From the archives: Yes, there was a Playboy Club in Des Moines
Editor's note: This story by former Register columnist Julie Gammack originally ran on Nov. 30, 1985. The Des Moines Playboy Club opened on Dec. 3, 1984 and closed in April 1988. It was located at the Sheraton Inn in Clive.
"Playboy" magazine founder Hugh Hefner died Wednesday at 91.
I didn't expect to see what I saw when I first walked into the Des Moines Playboy Club — Benjamin, 7; his brothers Nathan, 11, and David, 3; as well as their parents, Carolyn and Larry Strickler.
Nathan and Benjamin are students at Hubbell Elementary School where it was VIP day. The students were allowed to bring a very important person in their lives to school, then that person was to go out to lunch with them.
The Playboy Club seemed like a good place to celebrate, said Carolyn Strickler, who along with husband Larry rates the Playboy Club highly as a place to enjoy a special lunch or dinner.
I also didn't expect to see so many women patrons. Kay Crow chose the club as the place to celebrate her 46th birthday.
The birthday honoree praised the food and allowed that she also likes the exclusiveness of the Playboy Club (it costs $35 to join, and $25 for subsequent years).
Crow brought along Sue Johnson, who had not been to bunnydom before.
"It was better than I thought it would be," Johnson said. "I wasn't sure how I'd like eating with a bunch of flesh all around, but the food was delicious."
Actually, there isn't a lot of flesh. The bunny costume is pretty much the same one bunnies have been wearing for the past 20 years.
The costume design is patented, and cannot be worn outside of the club unless the bunny is accompanied by a manager.
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Three-inch heels and bunny tails are required, but the one but of individuality allowed a bunny, according to bunny Jessica Duckett, 26, of Knoxville, is that she may bend her ears any way she pleases.
Duckett assured me that the costumes are quite flattering, and that she really doesn't have a 16-inch waist, it just must look like she does.
That was enough to pique my curiosity, wondering how flattering the bunny costume might be on my 35-year-old body — but no go.
Food and beverage director Kyle Cabbage wouldn't take me up on my offer to be a bunny for an evening.
"These girls work hard to earn the right to be a bunny, and we have an image to protect," he said.
It's probably not a whole lot different than when I was a cocktail waitress at the Blue Max nightclub in the Kirkwood Hotel back in 1971.
This is hard to admit, but I wore the Blue Max uniform — red hot pants and red, white and blue boots with stars that glowed under the room's black lights. I was working at a volunteer job during the day, so the cocktail waitress gig paid my rent.
These days, there aren't a whole lot of jobs that pay women starting out in the business world between $10,000 and $15,000 a year — Duckett's guess at a bunny's annual income.
Duckett has been a bunny since the Des Moines club opened a year ago, and she sees the job as a stepping stone toward her goal of owning her own restaurant. She's taking notes.
Sure, the Playboy philosophy is exploitative of women. Try walking around on 3-inch heels for six to eight hours, smiling and carrying trays loaded with food and drinks — not to mention having to be careful not to slip for fear that part of you will slip out of the costume.
Does the Playboy Club bother me, as a feminist?
Not really. Becoming a feminist is like putting on a hearing aid for the first time if you can't hear. At first you're overwhelmed by the everyday sounds you haven't heard — tires moving on the pavement, sires off in the distance, horns honking in heavy traffic. It takes awhile to sort out what noise is important to what you're doing.
The order of potato skins I had for lunch wasn't so hot (literally and figuratively), but that's not a fair enough sampling of the food to comment one way or the other. Several people leaving the restaurant said the luncheon buffet was good.
There are now more than 7,000 members of the Des Moines Playboy Club. The food and beverage director for the club estimates they serve an average of 100 dinners daily during the week and double that on Friday and Saturday nights.
The club is open also to non-dues paying diners during their Sunday brunch.
I may go back to the Playboy Club if I find out whether the hors d'oeuvre spread during happy hour is as good as my luncheon companion proclaims, and to see just what "Las Vegas style" entertainment really is.
Then again, maybe I won’t.