The Des Moines metro is home to five adult entertainment venues, a.k.a. strip clubs, and as far as I can tell, no publication has attempted to visit and compare them all. Someone had to do it eventually, and who better than myself, a gay man who has never set foot in a strip club? And what better way to do it than all in one night?
I drew up an itinerary, took out some cash, and set out to write my (and perhaps Des Moines’) first erotic travelogue. Hopefully I’ve managed to convey the character of each business, so you can assess your tastes and organize your own club crawl accordingly.
The common man’s club
I begin my odyssey on the outside looking in at Outer Limits, a bar and strip club north of Des Moines on Highway 69 (nice). Nervous but maintaining a saunter, I opened two doors and was greeted by the doorman, and after coughing up the $5 cover, I found my seat. The decor is very 1972 — streamers hanging from the ceiling, a wall of mirrors adjacent to the stage, columns with mirrors on them like a mahogany Von Maur, so on — which strikes me as charming, and soon I find a favorable vantage point in a velvet barstool near the wall. I ask the gentleman nearby if it’s open, and he confirms with a friendliness that makes me feel silly for even asking.
The bar is dark as the illuminated performer on stage finishes her set. When she’s done, she takes the single fellow sitting at the stage to a private dance, and a couple new guys take their turn up close. Closer to the bar, heated debates over 1980s football and some raucous laughter from the fellas accompany sensual R&B deep-cuts pumped throughout the joint.
A whiteboard behind the bar says Daisy is next, and at the start of the next song she appears from a side room. The crowd of mostly middle-aged, blue-collar men give her their attention as she ascends the stage and begins her set, and after a few seconds the people up front continue watching while those by the bar return to their conversations. It’s clear that this is the Working Person’s club: farmers, people who work with machines. Your hometown heroes come here to take a load off. Outer Limits serves the public good, and I couldn’t have started my night anywhere better.
Large and in charge
At this point I’m riding high, ready for whatever’s next — which is the Lumberyard, a BYOB club.
Handing over the $10 cover, I’m intrigued by the unexpectedly big, wooden entrance. Boosted bass fires through the walls like field artillery, and some guy with a goatee popped out to hit the bathroom, giving me a glimpse of a goddamn biplane hanging from the ceiling. When the host finishes affixing my “I can be here” paper bracelet, I’m bombarded by darkness. It’s like a haunted house—eyes adjust, though, even if we forget in the moment, and I have no problem finding a seat in a corner near the stage.
This place is at least twice as big as the prior establishment, with two stages and a massive projector screen on the back wall playing the Eagles’ game. Scanning back and forth between the impressively athletic dancing and the relaxed clientele, it isn’t too long before I realize that I’ve heard two Oliver Tree songs, which kind of throws me off but ultimately was the right call by the DJ. I’m approached by around 10 dancers, which is the norm for the rest of the night.
I watch the performer on stage climbing a pole — not even kidding — 20 feet into the air. As she spins back down, I’m greeted by a very cheery dancer who just sat in the chair next to me. After making my intentions clear, she and I chat about the industry and her experience, where I learn that starting a strip club crawl at 7:30 p.m. is like eating lunch at the rooster’s crow. (Pro tip: When you do your five-club tour, start closer to 10.)
Eventually bidding my pal adieu, I waltz out the way I came and transition to the Minx.
The Minx Show Palace
For the confident gentleman
I get to Minx right at 9 p.m., relieved by the presence of so many other cars, given the timing revelation. The lounge space, separate from the bar, is comparable to Outer Limits in size. But in decor, they’re Flintstones and Jetsons. Outer Limits is straight out of Mean Streets, but clean and chill. The Minx Show Palace itself is a spectacle: fluorescent pink, blue and green lights; diamond tread aluminum lining the stage; metal furniture. A theming success if I’ve ever seen it.
I paid my $25 cover and passed the hostess into the lounge, before realizing the cars outside were a ruse. I am one-third of the clientele. Moments after I take my seat, a dancer emerges from the dressing room and beelines for the older gentleman hogging an entire couch, taking him by the hand to a private dance — myself and the other client remain.
The performer on stage dances to a bass-forward remixed pop song; she doesn’t have to be putting in all this work for us two bozos. But there’s just no down time in the world of entertainment. That being said, it’s remarkably awkward being one of two guys watching someone dance exotically from a close distance.
In the four straight seconds of silence between songs, I dashed out the door. To be clear, I didn’t leave because of the place itself; it’s a cool spot. I left because I’m a victim of my insecurities. If I were to revisit any of the five clubs, this would be the first one, just to really see it in action. We grow, we learn and we take off for the Goldmine.
Big Earl’s Goldmine
It’s 9:30 p.m. when I pass the doorman a crisp Hamilton at Big Earl’s. I’m bestowed another paper bracelet, though this one is branded, because Big Earl is clearly a shrewd businessman. I walk into a familiar tableau, step through the relative darkness and choose a velvet chair against the back wall. It’s Outer Limits without the bar (BYOB), everything turned toward the stage.
Unlike Outer Limits, or even Minx, I’m the only person there. I take the opportunity to scan every part of the room, and see what is sort of like a five-star hotel’s conference room, equipped with theater lights and disco balls on the ceiling, a couple yard-long champagne bottle balloons, and a DJ booth above and beside the stage, pumping out Justin Bieber’s “Boyfriend” and a remix of “Toxic” by Britney Spears. Yet again, I can’t help but commend the performer’s skill as she entertained myself and the two guys, who had just arrived.
By the time I left, two more performers had taken the stage, each of them energetic and dedicated. But still I head out for the final destination of the night: Beach Girls.
The crème de la crème
Beach Girls Remodel pic.twitter.com/l4VthZfaxw
— BeachGirlsBarWDM (@Beach_Girls_Bar) May 21, 2020
The past four establishments are all within, like, two miles of each other, whereas Beach Girls is a 20-minute drive over to West Des Moines (6220 Raccoon River Dr). I get there around 10:15 p.m., and right inside the front door, I’m gently confronted by a walking giant in a black SECURITY polo. He asked for my ID, patted me down and sent me off to pay the $15 cover.
The inside is Google’s top search result for “gentleman’s club”: A sea of lounge chairs on wheels. A long, bone-shaped stage with a litany of poles. Eight TVs playing the local news. Billiards. A fish tank. There’s a disco ball and a couple lights, but nothing too spectacular. The playlist led with Bruno Mars and almost perfectly combined the stylings and sounds of the last four clubs. It was apt, since Beach Girls had as many patrons as the previous four places combined.
Half of the guys are Kubrick staring at the stage, and it doesn’t take long to understand why. Every performer I’ve seen has been fantastic, and these women are no different. Their ability to maneuver the stage and offer individual attention to each and every person at their feet is awe-inspiring. Every move is choreographed in the moment, and it flows effortlessly, like the mighty Des Moines River.
Undeniably, there was no better place to close out the night. I believe Beach Girls is the quintessential club of Des Moines.
Born in Nebraska and raised between there and Iowa Falls, Max Adams is now a postgraduate student living in Des Moines. His writing interests include politics, people and culture. This article was originally published in Little Village Central Iowa issue 311.