The house rules at The Nag's Head – no photography ;), no soiled clothing ;(
First things first, if you're a girl and you've never been to a strip club, go. I had never been to a strip club before last week. Now I have been to nine.
This all started when we found out that my borough, Tower Hamlets in London, was proposing a ban on the opening of all new “sex establishments” and the closure of pre-existing ones. The neighborhood’s religious communities now find themselves pitched in a battle against the roughly 6000 people employed by the local stripping industry.
Things are getting pretty heated, in a bureaucratic way, but I'm a lover, not a fighter or a sex lawyer, so my friend Henrietta Hitchcock and I decided to ignore the morality war and instead tour the strip joints of Tower Hamlets to see which of them—if any—deserve to stay open purely on merit.
Unfortunately, all but one club forbade us from taking any pictures inside. However, we did chat extensively about the ins and outs of the industry and at one point had a go on a pole ourselves, so that’s something for you to look forward to.
THE WHITE HORSE @ BLUSH
The White Horse was our first stop. As we arrived, that Jessie J “It’s not about the money, money, money” song was playing while a woman pulled her thong off for a pint glass full of pound coins. I wasn't turned on at all, but it did give me the biggest irony boner.
Atmosphere: It's pretty much just a typical old-man pub with naked, gyrating women in it. Amicable, cheery community center vibe.
Customers: The obligatory solo weirdos, but mainly groups of men after work, a mix of suits and working class guys. We were the only women.
Wedding Ring Count: Nine.
Dancers: A fine balance of “OK fine, here are my tits, shakey shakey” and actually impressive pole-dancing ability. The cleaning policy was a problem, though—the stripper up next has to Windex and wipe down the pole used by the dancer before her, in front of everyone. Bathos is watching a woman in a Lycra one-piece wipe another lady’s butt-streaks off a metallic pole.
Overall vibe: Pretty chill. The girls seemed to be having an OK time, and it didn’t feel seedy or skuzzy in the way I had expected all strip clubs to be prior to this experiment. This is not the place to come seeking stripper-y looking fake breasts, although there were some surrrious butts.
THE NAG’S HEAD
The Nag’s Head cemented our impression that the real issue facing strip establishments today should not be widespread closure but a long, thoughtful examination of their playlists. I do not want to watch a woman strip to “Zombie” by The Cranberries ever again. Or maybe I do, every day, as soon as I wake up. It’s hard to say.
Atmosphere: It’s a very small space. Like, very small. With the table of strippers and us and the two old guys at the front (that's where the old men live), most of the tables were filled, even though the women were only taking in about £5 per dance, which is eughhhh.
Customers: More touchy-feely than is generally allowed. Some lecherous banker-type appeared and asked how us two little ladies were “enjoying the view,” before suggesting we join him at his table up front. We did not.
Dancers: They all seemed kind of bored, but had traditional hot stripper bods—fake tits and tans and teetering Lucite heels—so maybe that’s the trade off?
“What you taking notes for then?” count: One.
Overall vibe: Kind of dingy, but hilarious opening hours. Have a lapdance with your lunch! BYOSandwich.
WHITE’S GENTLEMEN’S CLUB
The women’s bathroom is the most interesting place in a strip club, if you ask me (and you’re reading this, so you kinda are). Here's us, dressed to the nines, having a blast in the ladies' room:
We chatted to a bunch of people who worked at White's in the can. They had a pretty great sense of humour, poked gentle fun at customers, shared make-up tips with us and extolled the benefits of low-stress, high-income employment. As young, still-finding-ourselves female writers we listened with an intent that would probably disturb our parents.
Atmosphere: Kind of a sexy, silly party. We discovered with some relief that this place was a tops-off only joint, which meant if we wanted to see labia, we’d have to shell out the big bucks for a private show (we didn't, at this point we'd already seen more close-up vag than an Amish teen who just got on the internet for the first time).
Customers: Mainly goofy after-work types, some of whom started their own dorky dance party off to the side, completely unfocused on the strippers. Clearly there was a ton of private dancing going on too, don’t get me wrong, but: Awww, guys!
Dancers: These chicks have moooooves. A mix of intense acrobatic feats and your standard music-video writhing/butt-shaking. This led to some furtive sexting to our respective significant others.
Themed room count: Four. There’s a (new) champagne lounge, a “tiger room,” a “moulin rouge” room, and a saucy “school-themed” room. At around 3AM they let us take some pictures in the tiger room, which I guess I have to include, for journalism reasons. I’ll also remind you that it was 3AM:
Overall vibe: Cool party, bro.
For a start, huge LOL to the name of this place. What a fun game you are playing with punctuation, Club Oops…! Otherwise, though, just your average strip joint. I am personally of the mind that music by artists too young to actually visit a strip club should not be included on the playlist at said clubs. It made me sad to watch ladies doing naked dancing to Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus :(
Atmosphere: Pretty bumpin’. Designated smoker’s area much appreciated, ditto the “mellow waterfall feature” I’d read about on their website.
Customers: This place had a few actual human women in it who were not strippers. We looked at each other inquisitively, as if to say “Are you also writing about the implications of imposing moral judgments on a London neighborhood? If so, are you invoicing your drinks and can we have some?”
Dancers: Big butts, big shoes, big hair. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Drinks count: Two (Many!) (Hahahahaha!) (It’s possible I’m still drunk while writing this.)
Overall vibe: More or less exactly what one would presume a strip club to be, with some added airport lounge vibes.
BJ’s @ WHITE SWAN
Uhhh… so Tower Hamlets are trying to shut this place down as well, but does the council not know this is pretty much just a regular ol’ gay bar? Like, Thursday nights are karaoke night, some nights are not even themed, regular ol’ bar? We popped by and were informed by some punters that Wednesday nights are amateur strip contest night. We therefore could not subject it to our very rigorous and scientific ratings system because no stripping at all was going on. And too bad, we wouldn’t have minded some amateur peen for some variety at that point.
This place is not a strip club. Get over it, Tower Hamlets.
Also under threat: SECRETS (expensive), METROPOLIS ("shower dancing"), IMAGES (occasional concert venue), MAJINGO’S (aggressively art deco). Not featured, sorry guys. Nice tits!
THE VAGUELY SERIOUS PART
Forcing these kinds of places out of the borough is either going to drive them to Soho/some other borderline red light district, or push them underground, where they will be unregulated and therefore probably take a turn for the late-night Mexican donkey show. I recognize the potential for this kind of establishment to go sour, to harbor exploitation and facilitate misogyny and other things that do NOT make me horny, but the clubs we visited were clean and operated in plain sight, accessible to admiring pervs and staunch critics alike. Anyone with a problem could easily speak to management or talk to the girls—women—themselves, and for us, that was kind of part of the appeal.
Our first impressions were “I haven’t been surrounded by this many barely-concealed shame-boners since grade eight sex ed,” and “They get their full vag out? Open legs, visible b-hole, labes-on-tabes?!” Call me naïve, but I had expected a bunch of air-humping in tiny thongs and "sexy" approximations of policeman’s outfits. Some of these performances could have contributed to gynecological drawings.
However, preconceptions aside, it turned out we actually had a great time and had to examine a lot of our preconceptions and got a bit turned on and oh boy, Tower Hamlets, you better not close down them clubz.
For one thing, I promised my boyfriend—who’s never been to a strip club, ever, come on dude—that I’d take him to White’s when he comes to visit next fall.
Follow Monica: @monicaheisey and Henrietta: @henriettach on Twitter.