By David Watts Barton, The Sacramento Bee, January 18, 1996
The place is known as a “juice bar, ” but the men sitting around tables, nursing non-alcoholic drinks, aren’t here for their health.
They are here to watch and admire and talk to women. Young women. Attractive women. Naked women.
Very naked women.
Up on the low, simple stage bisected by a vertical brass pole that serves as her only prop, a young woman gyrates to the strains of Rick Derringer’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll, Hoochie Koo.” Her costume, minimal to begin with, is long gone, and she leaves very little to the imagination.
Welcome to the daily view at not one but four “juice bars” in Sacramento County.
Three of the juice bars – so called because they don’t serve alcohol, thus allowing them to bypass the reach of Alcohol Beverage Control, which regulates bars and the activities in them – have drawn attention because they opened within the last year in a prominent area of Rancho Cordova.
Two of the bars – Centerfolds on Folsom Boulevard and Tailfeathers on Pyrites Way – are visible from Highway 50, while the third, Risky Business Showgirls, is on Trade Center Drive, just off of Sunrise Boulevard, across the street from Home Depot. The fourth, City Limits, is across town, on Auburn Boulevard.
Were they simply placed out of sight among the other nondescript warehouses of the area, they wouldn’t attract notice. But their prominent location has made them a part of the daily visual diet of thousands of commuters.
And they have raised the hackles of at least one prominent resident.
Greg Hardcastle, a Rancho Cordova developer who says his company, 21st Century Properties, built the warehouses that now house the businesses, is attempting to shut the juice bars down, using building codes and the local media. He recently got three local television stations to do stories on his objections to the clubs.
“Why do they go there?” he asks rhetorically of the bars’ patrons. “This is not Sunday school, this is not a church meeting. This is women dancing nude for these men. . . . Are these family men, men who are in love with their wives, are they chaste men? I don’t consider people who go to those places to be people who put their families first. In my mind, it’s prostitution.”
Hardcastle also suggests that the men who visit the juice bars – on one recent visit, a diverse collection of men in jeans, in suits, of different races and economic classes – may go on sexual rampages upon leaving the bars. Matthew, 42, objects to that idea.
“That’s outrageous, ” he says. “I get a little, you know, frisky afterwards, but I’m not going to go out raping and pillaging. I just go home.”
Jason, 37, has been to Showgirls several times, sometimes for the free lunch that comes with the $5 cover-plus-drinks. His reasons for going are simple. “I like the view . . . and some of the girls are nice people. Why go to Denny’s when you can come here?” he asks. “It’s fun.”
Still, he, like Matthew, doesn’t want to give his last name. “My wife wouldn’t, uh, understand, ” he says with a nervous chuckle.
Other men approached in the bars are hesitant to talk to a reporter. Patronizing a place with nude dancers carries with it a certain stigma. Hardcastle hopes to use that stigma in his battle against the bars, borrowing the tactics of anti-pornography groups in other cities.
“They just take video of the people entering these establishments and then buy time on community cable and air it, ” he says. “Perhaps we should do that.”
Hardcastle has sympathy from Sacramento County Supervisor Don Nottoli, whose District 5 includes the area.
“From a personal standpoint, I’d prefer they weren’t there, ” he says. “Even though I know there aren’t many problems. But there are concerns from a standpoint of the image that it presents of the community.”
But, Nottoli notes, “We (the Board of Supervisors) unanimously supported (the ordinance regulating juice bars), so yes, I’m satisfied that the legal requirements have been met.”
That ordinance is an expanded version of an earlier one that barred such businesses within 500 feet of “sensitive” establishments (homes, schools, retail businesses). That distance was doubled in November to 1,000 feet. The establishments need to be in industrial zones. But since it is illegal in California to have nude dancing in a place that serves alcohol, the alcohol-free juice bars escape other ordinances against nude dancing.
Indeed, to all appearances, juice bars are law-abiding neighbors. In fact, a spokesman for the county planning commission reports that Hardcastle’s is the only complaint the commission has received against the juice bars.
Other than their signs, very little distinguishes the juice bars from their surroundings. There are no washed-out photos of nude bodies, no lurid silhouettes with strategically placed lightbulbs, no shifty-eyed doormen in bad suits making promises they don’t intend to keep.
When one enters a juice bar, one is treated with an almost exaggerated deference mixed with firmness. At Showgirls, with its maroon sofas, low lighting and its array of video monitors showing various sporting events, each customer is read the rules before the velvet cord is lifted and he is allowed to enter – after handing over the $5 cover charge.
Once inside, the rules are rigidly adhered to. No glass is allowed to stand empty – “We have a policy, ” explains the waitress, as she delivers another $3 Coke or apple juice.
