The Lusty Lady Closes…Another Small Business Bites The Dust in SF

There are certain things in San Francisco that are institutions, the fog, the Castro, the Haight and The Lusty Lady.   The Lusty Lady for those of you who are not aware, is one of the oldest strip clubs in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood.  While North Beach is covered in nudie bars, the Lusty was unique.  When people think of strip clubs, they think of poles, low lit stages, lap dances and private rooms.  The Lusty provided people, with many of those things, but also included it’s now infamous peep show experience.  The ladies were behind glass and to see them, you had to put money into the machine and then the partition would raise for a show which included, no touching, just gazing.

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The Lusty Lady opened it’s doors in 1976; at first it was just a place where a person could watch porn in a private booth.  Then in 1983, management decided to add Live Nude Girls to the mix, within a peep show atmosphere.  In 1996, the dancers at The Lusty were not happy with the business practices going on; from shift change policies, unlawful firing of dancers and one way glass that didn’t allow the performer to see who they were dancing for. The ladies banned together and formed a Union and in 1997, The Lusty Lady became the first unionized strip club in the United States, forming the Exotic Dancers Union, which helped to protect their labor rights as dancers.

The official press release on The Lusty Lady Facebook page said this:

Dear Ladies and Friends in the Community,

It is with shaking hands & tear stained cheeks that I write to say, we just heard from our land lord, they will NOT agree to a new lease, they are closing our doors.They have given us just TWO WEEKS. WE CLOSE OUR DOORS AND SAY GOODBYE on 9/2/13

Please help us spread the word, and make it a glorious & glamorous two weeks!Thank you so much for all the love and support over the years!

XXX

~The Lusties

As of yesterday, August 19, 2013, The Lusty was notified that all negotiations were ceasing and that they had two weeks to vacate the premises. The Lusty Lady has been a right of passage for many sex workers and sex worker activists.  I contacted some of  The Lusty Ladies past and present to discuss the closing of this iconic San Francisco Institution.  The first person I spoke with was, Princess, the Public Relations Representative and Shop Steward of the Lusty Lady. “I wish they would have at least given us a month, to make the shut down process easier.” Like so many others, this has been a difficult time for her. Princess goes on to say, “I did not speak to the landlord myself, nor was I part of the negotiations.”

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My next call was to the Management Consultant for The Lusty Lady, Scott Farrell, who was brought in to negotiate the rent and bring The Lusty Lady back to being profitable.  Farrell and Roger Forbes the landlord came to this agreement: “When I was brought in a year ago, my intent was to buy The Lusty Lady, but they are a union.   So, in order to do that I had to get approval from The Lusty Lady board, to acquire ownership of it and hopefully bring the business back around to what it once was, or better.  When I came in they were paying $16,000 per month for rent, I negotiated with Roger Forbes the landlord, and got him to agree to lower the rent to $12,000 per month for a year.  During that year, we were going to negotiate a certain amount of The Lusty Lady property back to Roger, in order for him to expand upon the Hustler Club, which is next door and also owned by him.  The deal was that he drop the rent and then we were going to figure out how much property he was going to get back and how much rent would permanently be lowered to.  What ended up happening was that he was not going to give new ownership a lease, meaning, he wouldn’t rent to anyone other than The Lusty Lady.  A new contract was then created, that allowed me to run the business, because Roger wouldn’t sign me into a new lease.  I took the contract that was written for me to buy the business and changed the wording that made me just the manager, it still gave me the same rights as an owner to run the establishment, as I and the board saw fit.  When the contract was reworded to be given to Roger, The Lusty board wanted to have a new vote on it, which took a lot of time.   It took them three months to decide they wanted me to be the Management Consultant.”  Farrell told me.

After Farrell officially signed on as Management Consultant, the financial department of The Lusty announced that they no longer had the money to pay rent anymore, which was $17,000 per month.  “At that point we had to go through an eviction process because they didn’t have enough money to pay rent anymore.  We tried to get Roger to come around to lowering the rent and having him utilize more of the property for the Hustler expansion.  Roger felt that the entire process had taken to long and he no longer wanted to honor it, so he said he just wanted them out and the eviction took place.  I was able to negotiate an end date of September 2, 2013 and Roger agreed to not hold us liable for back rent and that’s the story.”  Farrell told me with a heavy heart, that,  “it had to come to this.”  In regards to closing on the September 2nd date, he said “That was when Roger would be bringing in crews to do work,” which he assumes will be the Hustler expansion; that fact has not been confirmed by Forbes.  He was not reachable for comment at this time.

              ******

 Something interesting to note: the landlord, Roger Forbes, is part of Deja Vu Consulting Inc.  Deja Vu owns almost every strip club in San Francisco with the exception of Crazy Horse, Mitchell Brothers O’Farrell Theatre, Nob Hill and of course for the next two weeks, The Lusty Lady. This makes me wonder, is this a clever business maneuver to push out an independent local business?

