On my flight to Reno, everyone smells like a casino or bubblegum. I'm traveling with photographer Amy Lombard to live in World Famous Moonlite Bunny Ranch for a week.
I'm gay (I only fucked a girl once, and I lost my boner after 30 seconds), but I have always dreamed about visiting the Bunny Ranch. As a child, I learned about sex on Cathouse, an HBO reality show about the brothel, its hookers, and its owner: Dennis Hof, the proprietor of most of Nevada's legal brothels. He runs the business with Madame Suzette, a woman who functions as the COO of the brothels. The TV series' classic Hollywood blondes and the expansive Nevada desert made the Bunny Ranch seem like paradise—an imaginary escape from real life for everyone, even dudes with zero interest in woman as sexual orifices. To me, the Bunny Ranch is my TRL-era Britney Spears music video, my Disneyland.
My dreams are coming true because Dennis has a book coming out, a memoir called The Art of the Pimp. I know his publisher Judith Regan—the legendary (some would say notorious) editor who brought the world Wicked and OJ Simpson's If I Did It—and she told Dennis I am A) trustworthy and B) have excellent bad taste. So he agreed to let Amy and me stay at the Bunny Ranch for a week.
Dennis has sent us a car to pick us up. Judith warned me to pack hand sanitizer, so I am expecting the cum-stained Bang Bus, but when we arrive at the Reno airport, a black stretch limo greets us in the parking lot. Dennis has filled the car with champagne glasses and Red Bull.
On the way to the Bunny Ranch, we pass Pinocchio's Bar and Grill, a shopping plaza with an OfficeMax, and a billboard that says "Shocked." We are in everyday America, but the moment we pull up to the brothel, real life fades away. R&B music blasts from hidden speakers; the Bunny Ranch's off-yellow walls and pink sign shine in the limo's headlights; and a white picket fence surrounds the property.
I didn't know white picket fences were real! I think. I've only seen these in Old Yeller, So Dear to My Heart, and other Disney movies!
The interior looks as unreal. Plush red chairs and white fireplaces line the bar, and my room includes even more chic features: two flat-screen TVs, two leather couches, more fireplaces, and a wooden bed.
After I drop off my bags, I run back to the bar. As I sip a Red Bull, I meet two overweight johns wearing white Bunny Ranch shirts. I ask them what's wrong. They point at the signs of Air Force Amy and Brooke Taylor, two of the most famous working girls featured on Cathouse.
It's the famous girls' night off.
The next morning, Dennis meets Amy and me bright and early to show us around the property. He wears a grey dress shirt, and his bald head shines in the Nevada sun as he drives us from the Bunny Ranch to a series of brothels across the street. During the recession, he bought much of his competition, purchasing five brothels. Today, he owns the Sagebrush Ranch, Love Ranch, and several other ranches that sit next to each other in a cul-de-sac.
We stop at the Sagebrush ranch for breakfast in a huge kitchen outfitted with white tables and several fridges. As a Mexican woman cooks us an amazing omelette, Dennis flipflops between his two passions: The history of Nevada's brothels (he says it's a part of the state's culture because the miners loved gambling and hookers in the 1800s), and ending sex trafficking through the legalization of prostitution. He describes how Nevada's kids grow up seeing their moms clean brothels for a living and how legal brothels contribute to the economy. (He claims to be the highest paying taxpayer in his county because of Nevada's sin tax.)
"The right way to [legalize prostitution] is to use the Bunny Ranch model to open up all over America and turn it into a profit center [through taxes]," he says. "Money would be the only thing that might entice them to [legalize it]."
Between the way he sees the world through money, his obsession with Americana, and his bald head, Dennis reminds me of my biological father—a very rich, very bald businessman who owns puppy farms and never talks me—which is ironic because as we eat, several girls stop by and call Dennis daddy. Everytime they kiss Dennis, I get uneasy. I contemplate calling him daddy too, because one of my fantasies is to have a father who loves me—like, literally loves me, not sexually—but I stay professional.
