The VIP card is a delicate and dangerous thing. Obtained via one's prestige, wealth (parental or personal) and ability to shamelessly schmooze, it can open doors to many exclusive experiences. But recent evidence suggests overuse can result in mental breakdowns involving panty-forgetting and head-shaving. Rehab, ahoy!
But I am no Lindsay or Britney; I worry not about these things. I am just a reporter popular mainly with a clan of people named Grimes who've known me since birth. Luckily, in starlet-starved Dallas, even lowly reporters like me have access to a limited-use VIP card. I decided to give mine a whirl.
My target: a Friday night at the W Hotel's Ghostbar. I had heard of long, long lines for the 33rd-floor high-rise bar and rumors of celebrities and hot DJs. Of course, the best place to get the VIP experience would be the bathroom. Drugs! Sex! Rich girls bawling off their MAC mascara!
A call to a Ghostbar public relations flack, who may not have realized that the newspaper I work for spends more time covering wonky political battles than plugging the 12,389 best places to get breast augmentation, got me "plus two" on "the list."
I arrive with my plus twos—Mandy, a smokin' hot soon-to-be law student, and Lauren, a public relations major whose smile contributes directly to global warming—on a cold, rainy night and turn my car over to the valet. Bundled up but feeling frisky, we are prepared to breeze by the line of freezing club-going hopefuls, among them the gentlemen who will pay $20 cover to get in. But there is no line. And when I tell the host we're on the—ahem!—list, she shrugs.
"Dallas Morning News," she says to a black-clad guide who takes off at a sprint.
I begin to correct her, but we've already been stuffed in an elevator and vaulted up to the 33rd floor, where the Ghostbar is lit with iridescent blue and green tones, like a futuristic Smurf rave. Determined to make the best of our non-VIP entrance, I start expensing some drinks.
With Mandy and Lauren clutching weak vodka tonics and with my own thin Jack Daniel's in hand, we troll for seats, trying not to bump into cocktail waitresses wearing giant white platform boots, white miniskirts and what almost qualify as entire white tank tops. Every table has a "reserved" sign atop it. Several appear to be reserved for exactly no one. The bar is hardly half full, and the glass-bottomed balcony is closed because of the bad weather.
As for the wildlife: a 50-something woman in a floor-length fur coat walks by, while in a VIP booth near the bar, a group of gray-haired men toast their trophy girlfriends (no wedding rings here). With nowhere to sit, we stand awkwardly in a walkway, sipping our drinks, listening to the DJ spin what sounds like a Bloodhound Gang remix from 1999. It is so, so very time for the VIP card. I flag down a bouncer and tell him we're with the media.
In swoops Brad, a short, spiky-haired guy in a black suit. He is the VIP host. Soon, we are relaxing at a table near the "dance floor," another tile walkway by the DJ. The skankily dressed waitresses in their spacey uniforms attend to the real VIPs, who've bought bottle service for around $500 a table. They are oblivious to our need for new drinks.
A bachelorette party grinds on the dance walkway, rubbing rear ends with each other. Mingling is not on the menu. Two men with jet-black hair and pleated pants ogle a woman dancing by herself. She looks like she probably had a great time as a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader back in '86 but may have opted for those breast implants before they really perfected the art. Where are the beautiful people? Did Studio 54 ever have an off night? It's time for a trip to the bathroom.
Brushed metal stalls and more ghostly lighting make the ladies' room feel a little bit Star Wars and a little bit strip club. I try hiding in a stall, but the flushing is too loud to hear anything, so I head over to the sink to play with my hair.
It's quiet until a stripper from Amarillo stumbles through the door. I recognize the telltale signs of drunk-girl-about-to-yarf-itis.
"Are you OK?" I ask, trying to make eye contact with this dark-haired girl.
"I'm uhh..." she looks up at the ceiling. "I'm uhhh strippperrrrr."
"Are your friends here?"
"Friends are...in, in," she stammers. "I am from...Amarillo. I'm uhhhh strippperrrrr." Jumping out of the line of fire (hey, I'm a VIP) I hand her off to the bathroom attendant and return to the table to find extremely bored plus twos. We sit through a Justin Timberlake remix and stare into our empty drinks. Brad, the VIP host, must have bored-patron radar. He appears from somewhere deep in the depths of douchebaggery.
