And there's a lot of ogling. Here's one of the last places in New York where no one has his head buried in a phone; I didn't see a single man answer a call, read a text, or check an email. Everybody's looking up. But not at each other. Seated at the bar or around the stages, the crowd is male, but otherwise diverse: young and old; black, white and Latino; thuggish and bookish. Some look scary as they stare intensely; others look like three-year-olds in FAO Schwartz, eying and enjoying toys it doesn't matter they can't afford.
The only women are the dancers (and the bartender, whose job is to serve drinks and make change); some of them mingle in the crowd between sets, identifiable by their conspicuous lack of clothing. Some of my straight women friends wanted to come with us, but I told them no. No one's joking here. There's no irony, no embarrassment, no self-consciousness; no one's coy or dissembling. The strip club is an honest place.
Too honest, maybe, at least at first. This was my first time in one, and obviously I knew what to expect. But there's nothing in real life to prepare you for the actual experience: the unabashed transactionality, the sexual frankness. All of my social conditioning resists the strip club, but lustfully leering at women, the unbroken staring at bodies, is the whole point here. You have to unlearn so much so quickly. "As soon as you walk in the door"—when you are thoroughly frisked by a larger bouncer—"you get that feeling like when you're a little kid and you're doing something you're not supposed to," a friend warned me. "You regress pretty quickly." You're allowed to do at Peyton's what you're not allowed to do outside of Peyton's: objectify real live women to their faces, in real time. You just have to pay them for the trouble.
But there wasn't much to feel guilty about. Peyton's brings its A-game on a Saturday night. The women were as diverse as the patrons: all ethnicities; tall and short. But they possessed a particular body type more often than not: small breasts, hard bodies covered in tattoos, and big butts. The club trades on booty shaking, set to a continuous hip-hop soundtrack. The women do other things, too: they perform all manner of tricks on the poles, like pulling themselves up, turning upside down, and sliding down (these are strong, fit women); they simulate sex, either on their hands and knees or by lying on their backs on the stage, kicking their legs onto the bar between your $8 bottles of Corona, and banging their crotches against the edge; or, with two fingers, they rub between their legs. But the signature moves all involve the ass: shaking, and squatting, and jiggling.
Some maintain a cool distance, eying themselves from start to finish, but others break the fourth wall. One of the dancers we saw that evening wanted to chat.
"You all from around here?"
"Oh," she said, and smiled—still dancing—as if she understood something, though I'm not sure what. She was from Brooklyn, too. "I never even heard of Sunset Park before I started working here," she said, laughing.
After a few hours, my friend and I decided it would be smart to leave. I went to get our other friend, who was across the room, staring at a dancer. I practically broke him from a spell. "I'm glad you you came and got me," he told me later. It's easy to go through a lot of dollars here. Later, when we were in a non-topless bar—which takes its own getting used to, like readjusting to dry land after getting your sea legs—we compared how much money we spent. My tab ran slightly more than half of theirs: just about $60. "Well, you had some beers," my friend explained, breaking it down. "And you gave $25 to asses."
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