Football and strippers: You can't say you've done Dallas till you see a little of both

The nice, pretty lady in glasses asks, "Are you sure you don't want a private room?" It's a strange question. The place is mostly empty, a cavernous expanse of tables covered in white linen bathed in the eerie X-ray-blue glow. Three men sit at one table near the front, just to the left of the stage over which two sculpted jaguars keep watch, their eyes glowing. A woman sits with them. They sip club soda, watching the action on stage: Two women saunter back and forth across the hardwood, not bothering to keep time with the tin-foil metal booming from the speakers. Their tops are off; sometimes, their bottoms too.

The nice, pretty lady in the glasses explains we've arrived too early—9:32 on a Monday night, what a couple of schmucks. She says the party doesn't get going till after hours, midnight at the earliest, then rolls till the break of day—sometimes, till 7 in the morning on Sundays. "And then, it's a party," she says. "My girls and I like to party." She wears nothing more than a neon-green bikini, which, under this light, appears to glow in the dark. When she grins, all you can see are her teeth, white and bright.

The nice, pretty lady in the glasses insists this place will be packed come Super Bowl weekend, when the doors will stay open from Friday morning till Sunday night...or Monday morning...or whenever. "We're open 69 hours," she says, again punctuating her promise with that glow-in-the-dark grin. Another girl—blond bangs, cut-off T-shirt, her breasts bouncing up and down on command like there's a game of Whac-A-Mole going on under there—plops down on my lap, uninvited.

"Are you sure you don't want a private room?" she asks. Only costs $150 an hour for the room; another $300 for each girl. "We can do anything in there." (Well, sure, maybe you can...)

Not anything, really, not technically. This is, after all, only a strip club. Jaguars, to be specific, a BYOB joint where, on a slow Monday, cover runs $15 and a pitcher of seltzer goes for $11.50. But it's a relative (cough) bargain—you're not paying upwards of $11 for a thimble full of well-drink whatever. And in Texas, BYOB means bottoms up and bottoms off. No need to pretend this is classy. Just assy.

Jaguars is a strange place in a strange place, a sprawling McMansion dropped in the middle of a dusty industrial park not far from a major thoroughfare, Northwest Highway, that feels a million miles away at this very moment. One of the dancers equates it to the strip club in the Robert Rodriguez movie From Dusk Till Dawn, in which George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino find themselves in a desert nudie joint where dancers sprout fangs and feast on customers. We all laugh.

Time to go.

Jaguars pops up frequently on the must-hit list of topless and nudie joints in Dallas, a city renowned for such establishments ever since Jack Ruby and Abe Weinstein cornered the meat market with their burlesqueries 50 years ago. A "stripopolis," someone once called it, even after the city ran off the clubs whose lights twinkled in the reflection off Bachman Lake. Also on the list, in no particular order: Cabaret Royale, the Spearmint Rhino, XTC, The Lodge, Baby Dolls, Onyx, Silver City, the Clubhouse, the Men's Club.

Some of those are the top-notch topless joints in town, a fine layer of swank shellacked over the prurience to varying degrees of success. The Spearmint Rhino, its expansive foyer decorated with gold-framed centerfold photos, looks like someone turned their grandmother's Southern manse into a New Orleans brothel. The high prices suggest the remodeling set them back a small fortune. The Men's Club, once Dallas' gold standard, is more tarnished bronze now; Cabaret, the benchmark during its go-go '80s heyday, has become an afterthought—and an after-hours thought, given it too has gone the all-nude route.

Above them all towers The Lodge, the only topless bar in town where a man can find himself buried in a good book should the evening take a terrible turn. (I once left there with a former judge's leather-bound copy of the 1940 Dallas City Code, stacked on a shelf in the gorgeous back-room library.) An expanse of oak and skin and mounted animal heads, Dawn Rizos' club is the only one in town managed by a nice Jewish boy formerly employed at the city's only daily newspaper. Here, you feel like mishpucha, like family—if, that is, your family consisted of extraordinarily beautiful women who have difficulty keeping their evening gowns properly fastened.

Which doesn't even begin to skim the lotion-covered surface; up and down Harry Hines, for instance, you'll still find the beckoning neon of all-nudie-pie Pandora's Box (where I once fell in love with an indie-rock-loving blonde in a Supergirl half-T, my Kryptonite) and Lipstick Cabaret, both of which are perched near the best-named bar in Dallas: the Conflict of Interest. And the King's Cabaret still does its low-rent hustle on Market Center Boulevard. Last time I was in there, a good decade ago, I witnessed a stripper trying to beat a customer to death with her one good arm. Haven't been back since.

Most of the upper-end joints will be packed this weekend, of course—with customers and with girls. The local ladies, anticipating a few hefty paydays the likes of which they've never seen, are also nervous about the vagabond "entertainers" rolling into town for the big game. Clubs that normally employ 40 to 50 girls on a Wednesday night expect up to 200 girls on the floor, each one hustling for that $20 lap dance.

"No time for small talk," says one of the girls at Baby Dolls. "It'll be all work, work, work." She's 22, a smart, funny brunette who's been there two years—Brandy, though it could be with an "i." But then she corrects herself: "And when I say work, I mean: Have fun."

Baby Dolls is Dallas' top titty bar, literally: It sells more booze every month than any other joint in town, The Lodge included. It's easy to see why: It's a great bar where the ladies happen to be topless, no big. Admission was but three dollars on a Monday night, a fraction of other nearby clubs' cover charges; drinks too are decently priced—you won't pay for a sip what you'd normally spill for a full bottle out in The Real World. As for the women: "It's 31 flavors," as one longtime barkeep puts it. "Someone for everyone." And, why, yes, of course that means you.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky