By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
It's close to midnight at Baby Dolls Saloon, a popular topless club north of Love Field near Bachman Lake, and the place is electrified. Dancers in nothing but g-strings gyrate on elevated stages as young and middle-aged men ogle them from below and shell out a steady stream of dollar bills. Top 40-style pop music, ranging from Shania Twain to Christina Aguilera, blares from the sound system, while waitresses in tight outfits take drink orders amidst neon lights and mirrored walls.
Almost all of the dancers appear young and gorgeous, although some are prosthetically augmented past the point of credulity. Real breasts don't stand up like that, of course, but men don't come here for reality.
Bursts of strobe lighting add to the heady atmosphere, while well-dressed bouncers with headsets discreetly roam the club guarding against improper touching, although it seems that little is deemed improper here.
One by one, the center-stage dancers are announced excitedly by a DJ, who also plugs their appearances on porno Web sites. About five dancers work smaller stages.
While only a handful of girls actually "dance" at a time, about 80 girls are working on a recent Thursday night. Hundreds of men stand shoulder-to-shoulder in the 435-person capacity club, but it gets even more crowded on weekends. About 150 women will be here on Friday night, a dancer says.
Those not dancing ply the lucrative lap-dance trade. This is what lures the legions of men, mostly business types. The action occurs at the far end of the rectangular-shaped club. In this darkened section, cordoned off by several pillars, men sitting on bar stools and plush chairs fork over $20 a pop for lap dances that can only charitably go by that title. In many other clubs, dancers merely hover over their customer during lap dances. At Baby Dolls, "dry humping" seems a more appropriate term when the dances heat up.
Observing this scene of pawing and pelvic thrusting between scores of clothed men and women in various stages of undress is like observing a rehearsal for an orgy. Four men sitting around a table drink beers and pass along a blonde dressed in a schoolgirl skirt, which is quickly unfastened. She spends about five minutes in the clutches of each man before moving on to a buddy -- and another $20 -- the next seat over.
For a while, she banters amiably with the men while sitting on their laps. Then she puts the bump and grind of her lap dance into gear. The men paw at the area around her breasts and buttocks as she twists and undulates on top of them; eventually, they are emboldened to let their hands roam more freely. A few tables over, a long-haired brunette wearing a red g-string lies nearly horizontal on top of a young man. They are approaching a second half-hour of slow pelvic thrusting.
Here's how it works: If a clubgoer sits alone for long enough and doesn't appear too freaky, one of the dancers invariably finds her way into his lap. The girls wander the club, waiting to be called over or approaching solo men. Before the "performance," it's customary to make some small talk, but one's memory of extraneous chit-chat is obliterated after a dancer presses your face between her breasts and renders other acts of sexual pantomime.
All of this open fondling, rubbing, and touching was supposed to be outlawed in 1997, when the Dallas City Council passed a law forbidding bodily contact between "adult cabaret" employees exposing their anatomy and customers. But because of a technicality, Dallas police will not enforce it, and Baby Dolls barflies can watch violations occur literally every minute.
So while the men at Baby Dolls remain hot and bothered, Bachman Lake residents and other North Dallas activists get incensed by reports of such debauchery.
It's a "Mexican brothel bar" right here in Dallas, says local activist Mary Lou Zijderveld, who lives near Walnut Hill Lane and has long fought the clubs. Grassroots opponents, who commissioned undercover video of close-contact lap dances in Baby Dolls, demand an immediate crackdown by city vice cops under the law, technicality or not. But hidden-camera video was only the latest salvo in the activists' 15-year crusade to shutter a cluster of clubs along West Northwest Highway in the once thriving Bachman Lake area.
They claim the clubs are responsible for the steady decline of the residential area and erosion of property values. Their agitation helped pass several laws by the Dallas City Council in 1986, 1993, and 1997 to rein in sexually oriented businesses (SOBs). Even the city's latest SOB ordinance, however, is treated as a joke that will likely be overruled by a federal judge. For now, it's ignored by clubs that factor lewdness citations and endless litigation into the cost of doing business.
Underneath Baby Dolls' street sign, which features the word "TOPLESS" in big glittery letters, several cabs idle their engines and wait to pick up fares too drunk to drive home. Eyeing this cabbie conglomeration, a politically astute doorman is inspired to crack wise over the club's public address system. "Al Lipscomb, please come to the front," he says. "Your Yellow Cab is waiting."