This is not the first time Forbes name has been mentioned when it comes to speculative business practices.  He facilitated the sale of Tosca in 2013, which was another San Francisco small business, he continued to raise the rent until the owner had to throw in the towel and concede defeat.  Sound familiar Lusty Lady?  As Farrell told me during our conversation, this fight was much like the biblical David and Goliath-the big guy was too big for them to take on.  Farrell wonders if any amount of money would have been enough to salvage The Lusty, due to how much Forbes and Deja Vu want to expand on the Hustler club.

I contacted some of the Lusty Ladies of the past, to hear their thoughts on the closing of this peep show palace.  Courtney Crimson, a former dancer and Madam of The Lusty said.  “I feel that the down fall of The Lusty Lady can be attributed to many different factors. The sex industry has been on the steady decline in the Bay Area for as long as I have been here (6 years). I feel that the start of the economic recession in 2008 was the first extremely detrimental blow to The Lusty Lady as well as other adult entertainment establishments. This coupled with the fact that as time has gone on it has become increasingly easier to seek out adult entertainment and pornographic material via the internet and that this has definitely played a role. As far as the final year is concerned I feel the biggest obstacle was not being able to obtain fair market rent prices from our landlord. The Lusty Lady has been forced to pay unreasonable rent prices for a long time now which account for a huge part of their monthly profit. I feel that Deja Vu’s attempt to monopolize the Bay Area adult entertainment industry is ultimately what put the final nail in the coffin for The Lusty Lady SF.”

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Siousxie Q., a former Lusty and now host of the podcast, Whorecast on iTunes said, “The Lusty for me was kind of like sex worker summer camp.  It’s one of the first sex working experiences I had and it filled me with the values I carry today.  There are a lot of strong values, that I think the Lusty instills in the people who pass through there. The Lusty gave us Carol Queen, it gave us Sandy Bottoms and others who are central to the sex worker movement.  I worry that without that really strong community at The Lusty, that we will see less and less empowered out and proud sex workers. I worry that our movement will really suffer in the future.”

The Lusty welcomed women of all shapes, sizes and colors; where will they go now? Carol Queen Ph.D, a former Lusty Lady, sex educator and sex worker activist said, “When I began there in 1990, it already had a reputation of hiring interesting, edgy women who would not necessarily have fit at other clubs.  We had punks, dykes, women’s studies majors plus one sexology grad student, me. It was a diverse group, even pretty diverse racially, compared to some places, and more diverse as far as body type was concerned for sure. It’s where I met some of the women who are still my closest friends over 20 years later.” Queen told me, while commenting on how sad the closing is for her.

Davina Darling a former Lusty had this to say: “I met a community. I created an entire family. We’ve been through love, marriage, death, babies. It’s more than a strip club it’s a place to find yourself and your community.  It’s a community loss.”

I reached out to Myron Walters, award-winning General Manager of Crazy Horse who said, “Any closure of adult entertainment establishments in San Francisco is unfortunate. We all play a great part in keeping freedom alive in the Bay area. The history of San Francisco is an important part of California’s great appeal to tourists from across the globe, we have to make sure that such great institutions can survive and not lose a part of what makes San Francisco such a great city.”

Keeping The Lusty Lady’s doors open has proven difficult over the last few years and competing with the other clubs has taken a toll.   This is still sad news for those that work at The Lusty Lady for their families futures that the Lusty Lady helped to empower and moreso…say you don’t like strip clubs.  Maybe you don’t understand why someone chooses to strip or chooses this as a job.  Perhaps one of the questions we should be asking ourselves is, how long will there be room for local businesses in the city of San Francisco?

As Crimson told me, “Despite this pitfall I feel that The Lusty Lady has started a revolution for the rights of sex workers everywhere. And I feel that this revolution will continue long after we’re gone.” In speaking with Courtney Crimson she also quoted Fred Hampton who said, “You can kill a revolutionary, but you can never kill the revolution.”   Cheers to that Miss Crimson.

About Vanessa L. Pinto

I am a journalist based in San Francisco, best known for my blog on The Huffington Post and SF Weekly. My platform is multi-faceted, just like those I write about.  I hold my B.A. in Political Science, with a concentration in pre-law from Cal-Poly in San Luis Obispo and am always game for an adventure...!
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7 Responses to The Lusty Lady Closes…Another Small Business Bites The Dust in SF

  1. Vixen Noir says:

    Great article! Thank you! I love the Lusty Lady. My heart is heavy with sadness that she will no longer be.

  2. Michael Wrycraft says:

    LUSTY LADY RIP
    this breaks my heart. not many of the current lusties would know who i am but back in the (pre-union) late 80’s i was an assistant show director (the only male ever to hold that position) and then i was the first ever marketing manager. i created the “have an erotic day” happy face logo and in this job as marketing manager, to get more folks into the place, created a series of special event weeks: Lust in Space Week, Women in Prison Week, Naughty Nurses Week, Tuts and Asp Week (Egyptian theme), Peeping Tom Week (where we covered some of the windows leaving just a small peep hole) etc etc. myself along with other managers Christopher Beamish (general mgr), Kate Proper (show director) created the Private Pleasures booth. my most profound memory from my few years there was spending the giant ’89 san francisco earthquake in the dressing room with a few naked dancers and trying to get the dancers onstage, offstage as it was floor to ceiling mirrors and all i could think of was “oh god it’s a giant slice and dicer”, all in pitch blackness because all of our backstage and downstairs emergency lighting didn’t work. it took us all 15 minutes to get upstairs and outside into the street because i had to scrounge birthday candles out of our office to light the way for all the girls to get into their lockers to get dressed all while waiting for the aftershocks to bring the building down around our ears. terrifying. once out in the street (Kearny Street… the famous Street on a hill where Sharon Stones character lived in Basic Instinct) it was flooded with people going all the way down to the transamerica pyramid. i was so giddy when we finally got out i yelled in a very loud voice “PEOPLE OF EARTH… THIS IS JUST A SMALL SAMPLE OF OUR POWER!!!”
    i watched a wave of laughter ripple it’s way down the hill, everyone giddy and relieved they were alive. other random memories… going to las vegas numerous times during the consumer electronics show to court and convince famous pornstars to come and star in our private pleasures booth. coming in in the morning with a handfull of lattes and muffins to be greeted by some fresh, cute young dancer in the lounge area pulling her pants down, innocently excited to show me her “cool new piercing” she got the night before. getting to sit around making stage props for my theme shows. the huge nurses protest of our Naughty Nurses Week in front of our Seattle theatre on first ave., which after the media caught hold of it, drove record numbers into the theatre to make it the most successful of all the theme weeks. “talking to betty” in the janitor’s closet (a code phrase for getting high on weed). Taking both Nina Hartley and Victoria Paris to do naked radio interviews (yes i said naked radio interviews). playdays. the 3 mild soft core girl on girl video films i shot for the theatre, “Blue’s Dream,” “Ouch” (an s&m feature, set in an actual s&m dungeon) and for the life of me I can’t remember the title of the 3rd which was shot in a hotel room filled with my friend Ken Korpi’s gargoyle sculptures. Along with Kurt the crazy Janitor, Dave the crazy technician, Tim the crazy cashier/author, Sandra Andreassen who became an almost lifelong friend and with Darrel Davis & June Cade at the helm this was a wonderful, crazy, sexy 3 years of my life i’ll treasure always. the one thing i won’t miss is the the crackle of the p.a. system when a booth got too messy and we heard “CODE WHITE” throughout the theatre. it always made me queasy. Goodbye Lusty Lady R.I.P.

  3. I consider courtney a more recent lusty versus a past lusty. I left the lusty a year ago and was a former finance officer bod shop steward and lead facilitator and part of the initial rent negotiation and reduction before Scott came in. Roger was quite cooperative when I worked with him…but I left the bod when I felt the sale to these new folks was being rushed and not complete info available to the membership and bylaws were being violated by not having proper notification time for meetings. Being finance officer I found it ironic how I was being excluded from meetings and the investors or bids I tried to connect or offer the theater were ignored for these other mystery new buyers. The downfall of the lusty was more then high rent and failed negotiation…there were many catty behind the scenes egos and politics coupled with poor management and lack of proper PR non support for fundraising business plans or the ability of the cooperative to work together to drastically update and revamp the overall model of the lusty. Too few dancers had experience with finances fundraising or running a business…hence leading to poor decisions and inner fighting among other problems…including too few people of the coop stepping up to help. Too few people doing too much and utter chaos….last year with the first proposal to sell there was a huge walk off of staff and performers…which we had to quickly fill and train….this left a huge hole greatly effecting the business…coupled with a short stage…no money for flyers or ads and non support for fundraisers and a bad economy and falling apart space etc i can go on and on about why the lusty failed….when i started there was a strong sisterhood and pride with being different and unionized….towards the end there was much division…non support of one another positions eliminated cause they couldnt afford them…wrong people coming into management and monopolizing positions bylaw violations overclaiming of hours slander bashing and overall nastiness. while the utopian ideal of sex workers owning their own business and having a variety of body types races and going against the standard as empowered feminist unionized sex workers sounds amazing….in practice as a coop and with the division and bad economy it failed…but the seed was planted and hopefully will inspire and help others down the road empower themselves. Dancers were dancing fully nude and barely making minimum wage amongst all the other problems…im quite happy to see it go rather then continue the way it has been this past year….it has been the titanic for sometime and i just want it to be done and sink. when it ran well was managed well and had the funds i enjoyed my time there sharing erotic moments with regulars and strangers and strength and support from other workers….when times got tough there so much ugliness came out…and it began to be as someone once put it…an assylum being run by the inmates….just not bueno…i toast my coffee this morning to the past good memories of the place and happy to not have to deal with the rest of the unhappy that place has brought me…xo Midnight/Natalie…former lusty names…now Bella Molotov

  4. deadrose says:

    I worked there for a short time back in the 80s – about half my friends were employed there in various ways. Living now in Seattle, it was a sad, sad day when the Lusty Lady here closed down. Now they’ll both be gone. Sometimes it seems as if my youth is being sanitized out of existence.

  5. Kf says:

    My husband and I were there for our first trip to sf. What a disgrace they will shut down hardworking women k

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