Finding Story Inspiration in Strip Clubs

If you want to get the feel for a town, the strip clubs are a good place to start.

Whether it’s the aggressive upselling in New York, the down-home friendliness in Nashville, or the head-spinning possibilities in Prague—mix men, naked women, and local ordinances, and you’re going to understand the spirit of a place pretty quick.

Of all the places I’ve traveled, my favorite strip clubs are in Portland. I like them so much I decided to set my second book there, in a fictional vegan strip club.

Here’s the thing: By law, any place that serves booze has to serve food. Portlanders take their food pretty damn seriously. So you can bet whatever you’re eating is going to be better than you would have expected. There’s also a no-touching rule, and since no one can touch, it tends to keep the temperature down. I’ve witnessed far less tomfoolery in Portland clubs than anywhere else.

Finally, it’s just a fun, super relaxed vibe.

Mix men, naked women, and local ordinances, and you’re going to understand the spirit of a place pretty quick.

Some of my strip club adventures over the years have included a female companion (I’m like the Doctor Who of strip clubs). And in Portland, it’s far more normal to see a mixed crowd. Going to a strip club in Portland is like going to a bowling alley anyplace else.

This was verified for me just recently, when J. David Osborne took me to Devil's Playground during the Portland leg of my book tour, where we witnessed Stripperoake, and a crowd that was heavy with female spectators.

Portland may be my favorite, but I’ve had some fun (and weird, and scary) experiences over the years. It seemed like a good idea to collect them in one place as the second part of my Stripper Marketing Campaign. 

The first part was mailing copies of City of Rose to strip clubs in Portland. Whether it helped, who knows, but cheers to my publisher for thinking outside the box.

A lot of these stories have either found their way into my work, or will pretty soon. 

Nashville, 2004

My first: A place I can’t remember the name of in Printer’s Alley. I had been awake for a day and a half—a friend and I were driving from New York to New Orleans, and picked Nashville as the mid-point. My friend, who I’ll call Julie because she’s a teacher and probably doesn’t want to be dragged into this, suggested we check out a strip club.

Being a pretty girl in a strip club, she got paid a lot of attention. It was during the day but it was crowded. Men were giving Julie singles to tip the dancers, because the dancers were a little more… amorous in their acceptance.

As I watched the odd spectacle of it, a short, tanned blonde girl asked me if I wanted a lap dance and I said yes, so she led me to the back area, to an oversize leather chair with high walls on either side.

She told me she knew it was my first time. Halfway through the dance she touched my necklace—a good luck charm, hand-made for me by Chuck Palahniuk. I had written him a letter and said I wanted to be a writer. He sent me the necklace and told me it represented the writing process—each decorative stone was like a word, one step toward a finished whole.

She was a Palahniuk fan, too. She pulled over a metal folding chair and sat with her legs crossed under her, topless for the fifteen minutes that we talked about our favorite books. Mine was Survivor, hers was Invisible Monsters.

Atlantic City, 2005

Some friends and I were in town for a Flogging Molly concert. After a good run at the poker and blackjack tables, we were up a few hundred bucks apiece. After the concert we went to a strip club, someplace close to the casino, across the wide boulevard that serves as the line of demarcation between the city's glamor and ruin.

It was BYOB, and there was a place next door to buy beer. High on the concert, and the feel of free money in our pockets, we each bought a case. We went into the club and started handing cans out to strangers.

It wasn’t that big a place, but it was crowded, and I think everyone got a beer. We got a standing ovation and a shout-out from the DJ. I got a free lap dance out of it, too.

Queens, 2008

This was for a bachelor party for a co-worker. The co-worker’s friend knew someone at the club, so we were able to skip the line, and we got “bottle service,” which was two bottles of Grey Goose, and containers of orange juice and cranberry juice, like you would get in a grocery store.

The New York attitude prevailed: I could not take two steps without someone trying to sell me a lap dance. And they never sounded like requests. 

The bachelor, who had already drank a bunch at dinner, proceeded to pass out on a couch, where several strippers gave him lap dances, and then demanded more than a grand for their services. I don’t know how it got handled. I had retired to the bar for some whiskey.

That’s where I found another one of our party on stage, stripped down to his jeans, getting dry-humped by the night’s headliner, who had coated herself in blue glittery body-paint. He looked like a gay pride parade smurf by the time she was done, and after the long ride home, he left smears of blue paint on the car seats.

Portland, Maine, 2008

My wife and I were road-tripping through New England. We stayed in a hotel where, across the street, a strip club advertised topless coffee and donuts. I went there in the morning because we needed coffee and donuts.

The strippers were topless, in panties and high heels. The lights weren’t dim, like they usually are in a strip club. There’s something incredibly off-putting about a strip club that has the same level of lighting as a convenience store. There were other men there, sitting at round cafe tables, all of them giving off creepy sweaty stalker vibes.

