Longform

A woman's touch

Page 6 of 8

"I thought my parents were killing someone. The fact is, this is a nice Leave it to Beaver family, except we're in the entertainment business."

Finally, Dawn had enough. She figured if she was going to be in this business, she'd do it the right way -- and in the right place, far enough out of mind and out of sight to stay in business without having to defend herself before a committee of moral watchdogs. She and Nick found a piece of property off Northwest Highway that was perfect: the old Dallas City Limits nightclub, behind Mercado Juarez on Spangler Road.

"We thought back then the city was eventually going to close Caligula," Dawn says, "and we knew we couldn't make a living off the pizza business anymore. Now, of course, we know better -- there are three clubs opening up within the next year. But I always wanted something really beautiful, like Las Vegas."

Dawn wanted to create a place that was the antithesis of Caligula, which appealed to the blue-collar, neon-and-nipples crowd. She dreamed of a beautiful building full of leather and oak, an elegant safe haven for businessmen looking for a little fun and some guilty pleasure.

The only problem was, she and Nick were 24 hours away from losing the property -- until Elaine Mickey stepped in and gave the two enough money to buy the building.

"When my children need help, I am there, no matter what it is," she says. "I knew this was a good property, and even if they didn't do anything with it, they would make money."

It took nine months to complete construction, with Nick in the club every morning at 5 a.m. stripping wood, laying down rocks, nailing boards to bare walls. Dawn -- who is quick to credit her husband for building the venue, though she has since assumed all the day-to-day duties of running The Lodge -- was panicked until the club opened, afraid of how much money they were pouring into it. (Though Dawn will not divulge the exact price tag, she says it would cost $2 million to build another club just like it -- or $5 million less than The Men's Club's owners insist their building cost on Northwest Highway.)

In the end, The Lodge seems like a topless bar by accident; it could well exist without the dancers, who appear almost unnecessary in a building full of animal-head trophies and Arturo Fuentes cigars. It's as GQ magazine once noted: The Lodge is almost too sophisticated to be sexy.

On most nights, the atmosphere at The Lodge is low-key, like that of a country club full of men just off the golf course. Deer and rhino heads decorate the dark, wooden walls; in the so-called Library, there are glass cases filled with shotguns -- not to mention some of Lorin Mickey's old gynecology textbooks and a photo of a young Elaine Mickey. In the back room -- the Wine Cellar, a room for members only -- there's a humidor filled with expensive cigars.

It's as though Dawn and Nick have tapped into what it means most to be a Real Man: booze, guns, cigars, and breasts.

"Men come here because they want to be flirted with and be appreciated and to get whatever they aren't getting anywhere else," Dawn explains. "They can get all of that here and not actually have an affair with somebody -- but they can still feel naughty and go home and buy their wife some flowers. To me, that's a real need we are filling here."

On a slow Thursday, a dozen or so men sit at their tables in the Library, talking business with some buddies or watching a little football or baseball on the televisions scattered throughout. They pay scant attention to a woman slowly gyrating on a stage located beneath the television sets. A few sit at the bar with women, telling their life stories to beautiful girls, the kind who would never bother with them in The Real World.

"But only sometimes do you have to act interested," says one dancer, a seven-year veteran of the local club circuit. "You understand why these guys are here -- to feel better about themselves, their lives, to get something they can't get out there. And you know -- and hopefully they know -- this is our job. This is our business."

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky