The Lusty Lady is the name of two now-defunct peep show establishments, one in downtown Seattle and one in the North Beach district of San Francisco. The Lusty Lady was made famous by the labor activism of its San Francisco workers and the publication of several books about working there.
The Seattle Lusty Lady, known originally as the Amusement Center, was opened in the 1970s by two business associates, who soon after opened the other location in San Francisco. Originally, both Lusty Ladys showed 16mm peep show films only; in 1983 live nude dancers were added and became the main focus of the businesses. Until 2003 they were both owned by the same company; in that year the San Francisco franchise was bought by the strippers working there and began to be managed as a worker cooperative. The San Francisco branch had already entered the news in 1997 when it became the first (and as of 2009 only) successfully unionized sex business in the U.S. (The San Diego strip club Pacer's had seen a unionization effort in the early 1990s, but it was short-lived.)
The main stage featured several nude women dancing, separated by glass windows from the customers who each stood in their own booth, paying by the minute. The dancers were also available for more explicit private shows in the VIP and Private Pleasures booths. These were also glass-separated private booths where customers could give direction to the show and tipping was possible. Rates for shows varied by dancer. The Private Pleasures booth also occasionally featured "Double Trouble" shows, with two dancers who might have performed a lesbian sex show. In addition, booths showing adult videos 24/7 were available.
Lusty Lady occasionally featured "art days", exhibiting erotic photographs and paintings in the hallways. In February 2002, both peep shows featured a video art exhibition called "Peepshow 28", with one channel in all video booths devoted to showing a sequence of 64 short videos exploring voyeurism, exhibitionism and sexuality.
The Seattle Lusty Lady opened in the 1970s and moved to its final location at 1315 First Avenue in downtown Seattle near Pike Place Market in 1985. The club was well known for its frequently changing and often amusing marquee announcements. The Lusty Lady is immediately across the street from the Seattle Art Museum and the marquee often commented on current exhibits or the Hammering Man statue. Mimi Gates, stepmother of Bill Gates and director of the Seattle Art Museum, said "The Lusty Lady's marquee is a Seattle landmark."
In 2006, the Seattle Lusty Lady survived a threatened wrecking ball when the building's owner, a Seattle family, refused a multi-million-dollar tear-down offer from developers of a new Four Seasons Hotel next door. The owners instead received $850,000 "for air rights to the views over their property". Employees celebrated by posting on their reader board: "We're Open, Not Clothed!"
In January 2010, police arrested a peeping tom in the Lusty Lady who had climbed up from a viewing booth into the ceiling crawl space overhead, then partly crashed through the glass ceiling above the stage.
On Sunday April 11, 2010, the Lusty Lady in Seattle announced that it would close its doors for business in June. The economic climate and the rise of Internet pornography were cited as reasons for closing. On June 28, 2010, the Lusty Lady marquee was removed from the Seattle location. It was acquired by the Museum of History & Industry and is now on display at their museum in the South Lake Union neighborhood.
In the wake of the Lusty Lady announcing its shutdown, the NPR program All Things Considered did a story focusing on the peep show's history and relationship to the broader downtown Seattle community.
The 1997 book The Lusty Lady by photographer Erika Langley documents the work in the Seattle branch of Lusty Lady. It includes photos by Langley (who had worked there as a dancer since 1992) as well as essays by a number of Lusty Lady dancers, who vary considerably in their attitudes toward their customers and toward their work. In 2000, some of the photos were exhibited in the Seattle Art Museum, across the street from the Lusty Lady.
Elisabeth Eaves, who had stripped at the Lusty Lady in 1997, completed graduate school and returned in 2000 to write a book about stripping in general and her experiences in particular, Bare: On Women, Dancing, Sex, and Power, published in 2002.
Popular culture references
The Seattle Lusty Lady was featured in the 1992 film American Heart. The first murder in the 1996 pilot of the TV series Millennium takes place in a Seattle peep show modeled on the Lusty Lady. Episode 18 (first aired 1997) of HBO's Real Sex series featured a visit to the Seattle Lusty Lady.
The theater show My Time With the Lady is a first-person account about working at the Lusty Lady by a long-time janitor and bouncer. It opened in Seattle in August 2010.
Several grievances led to the unionizing effort in 1997. African American feminist sociologist Siobhan Brooks while working at the club had noticed that African American dancers were discriminated against and filed a complaint. The precipitating event was the installation of one-way mirrors in a number of booths (which also exist in the Seattle branch), resulting in some customers taking photos and videos of the show.