At times, it’s hard to tell which is the real point in the juice bars, sex . . . or money. As the women dance, men drape dollar bills over the edge of the stage for the “girls” to pick up. Waitresses urge another cranberry juice or Coke, and women who are not dancing offer a “table dance, ” where they writhe right in front of a customer for the tidy sum of $15.
And while it might seem chivalrous to take the waitress up on her offer to “buy the lady a drink, ” such gentlemanly behavior will cost you $10.
But all of this is well-contained behind the tilt-up, prefab walls of the three establishments off Highway 50.
Craig Larson’s boat showroom, Larson’s Marine, shares a driveway with Centerfolds. He declines an interview request, but says simply, “I haven’t had any problems with it.”
Neither has the sheriff’s department.
“As far as drugs and prostitution, we haven’t had any problems with them, ” says Detective Gerry Ballard, who has been watching the juice bars since Tailfeathers, the first – and the only locally owned juice bar – opened in late 1994.
“The management knows that if things were allowed to go too far, the pressure would come down real quick, ” he says. “Part is the public scrutiny, and part is that they can do everything legitimate and still make a living.”
Ballard doesn’t just take the managers’ word for it. “I go in and observe what’s going on . . . and we send in undercover officers to make sure the clubs are complying.”
In short, says Ballard, “There are more problems with alcohol bars and dance clubs that serve alcohol than there are with the juice bars.”
John Monroe, manager of Tailfeathers, says this is no accident. He and his fellow juice bar managers (who declined to speak to The Bee) know that they have to be on their best behavior.
“People always think bad things are going to happen, but we police ourselves more than most any business, ” says Monroe, “because we are under such scrutiny. There isn’t a bar in town that can say it hasn’t had a fight, but we haven’t. The moralists decide that this is bad, and they go after us. But they don’t know what they’re talking about.
“One lady complained that she had a 16-year-old son who was going to try to get in, ” says Monroe. “And I said, “Well, he can try, but he’s not going to get in.’ ” The age limit in the juice bars is 18.
Although what they’re selling hasn’t changed in millennia, and will be forever offensive to people across the political and cultural spectrum, the juice bars seem to represent a more decorous, if not modern, way of pandering to an ancient need.
“The old clubs were pretty sleazy, ” admits Monroe. “But those days are going fast.”
Instead, he argues, today’s juice bars are respectable.
“It’s almost like a geisha house, ” he says. “There’s no sex there, there’s no sex here. Everyone thinks it’s sex, but look: Most of the people who come out here, they come out here for conversation, not the view. They are guys who don’t, as a rule, go to (a bar) and pick up a girl, but they want to talk to some pretty girls, and here a girl will talk to them and be nice.”
Not to mention be naked.
“I tell ya something, ” Monroe responds. “It is harder to get a stripper into bed than most women in bars, because it’s just not happening for them, they’re around it every day. It’s not what they’re there for.”
What the dancers are there for is money. After asking politely for anonymity, an 18-year-old dancer we’ll call Daphne (not her real stage name, which in turn is not her real name) discusses her work.
“Most of the girls aren’t here to show off their bodies; they’re here to make money, ” she says. “I guess I’m just lazy. I worked in malls and stuff, but this is much easier. It’s pretty laid-back work.”
A bad night can net a dancer only $50 for a six-hour shift (after paying the house $35 a shift to perform). But an average night brings in $100 to $200, and Daphne says that on a very busy weekend night, when the money is flowing, a girl can bring home as much as $800.
They do that by dancing onstage, but better money comes from a more specialized activity: table dancing.
A table dance doesn’t take place on a table, but next to one. Up close and personal, for $15. A spinoff of “lap dancing, ” where a naked woman writhes in the customer’s lap, a table dance means that the dancer is close enough to touch.
But it is advisable not to do that, as signs in at least one club state in no uncertain terms. Even the dancers are restricted in their ability to touch customers.
Daphne explains: “You can touch their faces or their knees, and if you lose your balance, you can touch them here, ” she says, motioning to a shoulder, “until you get your balance back.”
Illegal touching – especially the solicitation for prostitution that Hardcastle fears and Ballard and his officers watch for – does occasionally occur, says Daphne, but, she adds, “We’re supposed to report it, and if the management sees it, they’ll suspend you or yell at you. Most of the girls are married, anyway.”
Then comes the inevitable question. Daphne, young and apparently guileless, doesn’t fit the image of the tough, jaded nude dancer. At least, not yet. What’s the deal?
“I have guys say, “You’re so nice, why are you doing this?’ ” she says.
“I say, “You’re so nice, why are you here?’ ”
Why are they?
“They’re lonely, a lot of them, or they want a fantasy, ” she says. “They just come to look at the pretty girls. It’s not a crime, you know.”