In England, one must be born a gentleman. In an industrial part of Van Nuys, just slap down a few quid at Bob's Classy Lady and there you are, a member of what the owners describe as "the largest legal gentleman's club in the Los Angeles area."
This is not because it caters to large gentlemen. Not even large legal gentlemen.
We're talking raw square footage here--12,000 raw square feet of voyeurism, where men pay to see nude and semi-nude women on stages, in private rooms, even under showers. What they don't get to do is drink while they ogle, because the law prohibits commingling booze in places with total nudity, or vice versa, and mandates that they be located in commercial zones. From this comes the euphemism "gentleman's club," which means a place where the patrons must abstain from one vice while indulging another. It is legal in the sense that it is located in the proper zone, which some others are not.
On this particular night, Bob's Classy Lady was celebrating its first year of survival, while satisfying this odd combination of legal mandate and social hunger.
"We saw this as a piece on social behavior patterns, tying into the safe-sex thing," explained Bob Fisher, a publicist whose job for the past month has been to drum up attention for the club. "You got married men who are bored to death, or single men who can't find a woman. . . . These gentlemen's clubs kind of tie in with what's going on today in the male-female relations thing."
Uhhhhhh, yeah. Right. Maybe I should get back to you on that, Bob.
Bob, who is not the Bob in the club's name, is experienced at this sort of verbal legerdemain. His other PR clients, he said, include the Chicken Ranch (reputedly the world's largest brothel and the inspiration for the play "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas") and six local law firms.
"Between lawyers and prostitutes, which is the more socially acceptable?" Fisher asked.
It seemed an honest question.
He was hard at work trying to put a positive spin on the club's birthday party, at which Nikki Dial was even then emerging from a cake in black bra and panties. That was apparently still too much clothing because she was soon out of them. Ms. Dial is what is known as an adult film star, which is to say she appears in movies ("Sodom and Gomorrah," "A Tail of Two Cities") that are adult in the same sense that Bob's is a club for gentlemen.
Meanwhile, Ms. Dial was replaced on the catwalk by a woman named Rachel who sashayed about to "Nights in White Satin," sending several patrons into a moody blue swoon.
On a sign above the catwalk, in Day-Glo colors, is painted the club's mantra: "Touching our ladies is illegal. Tipping is appreciated."
A deejay advised the torpid crowd: "Don't be shy! Go crazy, guys! Throw your money in the air! Put it on your forehead! She loves it when you do that!"
Actually, what she wanted was for her currency to be draped over the rope between her and the customers, where she could scoop it up.
Most of the patrons seemed exceedingly shy, even as the night wore on and the crowd thickened with rosy-cheeked collegians. By Ms. Dial's second dance--which featured what appeared to be a tricky double-axel, triple lutz combo--it was crowded at the edge of the stage.
Stars of sport and music frequent the club, although usually in back rooms, boasted general manager Neil Blitstein, who literally grew up in this business. The club is co-owned by his mother and his stepfather, Bob Gressman, who is the Bob in the club's name.
His mother, Marilyne, got into the business tending bar at a topless establishment because it was that or starvation for her five kids, he said.
"If it wasn't for this business, I wouldn't be able to pursue my dreams," said Blitstein. "I don't knock this business. I'll do it for the rest of my life, until maybe I get a break."
Blitstein rattles off stories of club dancers making upwards of a quarter of a million dollars a year. Most stay about five years and some go on to professions of higher social standing, like veterinarian, accountant--even attorney, said Blitstein.
"Normal, everyday people who say you're a pervert for watching the women are renting videos and watching them at home," Blitstein insisted. "The way the sexual revolution has taken a nose-dive, there's no other place to go to get a thrill. Every time a new disease comes out, this industry gets a kick."
A pair of dancers in string bikinis, one yellow, one orange, bravely defended their trade, although like some other dancers they did not reveal their names.
"It's not half as bad as they (critics) think," said Ms. Lemon. "I used to think they were all whores, on drugs or runaways. But most of the girls go to college. Some are single parents going to college."
The citrus sisters agreed, however, that the job affects their social views.
"You are seeing men at their worst," Ms. Lemon said. "They're all the same. I don't care who they are, what job they have, they're all the same."
One of those men on this particular night was Darrol Houser, 37, of Lancaster. On the cusp of his 11th wedding anniversary, he claimed to be faithful to both his wife and the dance clubs, which he visits once a week.
"This may be keeping my marriage together," Houser said. "This is the safe sex of the '90s. Look but don't touch."
Sunland resident Wally Ann Wharton said she aimed for Hollywood almost two decades ago, but wound up stripping, had bit parts in sex films and now writes reviews of the genre.
No one gets hurt and no one is forced to do anything, she insisted. "It's harmless entertainment, not only for bored husbands and wives. There have been women dancing nude since the cavemen!"
One supposes she meant cave gentlemen.