Among the leaders of the organizing drive was the stripper Julia Query who documented the efforts on video, resulting in the documentary Live Nude Girls Unite!, written and directed by Vicky Funari and Julia Query.
After a vote of the employees, the business was organized by the Exotic Dancers Union, an affiliate of Service Employees International Union, then a member of AFL-CIO, Local 790. The Bay Area Sex Worker Advocacy Network (BAYSWAN) provided website support for the workers' unionization effort, which helped to garner public support for the workers as well as inquiries from other exotic dancers and sex workers throughout the country.
Former Lusty Lady employee Siobhan Brooks commented in a 1997 article that "In some cases the media misquoted us as being the first strip club to unionize. But the first strip club to unionize was Pacer's in San Diego. However, Pacer's union, Hotel Management, Employee Management, Local 30, negotiated an open clause in its contract. Open shop means there's no requirement that employees join the union, so the club recruited workers and discouraged them from joining the union and were able to decertify the union."
After management cut hourly compensation at the San Francisco Lusty Lady in 2003, the workers struck and won, but the closure of the peep show was announced soon after. The subsequent efforts to turn the club into a worker cooperative were led by Donna Delinqua (stage name), a stripper and graduate student in English. Other cooperatives provided input, among them the worker-owned San Francisco sex-toy business Good Vibrations.
The workers bought the club for $400,000, with money borrowed from the old owners. In 1996, the club had had a revenue of almost $3 million; by 2003 this had fallen by 40%. The monthly rent was $13,442 in 2003 and had doubled over the preceding three years. The club had a revenue of about $27,000 per week in the first half of 2006.
After the change in ownership, the union was retained, but some changes in management were instituted. While dancers had been regularly evaluated by managers before, now a peer review process was established wherein dancers evaluate each other. The team leaders are elected from among the dancers for six month terms.
A dispute began in the summer of 2006 when a male employee wrote a confidential email to the co-op board, complaining that hiring of too many heavy women drove customers away, thus lowering every employee's income. One member of the board posted the message on a message board, causing considerable consternation among dancers. The board member was dismissed. Two of the male employees have argued that the union should be abandoned as not useful in a worker-owned cooperative. On its website, the Lusty Lady describes a worker-owned business as "a rare and ideal situation" but "not without its challenges" and discusses how the workers address these challenges.
On Tuesday August 20, 2013, the Lusty Lady in San Francisco announced that it would close its doors for business in just two weeks, on Monday at 3:00 a.m. September 2, 2013. The landlord, Roger Forbes (part of Deja Vu Consulting Inc. which by that time owned almost every strip club in San Francisco with the exception of Crazy Horse, Mitchell Brothers O’Farrell Theatre, and Nob Hill) refused to renew the lease after attempts to re-negotiate the rent failed.
Lily Burana, who stripped for a time at the San Francisco Lusty Lady, wrote about her experiences there and in other strip clubs in her 2001 book Strip City: A Stripper's Farewell Journey Across America. Carol Queen also wrote about her time dancing at the Lusty Lady, in her 2003 book Real Live Nude Girl: Chronicles of a Sex-Positive Culture.
- "A Brief History of the Lusty Lady Theater", Lusty Lady San Francisco website.
- "S.F. Strip Club Ratifies Union – First in U.S." by Glen Martin, San Francisco Chronicle, April 11, 1997.
- Martha Irvine, "San Francisco Strippers Enjoy Union Coverage", Las Vegas Review-Journal, May 12, 1997
- Monica Guzman, The Lusty Lady sets its funeral, seattlepi.com, 2010-05-11. Accessed online 2012-12-05.
- Merry XXXmas to All by Leah Greenblatt, Seattle Weekly, December 11, 2002
- "Events", Lusty Lady San Francisco website.
- "Peepshow Gets an Artistic Implant", by Robin Clewley, Wired, January 21, 2002.
- Peeping by Bethany Jean Clement, Seattle Weekly, February 14, 2002. Report on visiting the Peepshow 28 video art exhibition.
- "Stripped 'Bare'" by Patti Jones, Seattle Times, October 29, 2002. Reports on the book by Elisabeth Eaves.
