Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Description of The Sho-Bar
325 Bourbon Street is one of the most infamous addresses in my old junkie mind. Before Katrina, I spent most of my time there, working to pay for my expensive heroin habit. I can see the interior in my mind so clearly, as if I were still there. The place has changed since the hurricane, which is a shame because there was so much history there.
325 Bourbon is where The Shobar stood for years and years. It is rumored that the site was the first strip club in America and most certainly the oldest in New Orleans. Its history undoubtedly dates back to the red light districts of Storyville times, as the club sits on the edge of what was once the Storyville District. Walking inside, one became instantly aware of its checkered past.
The doorman stood out on the street just outside the double doors, barking at the people walking by, enticing them to come inside. Sometimes the girls would join him on the stoop, hawking at men on the street in attempts to draw more business inside. The girls were not supposed to leave the club, and most often they stood in the foyer, just inside the doors. This did not mean that it was impossible to leave, as I can attest. I would often have to make a dope run just before the night shift really got cranking.
I put on one of my most street worthy stripper outfits, which was generally a black vinyl nurse’s uniform with red flames accompanied by my knee high black vinyl boots. I stepped out of the doors, bullshitting for a few minutes like I was hawking at customers. Then, I turned to the left and darted down Bourbon to the corner. Turning on Conti, I picked up the pace as I rushed to meet the man with no less than two hundred dollars in my boot. (Often, I had much, much more.) A man called Turtle often met me on Conti, just a block away from Bourbon on Dauphine. I hopped in the car and quickly made the transaction. Hugging tightly to numerous little foils of my precious dope, I headed back down Dauphine towards Canal for one block until I turned on Bienville. Walking up Bienville to Bourbon, I passed several bars and fine dining restaurants. I made the block at Bourbon and was back in the club lickety-split.
When I returned from a dope run, anxious eyes always greeted me, waiting for their precious packages. Gathering in the dressing room, I distributed the foils like I was Santa Claus handing out gifts on Christmas morning. Let the moneymaking begin!
Once you entered the club from Bourbon Street, you stepped back in time. It was dark as hell in there, and the interior was dark wood and burgundy leather. It was always an adjustment on one’s eyes, even from the nighttime neon of Bourbon Street. Once your eyes grew accustomed to the darkness, you could see the inside of the place was really cool. It was old school, and you could tell it had remained unchanged for years. I think it is sad that it was completely gutted and remodeled after Katrina.
To the right was the bar. One end of the bar was almost on top of the window that faced Bourbon Street. This end of the bar was open and the bartender would come and go as he pleased. The phone was back in this corner, and I made and received many calls about dope from that phone. I even made a few calls to that phone from jail.
The bar itself was made of a dark wood, smooth from years of customers drinking and sloshing drinks. I can still feel the edge of the bar underneath my fingers as I think about it. It was an old bar with a raised and curved edge that went all the way around. The wood was softened from age and wear, and I often would push my nails into it, almost digging out little pieces of the soft wood. It was a nervous habit I had acquired while sitting there waiting for either money or dope.
The other end of the bar, opposite the windows and phone, met up with the stage. This allowed the bartender to keep an eye on the stage from where he stood to mix drinks. Sitting at the bar, even in the daytime, one always noticed how dark it was in there. Sometimes it seemed so dark that I could barely make out the bottles of liquor behind the bar. Of course, that was never an issue because I knew they had Jameson.
Behind the tables were more banquettes that were separated for dances. All the girls and their customers piled on top of each other, pretending that they were alone. The private room really was not private at all, only separated by a beaded curtain at the entrance. There was an old couch in this room that had absorbed years of dirt and cum, I am sure. I was afraid to stick my hand too far into the seam of the couch for fear of coming up with a used condom. I will say, though, when the junkie bartender and I would open up early for a day shift, we would often search the cushions of that couch for money. Dollar bills wrapped around thighs and ankles would often peel off unbeknownst to the dancer while giving a “private show.” Sometimes, we discovered enough money back there to get a bag of dope for each of us. That was the best way to start the day!
The stage of The Shobar was my favorite part about the whole place. It looked exactly like I had always pictured the stage of a strip club in my mind before I started to frequent them. The reality is that most strip clubs today try to look so ritzy, the stages do not look anything like the ones you see in the movies or we picture in our minds.
The old wooden stage was a shade lighter than the bar. It, too, had the same kind of beveled edge as the bar, only wider. This served to separate the customers from the dancers on stage. The back of the stage was lined with mirrors, and the pole came up somewhere near the middle.
The pole, like the rest of the place, was old and worn. Its rough edged black color had faded from years of use. And in the middle there was always a little grime from years and years of dirty, sweaty hands spinning around it. It was not an extremely high pole, which did not allow for a lot of extravagant tricks. Except for Blue, most of The Shobar girls did not do a lot of fancy pole work. But Blue was an extravagant exception, with her tender gracefulness and magical presence on stage, as she shimmied up and down the pole with the grace of a seasoned acrobat. She was covered in tattoos, nearly from neck to toes. Her high voice was the cutest thing I have ever heard, as she squeaked into my ear in the darkness of the bar.
One would enter the stage from the dressing room, through a deep burgundy velvet curtain. I sometimes wore these black fairy wings someone had left at the club. They looked really great on stage when I would make them barely flap like a resting butterfly. I had to be careful going on stage because it was easy to get them caught on the pole that held the velveteen curtain. That pole was eventually the death of the wings.
The dressing room was probably my favorite place in The Shobar- besides the bathroom, of course! The dressing room of a strip club is where the good stuff happens. This is where the camaraderie begins. This is where it all begins, starting with make-up and hair. The dressing room had mirrors all along the wall opposite the door. Just as one would expect, there was a shelf for make up against the mirror with chairs pulled up to it. The lights above this shelf were big, naked bulbs, but they never shone bright, and instead an old yellowed hue emulated from them. The girls relaxed in the dressing room, swapping clothes with one another, touching up make-up, gobbling down to go food, smoking a blunt, or just hanging out
The walls were the same yellowing color of age, scrawled with graffiti from decades of various dancers leaving their mark. The carpet was so old and worn that parts of it did not even resemble a carpet anymore, but looked more like a big splotch of gum that had been rubbed in. Old, crumbling lockers stood opposite the stairs that led to the stage.
The dressing room was a gathering place for the women who worked there. There was often a blunt passed around, and we all shared alike. Some of us may not have contributed weed, but we always chipped in a little money or offered up some of our other goodies.
Photo courtesy of Chad Phillips.