I got two plain donuts and two small Styrofoam cups of coffee. The stripper who took my order let me place the money between her breasts. She offered to get my change and I told her to keep it and got out of there quick.

The coffee was quite bad.

Knoxville, 2009

Another road trip. This time I was with my wife, and my friend Julie, from the Nashville trip. Knoxville was our mid-way point on the long drive back to New York. At the hotel we asked about strip clubs and the clerk seemed a little taken aback but gave us directions to one.

It was a twenty-minute cab ride to get there. All this time later and my wife remembers the name of it but I don’t want to say because it’s still open, and it was a little sad. Poorly lit, with a quiet, downcast vibe. It felt like someone’s basement, and a gathering of people who barely liked each other. We each had a drink and then we left.

We spent more time getting there and getting back than we did inside.

Chicago, 2012

Another bachelor party. It was one of those nights where I drank an ungodly amount of whiskey and somehow was still the most sober in the group. It’s also probably best to obfuscate some of the details, for the sake of someone else’s dignity.

I will say that I got into a long, friendly, and intense argument with a Ukrainian stripper over why Chicago was a lame city (sterile downtown area, deep-dish is not pizza, etc.).

I also learned (through a mistake someone else made) that it’s always, always, always a bad idea to hand over a credit card in a strip club.

Portland, Oregon, various

Surprisingly enough, the least interesting stories are from Portland. Again, with the temperature being low, things tend to stay at a simmer.

But I do remember the club where I got a really good steak for cheap and a good microbrew beer and watched a beautiful woman slowly pulling off a Catholic schoolgirl outfit, and realized how good a life can get.

And the girl who danced at Union Jacks whose entire thigh was tattooed with thick tiger stripes, because who can possibly forget a thing like that.

And then there was the friend who bought me a lap dance and the stripper proceeded to slap me a few times because she thought I would be into that and I totally was not and it got a little weird.

Prague, 2013

I visited Prague with my wife and two friends—Julie, again, and Julie’s friend, who I will call Bill. One night, Julie and my wife retired to the apartment we rented, and Bill and I went out to find a strip club. Bill had just gotten out of a relationship, and truly, there’s no better cure. Plus, we were in Prague.

We wandered the twisting streets for probably an hour, in pursuit of some fabled club that Bill had heard about. When we finally got there—fortified by a few pit stops for beer—I should have known something was wrong: The doorman didn’t charge us a cover. He just handed us each a drink chip and waved us inside. We opened the door to find an army of fit men in thongs, gyrating to poppy house music.

I handed back the drink chip, apologized, and told the doorman this place wasn’t our speed. He laughed and gave us directions to the clubs with ladies. Of course, within easy walking distance of our apartment.

As we left the club Bill said, “Please don’t tell anyone about this.”

I believe my response was, “Are you fucking kidding? I am telling everyone.”

So we found a strip club with women and were immediately swarmed. Bill wandered off. I met a stripper from Ghana, who was a little taken aback that I was more interested in learning about Ghana than I was in a lap dance. I wish I could remember more of our conversation—I was extremely drunk—but I do remember that she missed being home.

She left when it became clear I did not want to buy her a hundred dollar glass of champagne. The next stripper, who was from Slovakia, was primed for the hard sell. This is where I learned that strip clubs in Prague are also brothels.

The Slovokian woman ran down the menu—a handjob, if you’re curious, is 1,500 Czech, which is roughly $60. Given that I love my wife, I passed on the buffet, but asked a lot of questions about the economics: Did all the girls charge the same? Why did certain sex acts cost the same as other sex acts you would expect to cost more? How much of a cut goes to the house? 

She was not nearly as interested in answering those questions, and eventually left me alone.

Krakow, 2013

I didn’t step foot in a strip club in Krakow, but I have to share this story.

After Prague, Bill left for home. Julie, my wife, and I set off for Poland. We were renting an apartment in Kazimerz, Krakow's Jewish district, which felt like a small college town. Shops, bookstores, cafes with outdoor seating. French bread pizza stalls everywhere. French bread pizza is huge in Krakow.

One night, sitting at a cafe with my wife and Julie, drinking a beer with a name I couldn’t pronounce, feeling oh so European, I saw a golf cart roaming the streets, inviting drunk people on for a free ride to the local strip club.

I still aspire to come up with an idea as brilliant as that.

We didn’t have our phones on us and the apartment we were staying in didn’t have a buzzer. We were tired. There were too many moving parts, so I stayed with the girls and we finished our drinks.

I kind of regret not checking it out. If anything, it probably would have been a good story.


Got a strip club story? Share it in the comments!

Image of City of Rose (Ash McKenna)
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