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Hell Night in Fort Wayne, part 3.
By Chris Colcord
Fort Wayne Reader
The following is a record of the final stops on my recent "heart of darkness" journey into some of Fort Wayne's most notorious night spots. I deliberately scheduled these stops for last because they made me the most anxious and I wanted to put them off until the very end.
1:20am-2:40am: Shangri-La, Poor John's
Okay, full disclosure--I am a profane man with a checkered history of licentious behavior and I freely acknowledge that my Billy Sunday, revivalist fury against strip joints makes me a total hypocrite. Understood. And let me further admit that I am not a moral compass, that I don't own a moral compass, that I don't even know where to buy a moral compass. Having said all that, however, I must declare with absolute certainty that strip joints are for creeps and skanks and anybody who walks through their doors instantly becomes a lesser person.
Of course, becoming a lesser person is sort of the point of strip clubs. Everybody needs a place where they can let loose, or so the theory goes. As a brazen, callow youth I went to my share of bachelor parties and twenty-first birthday celebrations, I tucked and prodded and got glittered, but almost immediately I realized you'd have to be a moral imbecile not to see that strip joints are designed to bring out the absolute worst in people. I went to the Gibson Girl once (at 21) and caught sight of something I've never been able to shake--the back of a stripper's thighs, black and blue and bruised. This may have been someone's idea of an erotic fantasy, but it just made me feel sickened and scared. I saw the girl as a person, felt terrible for her, which was the last thing the club wanted--you can't make money off sudden flashes of humanity.
I also realized very quickly at the Gibson Girl that the strippers who were taking my money--the ones who were smiling, and flirty, and asked me a half dozen times if I was having a good time--they hated me. They tried to hide it, but it never entirely left. Ever notice the vengeful glee strippers show when they get some poor groom-to-be or newly-turned twenty-one year old onstage? It's supposed to be funny, the way they humiliate and mock the guys onstage, but the smiles always seemed frighteningly feral to me.
And really, who can blame them? Most strip joints claim to be "Gentlemen's Clubs," but damned if I've ever seen anything that remotely resembled a "gentleman" at any one of them. And that's ultimately what keeps me away--I don't want to be known as a member of that particular club. I've had friends who've joked that I'm not much of a man because I don't like strip joints, but the fact is, I'm too straight--if I wanted to share my sexual fantasies with a room full of guys, hell, I'd just start sleeping with them. It was nearly impossible to explain to them that to me, strip joints are the absolute antithesis of eroticism.
But on Saturday, I hadn't brought those creased one dollar bills for nothing, so when I got to Shangri-La I immediately checked my humanity at the door and pulled a ringside seat. My intention for the entire night was to immerse myself fully in the experience, after all, so I switched off my righteousness and became Strip Joint Guy. And guess what? Outside of a few more tattoos and a few more surgically enhanced bodies, the experience was virtually identical to the Gibson Girl, 1982. I managed to lose most of my twenty-five ones in about an hour, which was similar to the dissolve rate back in the day. If you pull a ringside seat, you're obligated to tuck a few dollars, but really, the entire place is designed to make you lose all your money no matter where you sit. In the nether reaches, strippers constantly circulate among the patrons, offering private, dollar dances, and it is virtually impossible to turn them down. When you're at a strip club, the girl is a Hustler and you're a Mark, and there's simply no place to hide.
I will say that all the dancers I spoke with (and got mauled by) were friendly enough, and I didn't sense the antipathy from them that I was expecting. And the sound system was great--I've always maintained that if Hell has a good soundtrack, I could bear it with equanimity. The initial songs were awful, party rap and nu metal, but when Green Day kicked in to a stripper's routine, I loved the music so much (and it was so gloriously loud) that I hyped myself into having a good time.
The sound system at Poor John's, of course, is not nearly as sophisticated. It's a juke box, and the dancers have to punch in their songs before taking their place. This provides some entertaining and embarrassing moments. One dancer performed her first song, mostly clothed, and was preparing to dramatically remove her top as the second song began, but there was a long pause between songs, and she completely mistimed her move. She stood still on the stage, naked to the waist, waiting for the song to begin. I felt like I was at a play, watching an actor try to remember his lines.
I'd always heard that this place was the bottom of the barrel, but it didn't seem nearly as debauched as I imagined. In fact, I rather liked the look of Poor John's--not rundown at all, with terrific lighting. And maybe I'm a romantic, but I've always had a fondness for older, seen-it-all guys that work in bars, and the doorman taking my money was that guy to a tee. I can never feel threatened when they're around. The bartender, too, was extremely pleasant--I rarely get all flushed with civic pride, but I have to say, even in our fleshpots, we have some of the friendliest folks in the country.
Last call: The Rock
Iíve always been terrified of The Rock, because I'm a wuss, and it looks like the sort of place where wusses get beaten up. I've heard various descriptions of the clientele from friends, and I imagined roving gangs of killer bikers seated at the bar, clicking knives and waiting for some dork like me to show up for the evening's entertainment. So I'm rather embarrassed to admit that, once again, my pre-conceived notions were a million miles off.
This may sound obvious, but I'm guessing the best way to describe The Rock's clientele is thus: they serve drunks. The prices are outrageously cheap--one Manhattan at Club Soda would probably buy you six drinks here--and the people I saw that night, well, I'm going to go out on a limb and guess they've probably been there before. Dealing with drunks can be tricky, of course, you have to keep your eyes peeled, but once I read the room at The Rock most of my fear evaporated. The bartender and the DJ--a matriarch and a patriarch--looked like they had everything in control, and I knew if I just obeyed the rules, everything would be fine. It's a good rule of thumb when going to a new bar--pay for your drinks immediately, overtip your bartender, and keep your head down. And thus The Rock was rid of all menace to me, and I bet I'll come back again.
The strip joints, of course, took most of my money--I dropped about $55 dollars at the two places. I walked into the Rock with ninety dollars left, and spent ten. Total cost for Hell Night: $120.