[Hpn] nice analysis of NY's quality-of-life campaign
Thu, 07 Jun 2001 13:50:56 -0700
REASON * June 2001
Fun City Confidential
Why New Yorkıs sex industry still flourishes
By Trav S.D.
In his book Low Life (1991), Luc Sante describes New York in the years from
1840 through 1919 as a city alternating between morally liberal and
reformist mayors. In Santeıs scenario, "vice," like a cockroach, will boldly
venture out into daylight, only to scurry back into the shadows when the
lawıs crude broomstick looms.
But vice, whether in daylight or shadow, never stops doing business, as the
police well know. Certainly, the hidden agenda of anti-vice law is as much
political as it is moral. Authorities make a show of Cleaning Things Up,
while (not coincidentally) raising property values in target neighborhoods.
What the applauding public and press fail to consider is that human society
has an ecological quality: Dam a river and unexpected pressures cause
chronic flooding in unlikely places.
Enter Mayor Rudy Giuliani. He had barely finished repeating the oath of
office in 1994 when he famously started squelching a panoply of "quality of
life" crimes: turnstile jumping, panhandling, street vending, drinking
alcohol on the street from open containers, marijuana possession, unlicensed
dancing in clubs, and the like. Giulianiıs list was a long one, and for the
most part, residents signed on to the effort. The public drew the line,
however, when he took on jaywalking and sub- way coffee-drinking, a
ubiquitous pair of crimes in caffeinated New York.
The stress of New York life may also account for another common "crime" that
Gothamıs Comstockian mayor was proud to confront: the cityıs unparalleled
sex industry. Long headquartered in Times Square, New Yorkıs red-light
district (made famous by such movies as Taxi Driver and Midnight Cowboy) is
effectively no more. In 1995, the mayor pushed a law through the City
Council stipulating that no sex-related business be located within 500 feet
of a school, a church, a park, or another X-rated business. The law also
mandates that no more than 40 percent of any inventory of books, videotapes,
or other such products be X-rated. After a series of court challenges, the
law went into effect in August 1998.
Infrequent visitors to Fun City are routinely shocked. Thanks to Giulianiıs
legislation and the creation of the Times Square Redevelopment Project (a
"public-private partnership"), 42nd Street between 6th and 8th Avenues now
has the character of a suburban shopping mall. Movie theaters, chain
restaurants, video arcades, and Broadway theaters (which nowadays specialize
in shows based on Hollywood films) line a street kept pristine by an army of
The transformation is so thorough that one may forget to ask the obvious
question: Where did all the perverts go? Are they home reading the Bible?
Are they investing time and energy in monogamous relationships? Or did they
simply find a new, less prominent emporium in which to buy the goods they
Where is New Yorkıs audience for sex? Everywhere. Just as Prohibition
transformed a subculture of drinkers into a generation of drunks, New York
has become a city where deviant sex has been mainstreamed.
Like true entrepreneurs, legitimate Manhattan clubs and theaters have filled
a yawning market niche by offering artistic smut -- all within a mile or two
of the former epicenter of XXX offerings. For example, at Fez, a chic "Noho"
night club, one can catch The Va Va Voom Room, a "classical burlesque show"
hosted by the latex-attired Miss Astrid and featuring a succession of
scantily clad cuties like Dirty Martini, a Rubenesque beauty who strips down
to her shoestring. At Sohoıs upscale Spy Bar, one canıt miss Tanya the Queen
of Magic, a 60-ish topless dancer wearing a Minnie Mouse mask. At the Blue
Angel Exotic Cabaret, just around the corner from New York University, see
Miss Bonnie Dunn do her fan dance. At the Lower East Sideıs Present Company
Theatorium, one can see the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus, featuring fire-eating
fellatio (actually a flaming dildo) and a plate-spinning act wherein the
stick is gripped firmly in the performerıs vagina. Down the street at the
Slipper Room, the World Famous Bob, clad only in g-string and pasties, spins
her breasts like airplane propellers. Across from the Slipper Room is Baby
Jupiter, where sex worker Melanie Mile strips naked and dances with a knife,
which she sticks you know where.
Thatıs all late-night entertainment. At happy hour, stop by Justineıs in
Chelsea, an S&M theme bar -- sort of a TGIFıs for swingers -- where the
waiters and waitresses take turns whipping each other for tips. Or you can
try the non-alcoholic Hellfire Club, a few blocks away in the meat-packing
district, where the patrons take turns whipping each other for tips.
But enough about art, you say. What about Joe Six-Pack? Where do New Yorkıs
red-blooded meat-and-potatoes men go for an old-fashioned skin show now that
Rudyıs closed down all the old sex clubs?
"Long Island City, around the base of the 59th Street Bridge," says one
trench-coated aficionado, who prefers to remain anonymous. Oh, and thereıs
the Sunset Park waterfront in Brooklyn, where many of the Times Squarearea
busi-nesses relocated after the crackdown. Both have emerged as competing
red-light districts in the wake of Rudyıs Raids, enough so that clergy in
both neighborhoods have begun campaigns for better enforcement.
Those who prefer to remain in Manhattan can still visit a number of their
favorite floor shows, many of which are hilariously transparent about their
evasion of the law. The former Billyıs Topless is now called Billyıs
Stopless. (Indeed, "stopless" dancing has become all the rage at other
former topless clubs, such as the Baby Doll Lounge, the Kit Kat Club, and
Finally, three or four joints in the Times Square area remain stubborn
islands of dirt in an otherwise wholesome sea. The biggest and most famous
of these is Show World (perversely identifiable by its child-like
carousel-themed décor). While seedy sex-hawkers hiss "Girls! Girls!" to
likely-looking passersby on the sidewalk, precisely 60 percent of its space
(and not an inch more) is devoted to Off-Off-Broadway legitimate theater. It
recently showcased a topless version of Measure for Measure.
What, then, is the bottom-line result of Mayor Giulianiıs crusade? Prior to
the Times Square crackdown (and the closing of 60-odd sex shops), there were
144 X-rated establishments supplying New York Cityıs demand. Today, the
cockroach-counting police are proud to report that there are only 142.
Trav S.D. (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a writer and performer in New York City.
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