One girl refuses to call Dennis daddy though: His girlfriend Krissy Summers. She floats into the room, her heels clicking on the floor. Her long blonde hair flows down to her black mini-skirt. She kisses Dennis and sits down next to him. She applies pink lipstick and plants a Louis Vuitton purse in her lap. Later, when I ask her why she never calls her boyfriend, she laughs.
"Last time I checked my dad's name is Bill. I don't call Dennis daddy," she says. "Are you putting that in the article? My dad died two years ago, but you can put him in there if you'd like."
For dinner, daddy takes us to the Bunny Ranch Restaurant across the street. It's a fast-food restaurant with a high class vibe. Both A1 Steak Sauce and flowers line the tables. Hof brings a bunch of his girls and also the Bunny Ranch customer and famed comedy writer Boby Zmuda, who produced Man on the Moon and worked for Andy Kaufman. Zmuda wears a blueturtle neck and rocks a white mustache. He keeps saying Kaufman faked his death, but like with the Bunny Ranch, I can't tell where his reality ends or begins.
The Bunny Ranch follows strict regulations. Once a week, the girls line up in an on-site trailer for drug and STD tests. If they fail, they leave the brothel. A blonde hooker named Christina wears a slipper and bathrobe for her dress, but most girls wear their standard work dresses or casual jeans. When I hold the recorder up to Christina, she speaks in a baby voice, but when I turn the recorder off, she speaks in deep vocal fry.
The trailer has a "break room vibe." Air Force Amy, the middle-aged prostitute who earns the most money, storms in late in a stunning cheetah print dress. "MOTHERFUCKER!" she screams. "I DON'T WANT THESE BRITISH DOLLARS!" Another Amy also arrives later: "I got pulled over, but [the cop] let me go when I told him where I worked," she explains.
Each girl exits with a yellow sheet of paper. I follow one girl back to her room. Her name is Nene. She's a new girl from Michigan. She lives in a huge room, with her luggage still unpacked. With short black hair, she reminds me of Hilary Swank, but Dennis has gifted her huge extensions. She puts them on and transforms into a Penthouse brunette from the 1980s. She tells me her family history is off record, but "I can let you take a photo of my vibrator." She struts around the room.
"Do I walk like a horse?" she asks. "Don't lie."
I tell her she looks great, because with the extensions she does, although she looks awkward.
In a room in the backyard, Krissy poses for a Penthouse photographer, a middle-aged man in a baseball cap. Before she strips, she wears lingerie and Uggs. She bounces up and down on a bed. "I'm bouncy!" she yells. The Penthouse guy tells her, "We need to feel the sex. It's not about posing." He wants her to look "natural." Penthouse wants girls to seem like they just happen to have huge tits, but Krissy struggles to look normal.
A few hours later, I walk into the backyard. Nene lays on a pool chair. A corset wraps around her belly as extensions dangle from her head, transforming her into a fantastical version of a woman. She looks more like a mermaid than a girl fresh off the plane from Michigan. She points at my thigh gap and screams. "I was spying on you," she says to me, flirting.
A few hours later, Dennis tells us to meet him in the parlor to drive into town to get sushi. Nene, Krissy, and another new girl also join us in the car. Christina walks by and slaps my ass. "I wanted to see if I could get away with smacking a gay guy's ass," she says, detailing how I've become her fantasy, her challenge. Krissy enters and tells me, "Don't look at my pussy!" She explains had tried to change underwear, but eventually decided to "Britney it."
Once Dennis arrives, Nene starts sucking up to him: "It's good to be called a dog," she says to him. "It means you're man's best friend."
In the car, Krissy asks Nene where she's from. She says, "Flint, Michigan." Krissy gasps. She grew up in Michigan too.
"They have a stripper with one leg in Flint," Nene says.
"Flint is murder capital of the world!" Krissy says, laughing.
We go to a traditional sushi restaurant in town. It's in the same plaza as a Starbucks and a juice place. I feel like we've become the suburban family I never had. Dennis has also experienced family problems. In his memoir, he describes how in the 80s, before he bought his first brothel in the early 90s, his daughters ransacked his bank account and left the country.
