Pedestrians walk past the iconic marquee of The Lusty Lady in downtown Seattle earlier this month. The nude peepshow is closing.
Pedestrians walk past the iconic marquee of The Lusty Lady in downtown Seattle earlier this month. The nude peepshow is closing. Elaine Thompson/AP
The announced closing of a nude dancing business in Seattle has triggered a rather surprising outpouring of regret and nostalgia.
The Lusty Lady is one of the last remnants of the downtown's "Flesh Alley," the strip of adult entertainment, tattoo parlors and gay bars that used to populate First Avenue, near Pike Place Market. In the 1980s and 1990s, city leaders did their best to close down businesses like the "Lady," but in recent years this holdout of a bygone grittiness has become the object of affection for many Seattleites.
The reason is The Lusty Lady's marquee. It's old school — pink and black, with a border of blinking light bulbs — and every few weeks, it sports a new message. It's usually a bawdy pun:
"All Clothing 100 Percent Off"
The Lusty Lady's neighborhood is now thoroughly gentrified: Next door, there are a new Four Seasons Hotel and a coffee shop and wine bar called Fonte. And across the street is the lavishly expanded home of the Seattle Art Museum, or SAM. The Lusty Lady's marquee sticks out like a sore thumb.
Retired dancer and current employee Virginia "Candy Girl" Lerroy laughs as she shows off the iconic marquee of The Lusty Lady in downtown Seattle.
Retired dancer and current employee Virginia "Candy Girl" Lerroy laughs as she shows off the iconic marquee of The Lusty Lady in downtown Seattle. Elaine Thompson/AP
"It's such a landmark!" says Tracy Timmons, the librarian at the SAM. "I wait at the bus stop in front of the museum, and I'm often interested to see what their marquee is going to say."
'Gogh All Night' And 'The Loin King'
Even though the marquee is clearly visible from the windows of the kid-friendly "family space" in the art galleries, the museum has had a friendly relationship with The Lusty Lady. Museum staffers have even requested museum-related messages on the marquee. And the Lady has obliged with "Gogh All Night," among others.
For a generation of suburban kids, the marquee has been the highlight of many a museum field trip. It was on one such trip that Charles Armstrong "discovered" the Lady. He was about 13 years old around the time Disney's The Lion King was in theaters. The Lusty Lady's version? "The Loin King."
"I thought that was hilarious," Armstrong says. Any 13-year-old boy would. Now, all grown up and making a career in comedy, Armstrong and a colleague have started a website dedicated to tracking The Lusty Lady's marquee.
Still, few of the marquee's fans have ever been inside the business itself.
The Lusty Lady is not what most people would think of as a strip club.
The first thing you see when you walk in is the change machine. Farther inside, you see the doors to the private booths. Each booth has a window looking in on the "main stage," where women dance and crawl around in various states of undress. To keep the shutter on the window open, the client has to keep feeding quarters into the slot — 25 cents buys you 30 seconds.
Some specially marked booths offer windows with one-way glass, for clients who want more privacy.
Peeling off his latex gloves to shake hands, janitor Bob Lambert says this kind of peep show dates back at least 100 years. It used to be found in ports and disreputable carnivals, but it's become a rarity. Lambert says peep shows simply can't compete with all the porn online.
Losing Business To The Internet
"You can go online and you can pick whatever you want; the menu is there," Lambert says.
Working the front desk, Pauline Hance says she doesn't understand why people would prefer the Internet to The Lusty Lady.
"It's not the same!" Hance says. "As I keep trying to tell people, these are live ladies! Right there!"
Hance has known many of the dancers for years; her mother used to be a dancer at the club, and she refers to others here as her "aunts."
There's a common misperception in Seattle that the dancers are unionized and that they own The Lusty Lady. In fact, people are confusing it with a different Lusty Lady, located in San Francisco.
But Hance says the Seattle peep show is a good place for women to work. They're protected by the glass windows, she says, and they earn a wage, instead of relying on tips. The perception of The Lusty Lady as less exploitative than other strip clubs has earned it considerable goodwill from forward-thinking Seattleites.
A Last Look
But that goodwill hasn't been enough to keep it in business. Now that the club has announced it is closing, some of the fans of the marquee are coming by for a look inside.
A couple of young men walk through the doors, sounding a little giddy, saying they've admired the marquee for years and want to see the show before it closes. It doesn't take long for them to walk out again.
Laughing, one of the men — who wouldn't give his name — says, "You just want to wash your hands as soon as you leave."
The Lusty Lady is sort of like the puns on its marquee: It's funny, as long as you don't think about it too much.