Recently it was announced that Playboy was going to reopen its once famous nightclub on North Dearborn in Chicago. Why not?
Yep, that's me as a young studly Gerry From Valpo being groped by authentic Playboy Bunnies circa 1984. Jane, on my left, and I became good friends and had a lot of laffs. She was a real good sport and enlightened me to what it took to be a bunny. We used her in future photo sessions. Guess where her other hand was.
The latest retro phenom began with the Mad Men cable series. Gen X’ers and beyond had no idea what the 60’s were like and the saucy new program delivered current pop culture behavior served on a retro platter. People and behavior don’t change but the times and styles do. Mad Men proved it.
A Playboy Club themed television series along with another series borrowing interest from the 60’s using PanAm airline stewardesses will premiere this fall. So the rebirth of the original club/nightspot seems appropriate. Will it succeed? We’ll see.
With Hooters, Tilted Kilt and other venues where perky young things with shapely bottoms serve food and drink wearing revealing outfits, many are asking why open a Playboy Club? Good question.
Having been to these newer sports bars (for lack of a better term) in no way can they be compared to what the original Playboy Clubs offered in the 60’s and 70’s. Take it from one who had the privelige of patronizing that once hallowed ground.
I’ll take them one by one.
Hooters. They serve crappy food. Period. The drinks are thin and the waitresses wear outfits no more revealing than what one would see in a public gym. Big whoop. The price/value equation fails but time poor young modern males don’t seem to care. The corporate geniuses even tried to start an airline with this concept.
The Tilted Kilt. In Chicago you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting an Irish Pub. I fail to see what the Irish Pub thing has going for it. Guinness? Jayzys, it’s just another heavy beer. So what? Oh, but The Kilt has skanky waitresses. Unlike most Irish Pubs they play off the skimpy tartan outfit thing. Yawn. Any chick under 25 and weighing less than 120lbs can get a job there, just like Hooters. Think Applebee’s with gratuitous skankatude.
The Playboy Club. As I recall my two visits there in the early 70’s (courtesy of a generous vendor) the place exuded class. Vendor John was a keyholder. A keyholder paid $25 per year (as I recall) for a key and got a subscription to the magazine to boot. One needed a key to enter the club. It was a cool gimmick in those days.
To enter we were required to wear a coat and tie. I assumed that this was to curtail any boorish behavior and equalize the patrons into being gentlemen.
Once through the door there was a voluptuous woman to greet us. And I do mean voluptuous with a capital V, no skinny fake boobed young tart in gym shorts but a more mature woman. She checked John’s key and took our coats. Smokin’ hot would be putting it mildly. We immediately were seated in the bar area where a live jazz quartet was entertaining. There were complimentary appetizers and snacks being delivered by the bunnies. The cocktails were more than generous. I vividly recall my first drink being a Rusty Nail. I got hammered.
When it came to bunnies there was a corporate measure of what a bunny not only looked like but how she carried herself and spoke. They needed to pass a test, not just fill out a form and put on an outfit. They were trained to be what Hefner strictly envisioned his bunnies to be. This was the ultimate in hypocritical seduction. Look and listen but if you touched one, a thick-necked bouncer not only would throw you out, he would leave you with scars and bruises.
Playboy offered fine dining. Forget burgers and wings, we enjoyed prime steaks and seafood. Arnie Morton was the head of hospitality at Playboy. He was a seasoned restauranteur. Hefner demanded serving exquisite food at his clubs and Morton delivered. If you have ever seen or dined at a Morton’s Steakhouse, Arnie was the guy behind the guy. His son Peter began the Hard Rock Café and hospitality empire. It didn’t hurt to have a legendary dad with deep pockets.
How do I know all this? Well, for one I was there. Second, Playboy was a client at our agency for two years. At that time the Playboy Clubs were making their last gasp. Their time had passed with the advent of titty bars and the eventual acceptance of Gentlemen’s clubs. It rendered the Playboy Club concept tame by comparison. But Playboy had what all the newcomers lacked. Class. Urban class was on the way out partially due to the new casual permissiveness delivered through mass-media pop cultural evolution and changing attitudes about public behavior. Playboy was like a secret club. An Enigma.
When we worked with the Playboy Club division they let us in on their marketing plan. This was to open clubs in college towns and specifically Big Ten college towns. Ann Arbor and Lansing MI were the two test markets. Our involvement included promotion of their planed activities. This occurred in or around 1984.
We looked at each other and knew our involvement would be short. College towns? Really?
One project I worked on was to drive traffic to the club for Monday Night Football. There would be special deals on food and drink and prizes. We did a few photo sessions using authentic Playboy bunnies, they forbid the use of professional models. Hell, the real thing was much better than models (see the photo above).
As I mentioned, this was a last gasp. In less than two years the club division finally went bunny-up.
But man, did we did have a blast. Or in today’s terms, it was awesome dood!