Baltimore's new strip club proves to be one big hustle

November 10, 2003|By Kevin Cowherd

LARRY FLYNT promised us a classy joint down there on The Block, the Taj Mahal of strip clubs, a place where you could gawk at naked, gyrating women wrapped around dance poles and still feel good about yourself.

Of course, bringing class to The Block is not just like putting lipstick on a pig, it's like slipping a nice string of pearls around the pig's neck, too.

But ol' Larry, he said his new Hustler Club would be something special.

No sleaze, he said.

First-class operation, he said.

It'll help revitalize the whole area, he said.

Why, he made the place sound so wholesome, you thought they'd have pony rides and face-painting booths and Ronald McDonald signing autographs.

But, of course, it turns out that Flynt, the long-time publisher of Hustler magazine, was just hustling another town, making the city fathers look like a bunch of rubes, which is his specialty.

Because the truth is: The Hustler Club is just another strip joint.

Sure, it's a little more upscale than most of the other dumps on this seamy little slice of Baltimore Street.

And it's on the upper floors of the venerable old Gayety Theater, if history counts for anything when you're taking your clothes off to a Metallica tune in front of scores of men.

But it's got the same oily doormen, the same pale, sad-eyed strippers, the same pathetic mopes in the audience clutching their $8 Bud Lights and doing long division in their heads to figure out how many lap dances their paychecks can cover.

Oh, yeah, the place is the size of a Sam's Club: 14,000 square feet filled with big TVs showing football games, cool speakers blasting rock music and the standard cathouse-red velvet decor.

Think ESPN Zone meets Heidi Fleiss' apartment and you have some idea what we're talking about.

Think Dave and Buster's meets the Mustang Ranch.

Oh, Flynt's new joint also has a gift shop -- always a nice touch -- where you can pick up a little souvenir, maybe some "Functional Erotic Glass Art" or color photos of your favorite porn stars to hang on the refrigerator with those little watermelon-shaped magnets.

And it has a glass dance floor that allows the riff-raff in the main room to look up at the strippers working the VIP room. (And since the club is all-nude, snagging a table under the glass dance floor is considered a primo move, like getting front row tickets to see Springsteen.)

But you know what?

It's still just another squalid strip joint.

Right now, it's hard to gauge what kind of effect the Hustler Club will have on the rest of The Block.

At 11:30 the other night, all the other strip joints seemed pretty empty, while the traffic going into the Hustler Club looked like the JFX at rush hour.

But when I asked one of the barkers at a joint across the street if the Hustler Club would kill his business, he looked at me like my head had started to rotate.

`Hell, no!" he growled. "We ain't going anywhere."

He's probably right, too. They've been talking about The Block dying out for years now. But I don't think you could kill it with a silver crucifix through the heart.

As for what the Hustler Club will do for the downtown area in general, well, that's up in the air, too.

Let's face it, a nude "gentleman's club," no matter how upscale, isn't something you're going to tout in a "Come Visit Baltimore!" brochure.

I want to see how the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitor's Association markets this one to all the tourists headed to the family-oriented Inner Harbor.

"After a wonderful day of watching the Orioles at Camden Yards or touring Fort McHenry, why not unwind at Larry Flynt's Hustler Club with our dancers Sexy and Flame, Tiffany and Ariana? VIP couch dances only $25! Ask about our discounts on peach schnapps shooters!"

Or ... you could take the kids to the Cheesecake Factory again.

Or head over to the Hard Rock Cafe and stare at Jimi Hendrix's guitar.

Again.

Yawn.

Anyway, the point is, no matter how classy it's cracked up to be, a strip joint is still a strip joint. And most people don't plan the family vacation around strip joints.

Besides, when you're talking about strip clubs, "classy" just means they spray disinfectant on the dance poles every night, instead of every other night.

One last note on the Hustler Club as a tourist attraction: I see where the new president of the BACVA wants to start marketing Baltimore as a "romantic city."

If that's the case, better leave Flynt's place off the Web site, hon.

Because the Hustler Club is where romance goes to die.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.