A Twitter handle like @GayHooters jumps out at you. I don't remember how I first saw it, but I remember the tweet that caught my eye: A photo of Will Muschamp making a sweaty sturgeon face with a glimmer in his eye, and a caption like "When your boy buys a round at @GayHooters." It was followed by another joke—this one, I'm a little hazy on—that was probably a photo of Macho Man Randy Savage grimacing in constipated anger and a caption like, "When the Benghazi wings too hot at @GayHooters."
I scrolled through the timeline, and saw more jokes of the same format: A photo of a celebrity expressing some kind of emotion along with a caption about the eponymous @GayHooters, molded in the template of meme-speak that makes a thousand Twitter stars light up when someone tweets a photo of an exploding car with the phrase "aux cord." Only here, the joke was going to a place called Gay Hooters—a restaurant that does not exist. Herein was the joke: A version of Hooters where the waitresses were waiters, with fat dicks instead of giant breasts stuffed into tight-fitting clothing, on hand to serve food named after Benghazi and President George W. Bush and Iran-Contra and so forth. It was stupid, yes. But I kept reading and laughing, in spite of myself.
Though it's hard to believe, Hooters has only existed since 1983. That's longer than I've been alive, which means it's technically true Hooters has been around all my life. Still, that feels accurate in a way that has nothing to do with birth dates. I'd wager Hooters has extremely high brand penetration, in the same way that GoDaddy or Carl's Jr. does, for a very simple reason: Sex sells, and shameless sex sells even more. I don't know the first time I ever saw a Hooters commercial, but I imagine it was as a wide-eyed little boy who saw the Pink Power Ranger as the height of sexuality. The brand, the breasts, the blondness—all of it imprinted on my brain.
On a frosty night last December, I recruited my friend to hit up the Hooters in Midtown. It was my first time, but stepping inside the wood-paneled restaurant, filled with tchotchkes and color televisions, felt like confirming the place I thought existed all along. If you peruse the official Hooters literature, you'll see that "nostalgia" was singled as one of the reasons the restaurant was founded. The founders wanted you to feel nostalgic for America. That the gimmick of such a place was "hot women serving wings" could have only launched under Reagan's presidency. Salaciousness was not the sole point.
I don't know what the other Hooters around the country might be like, but the flagship in New York is more of a tourist haunt than gentlemen's experience. We were only there for a couple of hours, but saw more seemingly Midwestern families and couples on dates (!?) than tables of red-blooded straights there to overload on specialty glazes and innocuous innuendo. The food is expensive, too—as with the Guy Fieri restaurant only a few blocks away, the dirty secret is that you can eat much, much better in New York for a cheaper price.
But those tastier, fancier restaurants don't sell the same ubiquitous Americana as Hooters; their logo, and the bosoms underneath it, aren't burned onto the same eye sockets. You go to a David Chang or Eddie Huang restaurant for the cultural cachet, sure, but the taste of the food is still the appeal. You go to Hooters to go to a Hooters—for the transactional experience of being waited on by a gorgeous woman who's contractually obligated to be nice to you. My friend and I struck up a conversation with our waitress, who had only been working at the restaurant for a few months. By the end of our meal, it became clear it was probably her first waitressing job, period. She wasn't hired for her ability to manage tables or carry plates, obviously. She was hired for her ability to be a Hooters girl, for everything that entails.
It will not surprise you, but the proprietor of the @GayHooters account is not gay. "I am going to purposely keep this very vague, but I can assure you that you would be terribly disappointed if you met anyone involved with Gay Hooters," he tells me over e-mail. "Gay Hooters' success is largely based on all of us being corporate shills who spend hours a day at a computer." He was vague about the reason he started the account, but I imagine the answer has something to do with "extreme boredom."
Anyone who tweets at @GayHooters must be extremely bored, too. It takes no imagination to make a joke that'll be retweeted by the account, and the gags are so shallowly absurd you feel like a bit of a buffoon for finding them funny. Photo of an athlete + crack about Benghazi wings, and you're on your way toward faves. On one hand, it's mildly offensive for any joke to boil down to "this, but gay," and yet: Gay Hooters. It's funny in a way that, say, Gay Chili's or Gay Best Buy wouldn't be.
There's a memorable episode of "Chappelle's Show" where Dave Chappelle spends the entire episode showing clips that didn't quite work, but still made him laugh. One of those clips envisions a world where there's a gay equivalent to everything: landscapers, boxing matches, the DMV. It's a puerile concept, but sold by the shamelessness of Chappelle's enthusiasm. He plays a video of a leather daddy strutting across the lawn, grooving in step to his lawnmower and the dance beat, over and over because it makes him laugh so much. The funniest part of the sketch, though, is when he envisions a gay KKK—one that wears pink robes, and hates with love. Gay landscapers, you can imagine, because they exist. But a gay KKK that falls in line with the organization's traditional premises? No way. (Sorry, Josh Abarr.)
It's the same with Gay Hooters—a restaurant that doesn't exist because it would involve inverting everything we know about Hooters, and because oppressive heterosexuality is not only the dominant lingua franca of modern sports, but the country in general. Only straight men deserve flirtation at dinner, the thinking goes. If you Google "gay Hooters," you come across countless threads on Yahoo! Answers where presumably gay sports fans ask if one exists. I have plenty of gay friends who love sports; I don't know if they'd want to go to a gay Hooters, but I don't know if my straight friends are clamoring to go to straight Hooters, either. (We're too genteel for that.) The point is that it could exist, somewhere in the country.
It seems unlikely. "Though we've thoroughly enjoyed the spoof skits on Saturday Night Live, for now we're sticking with the iconic cornerstone of the Hooters brand, the Hooters Girl," a representative for Hooters wrote over e-mail, when I asked if they would ever consider opening a branch staffed by men. "She is central to our dining experience and she'll always be our differentiator. But hey, you never know what the future holds, right?" Even the proprietor of @GayHooters isn't bullish on the prospect of Gay Hooters in real life: "The real estate cost structure of a brick and mortar location coupled with rising food costs and changing macro eating trends would cause a real Gay Hooters to be out of business fairly quickly."
Which means @GayHooters only goes as far as a joke, and that's probably for the best. Get too deep into the ideology behind 'ghazi wings and I start feeling like Thomas Friedman, so eager to explain what everyone else just seems to get. The joke is that it keeps happening, in this miniscule corner of Weird Internet, where Gay Hooters isn't an unlikely dream, but a place anyone can go. Grab the Benghazi sauce.