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.
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!
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.”
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.”
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.