They have repeatedly tried to get back in touch, calling the Bunny Ranch, but he ignores their calls. A few months earlier, one of his daughters approached him and Krissy at a casino, Krissy says, and he refused to say hello. As someone who doesn't speak to either of his biological parents, I feel terrible for Dennis. He needs people to call him daddy, as much as I need someone to call daddy.
Dennis knows fantasy can solve problems, or at least help us cope with them. After dinner, we go back to the Bunny Ranch and round everyone up to go to Dennis's strip club in the cul-de-sac of brothels. Madame Suzette, the Bunny Ranch's madame, designed the space, lavishing it with a large fake Eiffel Tower. It shows off the brothels' romanticism. Hookers make jokes about how they could fuck me while I'm here. I explain I'm gay. Then Dennis and several working girls sit around a stage. A girl climbs on stage. She starts stripping. Lady Antebellum's "Need You Now" plays. As we walk out of the strip club, a hooker jokes, "[A strip club next to a brothel is] like Mexicans trying to compete with legal immigrants!"
I wake up late to a text from Dennis: "It's cowboy night in the kitchen." I wander into the kitchen, a large kitchen resembling a Catholic school cafeteria, and find bowls filled with a "Fritos salad." A Mexican woman also serves chicken wrapped in bacon and cowboy rice. I make a plate and sit in a dining room, which also resembles a Catholic church, and eat. It's delicious. Three hookers sit eating talking shop with the Penthouse photographer.
"I always tell him he has the biggest dick," one says, laughing. "Ooh! Ooh! You have the biggest dick!"
I follow a hooker named Amy Page into her room. She wears a long white bathrobe. On her desk, she keeps DVDs: American Splendor, Transamerica, and Art School Confidential, amongst others.
"I was going to college for graphic design, but I just didn't like college. I love all my art classes, but I hate chemistry and algebra and English," she explains in a Southern twang. "I'm the black sheep, which is funny cause I was the favorite of the family."
When she's not working, she's at home in Colorado with her five-year-old son she works to support as a single mom. She works two weeks per month only a few times a year, making between $67,000 and $87,000 a year depending on the year—enough to support her son. During her rare downtime, she plays with Legos and watches YouTube videos about conspiracy theories. She warns me a "black government" secretly runs America.
"They keep us busy with the E! channel," she says.
Amy Page grew up well off. Her dad worked as a lab tech, and her mom as a stockbroker. She dreamed about becoming a famous artist. Four years ago, though, she saw the Bunny Ranch on TV. She told her dad she wanted to become a hooker there, and he bought her luggage and a plane ticket.
"I think he's proud of me because a lot of the women in his family use sex for power," she says. "Grandma used sex for power. He feels like I got it from [his side of the family]."
Like Air Force Amy and other prostitutes at the Bunny Ranch, she says her sexuality started very early. "I masturbated in pre-K," Amy says. "I just remember humping my blanket in pre-K. I still have my blanket too. I still have my baby blanket that gave me my first orgasm." She pulls a blanket out of a box. "This [blanket] is my first boyfriend." She brings the blanket up to her face and inhales.
"I just liked humping things, and I loved the smell of my pussy," she explains. "My sisters would always walk in on me and say, 'Amy, don't do that. That's bad.' But I still do that to this day… I'm constantly putting my fingers in my pants!'
The Final Night
For my final night, I meet Dennis and Krissy in the lounge for "hooker karaoke." It's the night BuzzFeed published "The Dress," but none of the hookers want to discuss if they saw a blue or gold dress. At the Bunny Ranch, in fantasy lands, the internet doesn't exist.
Dennis wears his black "work shirt," a collared shirt that says "Bunny Ranch" on it. He stands at the entry way with Molly and Nene, the two new girls. He teaches them his sales techniques—the house keeps 50 percent of the girls' earnings, but the girls create their own fees—starting with "the line up." When johns enter, girls stand in a line at the entryway, so he can choose a girl.
