By David Downs | Photos by Paul Quitoriano
"Strippers, toys, and homeless kids!" shouts forty year-old San Mateo husband Matthew "Doe" over the blasting music. "Everybody wins!"
The middle class white dude laughs as he watches his tame wife get a lap dance in the darkly lit, raucous Hustlers Club on Kearny St. The wife's giggling. Dollar bills fly. Somewhere, a feminist studies professor cries.
In the latest crass combination of charity and nudity, about 20 strippers and 100 fans of mammary glands are kicking off the 11th annual San Francisco Fire Fighters Union Toy Drive tonight in North Beach. Part of a ten-year-old tradition, a dozen strip clubs in San Francisco donate the house proceeds from one "benefit" song per evening during the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The money goes to the SFFFU Toy Drive, generating some $17,000 in 2006 and perhaps $100,000 for poor kids since the benefit began.
The five-year-old Hustlers Club retains a Gold Badge from the SFFFU for their "top donor" status over the years, and this year they're kicking it up a notch by offering free admission to those who bring a toy, plus an open bar, and of course, the mandatory Tuesday 2-for-1s.
Busty, slutty, 'Amy Winehouse' won't give her real name as she displays the goods near the front door, but she says she's not amused. The crowd is big for a Tuesday, yet the pay sucks. The vanilla soccer moms from Danville aren't tipping, and she finds the whole benefit hypocritical.
"Yeah, they're raising money for toys, but they're paying," she says. "Someone's got to pay for the open bar, all the girls."
It seems counterproductive to charity, she guesses. But more personally, wallets aren't opening.
"Strippers don't make that much money. You think we make a lot of money, but we make what you make. The business takes a lot of it," says the nine-month veteran. All Winehouse can think about his her credit card debt and the shopping she wants to do this holiday season.
Which isn't to say the Hustler Club is somehow bad. Research indicates the Hustler Club is among the top-tier establishments of San Francisco. They serve liquor, the staff appears professional and friendly, and the action is downright PG-13. Scoping a nipple in this place takes an eagle eye. Lap dances don't include nudity and the pole dancer removes her top for but the last 20 seconds of her set. Hustler Club warms up after midnight on weekends, but on Tuesday at 8 p.m. your grandma could play bingo without taking offense.
And the girls all look like they just got into stripping. They're young, fresh, and a little pudgy from the lack of a drug habit. They're at the top of a long slide into less reputable, fully-nude "juice joints"; so named because full nudity precludes the service of alcohol.
"The reputation of all the places in town is the same," counters Winehouse. "Girls that leave here end up just coming back because it's the same, except for the fucking. Some of the other places allow fucking. Here, we get in trouble if we even dance a certain way. They'll pull us aside and say, 'Don't do that ever again,' or they'll take you off the floor."
By 10:30 p.m., the suburb crowd has split for the burbs. Babysitters need payment and a ride home. Back near the stage, Matthew says he's happy customer. The strip club afficionado from San Diego moved to the City last year. He lived with strippers and never left the four block radius around Kearny and Columbus until he moved south, presumably with his wife.
"It's great. You get to buy a toy. When's the last time you went toy shopping? I bought this styrofoam airplane with a little motor on it. You throw it and it flies," he says. "I'm inviting all my guy friends to go get drinks after work with me, then go toy shopping and come to the next night."
And your wife? Matthew looks toward her as the music pauses for a moment.
"It's your turn on this 2 for 1," she says.
Personal Bias: Male, heterosexual
Random Detail: Sasha.
By The Way: 11 other clubs will hold similar toy drives tonight and for the next ten nights