- Tad Friend, "Naked Profits", The New Yorker, July 12, 2004
- The Ex-Mayor's Booby Prize. by Rick Anderson, Seattle Weekly, March 29, 2006
- "Seattle's Irreverent Marquee is no Bust" by Robert L. Jamieson Jr., Seattle Post-Intelligencer, March 17, 2001.
- Seattle Hotel Bows to a Peep Show, Pleasing Gates's Stepmother, Bloomberg.com, 14 August 2006
- McLain, Cathy (January 26, 2010), "Lusty Lady performers had admirer from above", The Seattle Times
- "Lust's End: The Lusty Lady to Close", Slog, April 11, 2010
- Kiley, Brendan (2010-06-08). "Veni Vidi Veni". The Stranger. Retrieved 2010-06-13.
- NPR.org: 'Marquee Lights Dim At Seattle's Lusty Lady Strip Club' - April 2010
- Review of The Lusty Lady by E. J. Levy, Rain Taxi Review of Books #9, Spring 1998.
- "Photographer/peep-show dancer takes 'alternate universe' to art museum", Associated Press, January 19, 2000
- Bare: The Book (official website).
- Millennium - The Complete First Season (1996), DVD, 2004. Commentary.
- Genzlinger, Neil, "Real Sex 18", Nytimes.com, retrieved May 11, 2010
- "My Time With the Lady", Seattle Weekly, August 11, 2010
- Siobhan Brooks (2001), "Exotic Dancing and Unionizing", in France Winddance Twine; Kathleen M. Blee, Feminism and antiracism: international struggles for justice, New York University Press, ISBN 978-0-8147-9855-3
- "Lusty Lady Dancers Ratify Union Contract", by David Steinberg, Comes Naturally #58, May 2, 1997.
- Laurel Druley: "Lusty Labor", Mother Jones, January 6, 1998. Report on the unionizing effort.
- Irvine, Martha. (1997-04-12). "Strippers get ground-breaking labor pact." Associated Press.
- Brooks, Siobhan (January 1997), "Organizing From Behind the Glass", Z magazine: 11–14
- Twine, France Winddance; Blee, Kathleen M (2001-08-01), Feminism and antiracism: International struggles for justice, ISBN 978-0-8147-9855-3.
- "Under Nude Management" by David Steinberg, Comes Naturally, September 16, 2003. – Report on the worker's effort to buy the San Francisco franchise, and the new management style.
- "The Lusty Lady loses its innocence" by Sarah Phelan, San Francisco Bay Guardian, September 29, 2006
- "S.F. strip club's hefty lady show sparks tempest" by Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross, San Francisco Chronicle, October 2, 2006.
- A Brief History of the Lusty Lady Theater
- Lusty Lady San Francisco
- Strip City, Salon.com, 9 October 2001. Review of Lily Burana's book Strip City: A Stripper's Farewell Journey Across America
- Lily Burana, Strip City: A Stripper's Farewell Journey Across America. New York: Miramax Books, 2001. ISBN 0-7868-6790-6
- Elisabeth Eaves, Bare: The Naked Truth About Stripping. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002. ISBN 0-375-41233-6
- Erika Langley, The Lusty Lady Berlin: Scalo, 1997. ISBN 3-931141-59-4
- Carol Queen, Real Live Nude Girl: Chronicles of a Sex-Positive Culture. San Francisco, CA: Cleis Press, 1997. ISBN 1-57344-166-X
- Rachel Aimee, "In Search of Stripper Solidarity," In These Times, vol. 36, no. 5 (May 2012), pp. 44, 42-43.
- Lusty Lady San Francisco – Official website.
- Live Nude Girls Unite – Official website.
- Live Nude Girls Unite at the Internet Movie Database
- Flickr photoset – Documenting the often amusing marquee announcements of the Seattle Lusty Lady.
- Miss Fyre by Michael Lane (September 15, 1998). Interview with a worker at the Seattle Lusty Lady.
- The Lusty Lady, ErikaLangley.com.
- Bare: The Book Official website for Elizabeth Eaves book.
- Interview with Elizabeth Eaves
- "The contortionist dance of a peep show worker" by Tracy Quan, Los Angeles Times Book Review, January 5, 2003. Critical review of Elizabeth Eaves' book.
- "Control Tower: Dancing at the Peep" by Mistress Matisse, The Stranger, 14 March 2002.
- The Seattle Lusty Lady Widget - A collection of Mac OS X, Facebook, and HTML widgets that provide the latest marquee pun.