"If you get to the middle, it's [the other girls'] job to choose a spot," Dennis says. "Half the time he won't go with that girl [he chooses]. Don't ask the girl why. She failed and you won't." Dennis teaches them what to do when a john doesn't choose them: Go to a strategic position in the wall. When the girl he chooses finishes taking him on a tour of the brothel, he chooses if he wants to continue with her, and the girls can intercept. "Anybody will shake your hand. When he reaches out to shake your hand, hug him and wrap your arm around him and lead him," Dennis says.
I have met puppy mill owners, CEOs, and Wharton School of Business students, but I have never witnessed a better salesman than Dennis Hof. Ironically, a simple business rule sets his beliefs: "The simple rule of sales," he says. "ABC: Always be closing."
Krissy sits in the corner with Dennis's giant dog, Domino. She holds him on a leash. "He wants to see his dad," she tells me. "[Domino is] very manipulative. He lures you in, and then fucks you over," she explains. But Dennis loves the dog; he's Dennis's only child, besides the biological children he hasn't spoken to in years.
"Dennis will die when Domino dies," Krissy says. She frowns. She transforms into Wendy at the end of Peter Pan when she realizes she will grow up, and she will never go back to Neverland again. "I don't even want to think about it!" Krissy shouts.
Across from her in the bar, an old man sings karaoke by himself. His working girl, Six, sits on a red couch besides him clapping. She chews gum.
"He's always here," Krissy says. "He's a regular."
Krissy is dying to sing karaoke because she needs "a day of normalcy."
"I like living here, but you'll see your friends on Facebook doing normal stuff, and you'll be like, 'I wish I had that,'" she explains. "It took me three or four months to adjust."
Six sings "Genie in a Bottle" to her client. He looks at her and sings along. He holds a cane.
Everyone speaks in subtext like a Tennessee Williams character here, I think
Krissy stands up. She asks me to join her; she sees me as part of her fantasy of "normalcy." I choose "Lady Marmalade." Krissy doesn't know words. A hooker named Christina walks up to us and joins. Halfway through the song, she rips off her bathrobe, revealing black lingerie. Next, Krissy and I sing Lady Antebellum's "Need You Now" and Taylor Swift's "White Horse."
Dennis calls my name. He throws me Bunny Ranch panties and a tank top. He tells me to put on the clothes. Like an obedient daughter, I obey him. I have become "the first male bunny," a part of the Bunny Ranch. Krissy puts on Poison's "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" followed by Britney Spears's "Lucky." Krissy, Christina, and I belt the lyrics with the girls. One of the girls pulls on my panties, and my pubes show. I haven't manscaped in weeks, but i don't really care. For the first time all week—maybe for the first time in my entire life—fantasy feels real and I understand what the word free, the word Americans love to shout, feels like.
Then Krissy drags me back to reality.
"She's so lucky," she sings. "She's a whore, but she cry, cry, cry waiting for the money to come."
"Krissy!" a working girl screams from the audience, shocked.
"Sometimes I tell the truth," Krissy says.
The next morning, as the limo drives us back to the airport, I am not thinking about Krissy's comment. I only reimagine the feeling I experienced when I put on panties in front of a bunch of strangers and sang "Lucky" with two of Dennis's girls.
The Bunny Ranch sells a fantasy. No fantasy is real. Even Disneyland is made of lead paint, but like Walt Disney, Dennis Hof has created an artificial reality where, for a brief 15-minute blowjob or a 24-hour sex tryst, men and women can live amongst lush red cushions, kitschy food, and fireplaces away from their lives. Even if, like me, you're not there for sex, you can escape because hookers are the least judgemental people on earth.
In the last year, politics have shaded these artificial realities in Nevada. Sex trafficking has exploded, celebrities have opposed Amnesty International's plan to decriminalize prostitution, and the feds raided RentBoy.com. Working girls (and some working boys) and the fantasies they create have been blamed for horrific crimes, but they're really just providing a place for escape and to deal with the shit we all deal with on a daily basis.
Everyone could use a trip to a brothel to cope with everyday life.