Remember how I mentioned recently that Spencer’s Corner closed? While I’m sure plenty of haters cackled with glee, the double-decker Westside house of trashy fun had a lot of fans, and for anyone who remembers a night out there, it’s probably a fond memory, even if it’s a fuzzy one.
I bring this up again because I was heading west on Camp Bowie the other night and noticed the marquee on Illusions Cabaret read, “BYE BYE SPENCER.” That a strip club would possibly dedicate its own messaging to pay tribute to an unrelated bar was a little surprising, but then again, if Spencer’s was to be bid farewell by a naked-lady joint, Illusions makes the most sense. They share a certain, um, disregard for fanciness, and I wouldn’t be shocked if there was significant customer overlap between the two. I assume so, anyway.
Still, I was pretty sure the letters you get for a marquee come with apostrophes, so maybe Spencer was actually a stripper, one who departed for greener pastures or bigger tips. What the hell, I said to myself. Might as well find out. I hung a left into the parking lot.
Having gone only on rumors and second-hand accounts about Illusions, I didn’t know what to expect. Everyone I know who’s ever been there made it sound like some wretched hive of scum and airborne VD. I was a little leery, but you can’t get the clap from breathing, and crabs don’t fly. Plus, it’s not like I’ve never been to a crappy cabaret before; I just think if you’re gonna hit up someplace with a derisively sketchy rep, well, it helps to be prepared.
I was still surprised by the metal detector, though. That’s right. After entering a little antechamber, you go through another door to your left, then through a beeping steel frame attached to a hostess booth. At least the chick in the booth was nicer than TSA. Still, if a metal detector at a strip club sounds a little shady, well, you’re probably right: When a bar actively worries about concealed weapons, the clientele is probably not the kind you’re gonna find at a place like Bar 9, Eddie V’s, or Grace. Or Applebee’s, for that matter. But this being a Monday night, I didn’t see anyone who looked like trouble, just a handful of regular dudes and a couple women sitting around drinking beer, shooting the shit while the curvy, topless blonde on the main stage did her best to make The Wallflowers’ “One Headlight” into something bump-and-grindable.
Sliding into a barstool, I spied a single tap tucked away in the far corner of the bar, a narrow U-shaped station with a tub of longnecks and an overhead rack hung with glassware, as well as some neon-orange plastic hurricane glasses, highlighted by the wan glow of a couple black lights. I gestured at the tap. “I’ll take a High Life,” I said. The bartender smiled.
“We’re out,” she replied. “And, anyway, that beer is gross.”
Unsure if she meant High Life in particular or Illusions’ draft beer in general, I opted for a Bud bottle.
At this point, I noticed the dancer on stage (predictably named “Diamond”) was now grooving to her third song, and it occurred to me that the Monday night shift at Illusions was not so much a B or a C team as it was a skeleton crew — I saw one, maybe two other dancers, and while I wasn’t going to start hemorrhaging singles into any of their waistbands, I had to hand it to these ladies for working hard on a dismal night. I started to do the math on what I’d spent already: $6 cover and $3.75 for a longneck seemed like a bargain compared to the outrageous markups at a glitzier club like Rick’s. I guess you get what you pay for. At least the entertainment was cute.
About halfway through my beer, I remembered why I’d come in the first place. I caught the bartender’s eye. “What’s the deal with the sign outside?” I asked. She looked at me like I’d made it up.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“It says, ‘Bye bye, Spencer,’ ” I said. “You know who that is?”
The bartender laughed. “I have no idea.” –– Steve Steward
Contact Last Call at firstname.lastname@example.org.