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How Did Strip Get So Hip? : By Turning X-Rated Shows Into R-Rated Burlesque, Nightclubs Are Reeling In a New Crowd: Upscale Young Men--and Women

March 23, 1995|JEANNINE STEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Almost every Thursday night, Shannon McClure, 26, leaves 7-year-old Brandon home with a sitter and heads for Grand Ville.

Her favorite place to hang with her girlfriends is this once-a-week West Hollywood nightclub packed with young men and women who dance and drink and watch topless dancers shimmy by, greenbacks stuffed into their G-strings.

Hip Los Angeles has discovered R-rated burlesque. Or rather, club promoters who handle such places as Grand Ville and the Westside's Fantasy Island have discovered that middle-aged guys in poly-blend pants aren't the only ones who find nearly naked women entertaining.

Club-goers in New York City, where Stringfellows is the hot spot, and even parts of the South have been on to this trend of upscale striptease for a few years now, so maybe it's migrating. Or maybe it's a cyclical thing: Esquire magazine has brought back a new version of the curvy, pin-up Varga girl; padded, push-up bras have taken over lingerie departments, and many young women favor skin-tight satin T-shirts that would do Lolita proud.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Monday March 27, 1995 Home Edition Life & Style Part E Page 4 View Desk 1 inches; 20 words Type of Material: Correction
Upscale nightclubs--A March 23 article in Life & Style on strip clubs incorrectly identified Rick Calamaro. He is the promoter for Grand Ville.

Strip has even invaded the fashion world, says Michelle Lolli, fashion editor and an L.A. nightclub reviewer for Urb magazine. She has seen strippers pop up at trade shows and at private parties hosted by young, cutting-edge local designers.

"It's who can look the hardest, the most hard-core," she says. "It's to get attention. I still think it's objectifying and degrading to women . . . but some really cool girls don't seem to mind as much."

Or, perhaps, striptease somehow fits in with the post-"Brady Bunch" generation's idea of feminism: It's OK to strip for money--if that's what someone wants to do.

The crowd that eats at Swingers and shops at Na Na is the same one that has been lining up outside Grand Ville since it opened last year at Club 7969. Roaming the black-walled rooms are young women wearing mini-backpacks and dark violet lipstick and guys with goatees and heavy silver chains dangling from their pockets. Drinks in hand, they survey the dark, smoky scene. Loud '70s funk prohibits any conversation beyond "You wanna dance?" The odor of stale beer hangs in the air.

McClure prefers this to the more typical strip clubs, where men look at girls in a disgusting way, she says. "The guys who go to stripper bars are pigs."

Here, where the cover charge is $10, it's different: "Men are more restrained. Not only are women there, but these are women they have to deal with on a daily basis since they're friends, they're people they've known a long time."

Grand Ville opens at 10 p.m., but it's a good two hours before the strippers do their half-hour show, working their way through the crowd to collect tips before taking the stage. This night the featured dancer wears a black thong-back bodysuit, piles of wavy black hair and a come-hither smile.

Everyone screams approval. A mixture of straight, gay and bisexual women and mostly heterosexual men tuck in dollars every which way. By the time the stripper reaches the stage and peels her top off, they're in a frenzy that will last the night. Female club-goers who can't resist the urge get up on stage and mimic some of her moves.

"In a regular strip clubs there's the shame stigma, and then there's the fear for your own safety," says actor Zach Galligan, a longtime fan of the club. "Grand Ville is totally safe. You're surrounded by your peers, who are there to dance and have a good time. . . . This is like a mix of a party and safe sex and voyeurism."

*

Club owner Rick Calamaro, formerly of the club On the Rox, says he knew that he was taking a huge chance in featuring striptease at Grand Ville. It helped that West Hollywood is hard to shock.

"I said, 'I'm going to try something unique,' " he says. "I'll try it. And if it fails, it fails. . . . My philosophy was, I'm going to try to do a show with women in mind, trying to make it as flattering toward women as possible. I never think about the men because they're just going to like it."

What made him suspect that women would feel comfortable watching striptease? He had a theory, says: Both men and women like looking at pictures of women in magazines; men in Playboy, women in Cosmo. So if looking at women were presented in a non-threatening way--in a party atmosphere--he might have a hook.

"A lot of people say there's a lot of lesbians in the club," Calamaro says, "but I think most of the girls you see are (straight). They're just flirting with their sexuality. . . . They're with their friends, their friends are jumping up and tipping the girls, so they're like, 'I'll go up and tip the girls,' and they're having a good time. But generally they want to leave with a man."

The women, it turns out, tip better than the men, says Grand Ville dancer Tatiana Santos, who also strips at the more mainstream Body Shop.

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