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NY Times: At Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club in Manhattan

In any act of fantasy — from a feature film to a political campaign — there is a hidden place where the dirty work gets done, where the make-believe is made.

In Hollywood, this is the editing room; in Washington, the spin room. At Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club, a strip joint on Manhattan’s West Side, it is the dancers’ private dressing room where the image of available sexuality and the naked facts collide.

Tucked behind a closed door upstairs from the dance floor, the dressing room is a shrine to female beauty — to the tireless attempts to tease the hair into a proper state of sultriness and adjust the bosoms upward at just the right incline. It is a small piece of the contemporary demimonde (strippers nibble take-out food in thongs and gold lamé). Near a plastic bowl of pretzels, a topless beauty steams the wrinkles from her ball gown with an iron. A tall brunette in nothing but a G-string wanders by. She is brushing her teeth.

Presiding over this congested locker room-cum-hair salon is the winsome Ivana, the house mom, a former dancer of Ukrainian extraction. After hanging up her heels five years ago, Ivana now rides herd over 25 to 70 girls a night (and they are universally, even among themselves, called “girls”), managing their schedules, collecting fees, informing the D.J. when they’ve ducked out for a smoke and generally serving as the in-house sitter for what her colleague, Kate the makeup girl, calls “naked daycare.”

“I was never really made for dancing,” Ivana says with a pout. “You need to be an actress. You have to pretend you love to be there. I have a business degree from Farleigh Dickinson University. Whoever thunk it I’d be here?”

Yet there she is: four nights every week, 7 p.m. to 5 a.m., behind a large desk strewn with paperwork and within reach of a hat rack with a rainbow array of garter belts and panties. She has at her command a staggering supply of health and beauty aids, from cotton balls to breath mints. One drawer is labeled “midol, tampax, dental floss, oragel.” Another, rather cryptically, says, “meds.”

Beyond such medicinal and administrative duties, Ivana is responsible for the last check of all dancers headed for the clientele downstairs. Are the nails done? Does the breath smell sweet? Has the cellphone been removed from the purse? Things get personal rather quickly. A towering stripper in an abbreviated costume daintily whisked her hems up so Ivana could be certain that her underwear matched her dress.

Then there are auditions — ritual affairs in which the candidate stands naked save a G-string and a pair of spiky heels. The manager spins his finger, and the girl in question makes a slow 360-degree turn. The victors are advised to see Ivana, the vanquished told: Don’t call us, we’ll call you.

By 11 one night, the dressing room was empty, as the bankers at the bar were in need of some attention. Only Chuck, who fixes hair, Kate, Ivana and a few straggling dancers still remained.

It was the quiet time of night, when one might finally have a drink.

Kate and Chuck had glasses of Champagne, but Ivana opted for a water. There was paperwork to do and tipsy strippers to get home in a cab. Five a.m. was coming. But it was still six hours away.


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