If you’re the type of guy who’s always been irritated by the “ladies only” rule at male strip clubs or the type of girl who longs for a slice of pumped and oiled beefcake but would rather not be seen entering Hard Bodies, Club Essence is sure to be a perfectly snug fit.
A few weeks ago, my shutterbug gal pal and Bar Tab collaborator Anastacia asked me, “What about Club Essence?” “What about it?” I responded, “It’s a tragic dump.” Anastacia had caught wind of Essence’s Extreme Makeover: Male Strippers Edition and was brimming with curiosity. “Who cares if it’s a dump? We can always leave if it sucks,” she scolded. Aptly, we made plans to visit Essence after attending the soap-on-a-rope-meets-bull-testicles-themed John Wayne and Paul Reubens opening reception at Sala Diaz.
Although I’d demanded that Anastacia wear “something slutty” (a request reserved for only the finest nightlife investigators), she decided to dress her guy friend Kazim as a slut instead. The proof that she’d chosen the perfect plunging neckline for him arrived only minutes after we landed on Planet Essence, which as it turns out, is no longer tragic or a dump.
“Where’s the bathroom?” Kazim asked cautiously. Having visited the place when it was the dark, sinister, and leather-loving S.A. Eagle (which had a fully functional “pro-shop” selling poppers and studded chaps among other hard-to-find oddities) I should’ve remembered to tell Kazim that the bathrooms are near the exit. So he went the long way, marching all the way around the four-sided bar, past drooling mouths and hungry eyes, until someone finally stuffed a dollar bill down his easy-access V-neck T-shirt.
Although there were a fair number of male horndogs armed with wads of bills, there were also a surprising number of hetero misfits enjoying cheap drinks and surprisingly good music (we heard everything from ’N Sync and the Backstreet Boys to MGMT and the Knife while we were there). I ordered a round of vodka sodas ($2.50 apiece) and surveyed the scene with Anastacia, who thankfully enjoys people-watching as much as I do. “It’s nice to know you can totally let yourself go and still be loved … by a woman,” she mused while gazing at a lesbian couple. “And did you see that guy’s outfit? He’s wearing gladiator chanclas and legwarmers!” A hunk with a tray of giant toy syringes filled with cherry jello shots approached us. An exotic gender-defying creature in the corner seemed to be channeling Pam Anderson dressed as some sort of haunted ragdoll. Anastacia described a pair of nightcrawlers I recognized from the dark ages as “Pen and Teller meets Rocky Horror.”
And then there are the dancers: When we met Dalton and Champ, they seemed to be engaged in some sort of bromantical pow wow near the DJ booth, but were more than happy to pose for a photo. “Can I pick her up?” Dalton asked me. “Oh, please do,” I responded. “Make sure you get the package in the picture!” Champ directed. “I book all the dancers, and he’s my best dancer,” Champ announced proudly. When Anastacia mentioned loving Champ’s meticulously shaped eyebrows, he responded, “Oh, thanks. I get them threaded.”
Owner Kurtis Adkisson described the place as Cheers with male dancers. On Wednesday nights, drag diva Eryca Daniels hosts a party called “Rewind,” with an amateur strip contest and “retro electro” music. The prize is $100 in cash. When I asked Adkisson about his previous endeavors, he mentioned a place called Encounters — a short-lived strip club with both male and female dancers, which I was lucky enough to visit on more than one occasion (my friend Shawn “made me go there”). Much like Essence, Encounters felt a bit like a clothing-optional neighborhood bar with mismatched restaurant tables attended by men and women wearing G-strings. “I guess people weren’t ready for that, yet.” Adkisson reflected. But judging from the number of bills being gingerly tucked into weenie bikinis and banana hammocks, they’re ready for Essence.
— Bryan Rindfuss