By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Elaine is talking over some bad techno music at the Absinthe Lounge in the South Side on Lamar building. She's telling me about her brilliant 17-year-old son, who bestows his wisdom upon a younger friend. "And so he tells this kid, 'All those rich people in Highland Park, if you take away their money, what are they? What do they have inside?'"
I'm trying to pay attention, but I can't stop looking at her impossibly puffy lips and prominent front teeth. With her big doe eyes and globular breasts, she looks like an anthropomorphized rabbit in some kind of furry-fetish porn movie. She's talking in the loud, slightly slurred voice of a 30-something woman who doesn't get drunk nearly as often as she'd like. In my mind, I decide to call her Drunken Porno Bunny. She continues:
"My son tells this kid, 'It's what's on the inside of you that counts.'"
Elaine beams a beauty pageant smile, and I can't tell if the irony or the enamel is more blinding. See, Elaine's a member of a club called The Beautiful Room. You sign up online at thebeautifulroom.com, submit four close-up and full-length photographs, then, if you're hot enough, you get a phone interview and pay the owners $30 a month to join. A secret world of parties, photo shoots and super-hotness awaits you behind beautiful doors. Non-beautiful outsiders are not allowed admittance to monthly Beautiful Room events. When The Beautiful Room goes to clubs, VIP booths are reserved for "beautiful people" only. So, it's what's on the inside that counts?
I hightail it to the bar for another Jack. Two months ago, when I was graciously welcomed into TBR's fold, I probably would have tried to befriend Drunken Porno Bunny. Now, at the official March TBR party, I'm just trying to make it through the night without hearing too many people talk loudly about their sweet new cars. But why spend the whole evening restraining myself from lighting into Drunken Porno Bunny about her confused priorities when I can try it out with everyone in the room?
I first heard about the Beautiful Room in January, when a co-worker spotted an advertisement online seeking attractive people to work for this exclusive club in Dallas. With a tattoo and a nose piercing, I didn't exactly fill the physical bill for the yuppie-centric Beautiful Room, but I had to at least try to get the story. After submitting a few shots of myself in a tight, strappy tank top and blabbering through an introductory phone interview in which I did my best dipshit Dallas gold-digger impression, I was in. The Absinthe Lounge party is one of their exclusive events, and I'm sashaying around in a black cocktail dress from Target that makes me stand out like a sore thumb. It is all too obvious that I'm not flaunting my plentiful breasts or sculpted stomach.
I look around Absinthe for Cavell, on whom I rely to keep me sane when TBR people do things like wear sunglasses inside dark clubs, something several members do often. Cavell and I met at the first official TBR event I attended, the February photo shoot. We originally bonded over the Spanish Inquisition.
"Nobody expects them!" I'd exclaimed, and Cavell, a fellow Monty Python fan, laughed. It was a warm night in February. I was constantly adjusting my pink leopard-print bra strap, having chosen the pushy-uppiest of push-up bras for the occasion.
The shoot was at an expansive white-walled studio in the Design District, and behind us, beautiful people were taking turns in front of the cameras while others sipped vodka tonics from the makeshift bar. It was kind of a classy affair, even though one girl running around with no pants on, just a long sweater that barely covered her ass.
The founder of the Beautiful Room--a baby-faced guy convinced that if I tell you his name he'll lose his sweet real-estate consulting gig--flitted around the room introducing new members to the old guard. He founded the Beautiful Room last year with his wife, a busty blond civil lawyer prone to wearing feathery brunette wigs for fun.
The way I understand it, the couple decided that they were so beautiful and their friends were so beautiful and they had such "beautiful experiences" with these beautiful friends, why not just have a club full of beautiful people? And hell, while we're at it, let's charge 'em for it. As the founder put it to me during my introductory phone interview: "Have you ever been in a club and wished you could get rid of half the people in the room?" At that point, I hadn't. But after nights out with the TBR crowd at Sense and the Candle Room, I started to identify with the sentiment.
TBR folks probably don't kick kittens or laugh at retarded kids, but I still never shook off the creepy factor. Maybe it's too easy to stereotype the young, single Dallas professional's lifestyle, but TBR members seem to structure their lives around making it out to Republic on Tuesdays or Martini Ranch for happy hour. I asked one TBR guy if he'd gotten himself anything special for his recent birthday, and he told me, "No, I'm pretty good to myself every day, and I already have everything I want." The people in TBR are headhunters, real estate agents and lawyers. They work in consulting or the finance industry. A few are waiters. Others may still be milking the parents. The kinds of jobs (or non-jobs) that, at the end of the day, probably do make you want to get wasted and play grab-ass with other people who validate their financial success by paying $9 for a martini.