he's all there is, flitting left and right with the delicacy of an evil angel. His dollar bills pop out.

Obviously it's street-level capitalism when the Super Bowl comes to town. But most dancers at Crazy Horse prefer to view your wad from a catwalk vantage point. And in these walls one is absorbed by heady, male-defined All-American white noise — television, ass, money, beer. So keep it clean — this Super Bowl, spend your dough indoors.

Brian Smith is music editor of Detroit Metro Times; Johnny Loftus is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected] or call

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