In Texas, the "breastaurant" is as mainstream and commonplace as the sports bar. Restaurant chains like Hooters, Twin Peaks, and Redneck Heaven can be found in almost every urban, suburban, or rural area of the Lone Star State, drawing a predominately male demographic. It's a cheap and obvious formula. Come for the hot, young female staff who will pour your domestic pitchers and serve your chicken wings with batted eyelashes in skimpy little outfits, stay for the relentless barrage of HD sports channels over every usable inch of wall space, the patriarchal atmosphere, and, I don't know, 'merica?
Like most Dallas women I know, I've been dragged into a titties 'n' chicken joint at least once or twice. But when those places come to mind, I always think of the summer I spent working in a local photo lab when I was 19. Every two weeks or so, this weird old dude would drop off four to six rolls of film he'd shot of Hooters waitresses who wore the unique expressions of women just trying to do their jobs despite the voyeuristic and uninvited gaze of a stranger's lens. Every time he came into the lab, I would picture him sitting alone, hovering over various baskets of fried foodstuffs, snapping and creeping away at those poor girls. I always left his order for someone else to develop.
While breastaurants thrive on the patronage of the straight male gaze, it's also not uncommon to see tables of teenage boys and girls, young families, and the happy hour crowd in these places. What is generally uncommon, however, is to see tables of women and gay men, a high-spending demographic in the bar, nightclub, and restaurant industries. Tallywackers takes the breastaurant concept and turns it on its head, with a beefcake all-male staff who come to work in (you guessed it) skimpy little outfits.
Rodney Duke of Dallas recognized this void in the market nearly 20 years ago and finally opened the doors of Tallywackers this month. Over the phone, Duke told VICE, "I wanted to wait for the right timing, the right location, everything to be in the right place." He says he used money from an inheritance to open the first restaurant and is already looking into opening more locations. "Everything's going great for us," he says.
When my three friends and I pulled up to the red-roofed entrance, we didn't expect an hour-long wait on a Tuesday night, but as manager Joshua Peters told us, "We've been crazy busy since we opened, everybody is so sleep-deprived." In the bar and dining room, parties of either all men or all women took in the Tallywackers experience. (Our party was only one of two mixed groups that I saw.)
If the staff was running on fumes, it was hard to tell. As we started with drinks at the bar, we watched them move about the floor in tiny gray shorts that fell around the same leg region that women's volleyball spandex usually does. Some of them were jacked and muscular, some of them toned and lean, but they were all smiling, laughing, joking, and doting on their guests. The eye-candy factor was definitely there, but it wasn't an overtly sexual atmosphere. It was more playful and cheeky than sleazy.
The Tallywackers uniform includes a red tank top for the servers and hosts. Anyone who handles food, Peters tells me, must cover up any chest hair while doing so. But before breaking into "Happy Birthday" for tables full of beaming women of all ages, which happened about six to eight times in the two hours we spent there, the staff always take their shirts off to a chorus or squeals, claps, and woos.
"We have a great cross section of people coming out," said Peters, "lots of gay guys since we're so close to the [Cedar Springs] strip, but we've had a lot of women too."
The Cedar Springs strip sits at the heart of Dallas's "gayborhood," a local hub for LGBT nightlife. Peters implied that working for Tallywackers comes with a certain amount of status for neighborhood dwellers, adding, "It's like we've got nineteen mini-celebrities running around in there," as he motioned toward the dining room.
It's easy to see how Tallywackers is winning its target demographic over. The bar area is large and open, with a backdrop of stacked flat screens playing music videos from the likes of Taylor Swift, Janelle Monae, and Britney Spears. The patio lounge in the back is a sparse but comfortable waiting area. The lush dining room is decked out in red tablecloths, tan upholstery, a small stage for weekly drag shows, and black walls adorned with tacky but sassy paintings of chic women and martini glasses.
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Unlike Hooters, there's not a chicken wing in sight at Tallywackers. There's definitely a missed cheekiness opportunity in that there are only two hot dogs on the menu, but my 12oz ribeye more than made up for it. The flatbread, chicken sandwich, burger, and truffle fries received praise from my friends as well. The only part of the meal I didn't like was the Brussels sprouts I had picked as a side option. As my friend Alejandro put it, "When they're undercooked, they're all hard. The only thing you want hard is a Tallywacker."
As we sat down to eat, my photographer said, "This is all I want from a restaurant. Beyoncé's 'Love on Top' video and a hot dog topped with mac and cheese." She also swore that the bathroom mirrors had a slimming effect, proof that these people thought of everything.
Overall, Tallywackers taught us that the breastaurant concept is just another one of those things that gay people do better, much like weddings and New Year's Eve parties. I had never thought much of these sorts of places, but titillation factor aside, I'll take a steak dinner and a drag show over an ESPN overload and dry, cheap chicken any day of the week. Tallywackers is the beginning of its own kind of concept. Who needs a breastaraunt when you've got a gourmet meatery?
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