"Would you ladies like to split a bottle of Grey Goose with these Russian gentlemen?" Brad gestures to a table of businessmen.
Yes! We need to drink delicious martinis with strapping blond men regaling us with stories of struggling entrepreneurship in the wake of the communist fallout! As we approach their table, however, one of them shakes his head. Brad ushers us back to our seats.
"He says you are pretty American girls, but they don't know enough English to talk to you." Denied.
When Mandy and Lauren hit up the bathroom for a recon mission, I prop my aching feet up on a mod white chair. I imagine a bottle of Louis XIII cognac—a steal at $2,200—on the table in front of me and a harem of Justin Timberlake look-alikes vying for my attention. That, I think, is the VIP treatment—not falling asleep to the best of 106.1-KISS FM circa '96-'99. My daydream is interrupted by a hand on my shoulder.
"Sweetie, you can't have your feet on the chair."
I stare up at the bouncer blankly, trying to figure out if he's kidding. Less than 5 feet away, I can see a beefed-up bonehead in a VIP booth grinding his crotch into the face of a blond woman pretending to place his member in her mouth. I can't have my feet on the freaking chair?
"No feet on the chair," he repeats.
I may have given the valet $10 to park my car 20 feet away and forked over $9 for a half-shot of Jack Daniel's, but if I think I'm putting my feet on this chair I am sadly mistaken. Simulated oral sex: totally acceptable. Attempted podiatric comfort: way out of line.
At least I've figured out a surefire way to get somebody's attention for a refill. I wonder if this guy can flag down one of those skanktresses. But by the time I get my feet on the floor and my senses in order, the bouncer's gone and Mandy and Lauren are back. The bachelorette party left, they report.
I can't blame the girls for moving the party elsewhere. If anything would make me want to vacate the dating scene, squeeze out four kids and set up camp in a trailer just outside Midlothian, it's spending an evening in this place. But it's not long before soccer moms hear the irresistible call of vodka shots once again, according to new intel from Mandy and Lauren's most recent bathroom excursion. They'd run into a middle-aged woman in a butt-length peasant dress and thigh-high boots we'd seen shuffling in and out of the bathroom all night long. No, she didn't have digestive issues. She had spawn.
"She was calling the baby sitter to check on her kids," deadpans Mandy, shaking her empty glass. Whither skanktresses? I decide to grab another round from the bar and do another turn in the restroom.
I thought I was having déjà vu. As I fluffed my bangs, I could see another brunette with too much eyeliner and displaying too much boob leaning sleepily against the paper towel dispenser. Two drunk strippers in one night? Shit, I think. Somebody's doling out roofies at the bar. I turn to talk to her, but she starts pointing at a girl with a visible thong heading into a stall.
"I'm not bi...bisexxxual," she slurs, difficult to understand not just because she's wasted, but also because of a heavy accent. "But daaaaaaaaaaamn." She nods toward the now-closed stall door.
"Good-looking?" I asked.
"Yeaaaaaah. Hey, you're hawwwwwt tooo!"
"A hearrrrt breakerrrr! I fix broken hearrrrrts!"
"Oh yeah?" I'm wondering if there's a special form of stripper voodoo I haven't heard about.
"I'm a hearrrrt surrg...surgeon," she says.
"I live in...uh...Panama?" she continues, "But the money is better. Here. I'm a heart, uh, surgeon."
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Oh, dear. It is time to go.
On the elevator ride down, the attendant laughs at us as we give the night a big verbal thumbs down. "Did y'all meet Brad?" We did.
"You know he used to be a VR Trooper?" the attendant says, name-checking a '90s Power Rangers rip-off TV show. All this time, celebrity had been right under our noses while we looked for it in Russians and restrooms. Sure enough, a trip to IMDB.com the next day revealed Brad's impressive 43-episode run as "Ryan Steele." Oh, sweet irony.
What had I expected? This isn't the Hollywood Hills. Of course I wasn't going to run into Paris Hilton snorting coke off Colin Farrell's bare chest. But we did have a brief brush with fame, even if it was with a former kids show actor who got us rejected by a bunch of foreign businessmen. That's not so bad. And if you see me at the Ghostbar ever again, know that, in my heart, I'll always be a VIP—a very irritated patron.