The year was 1972 or 1973, and we spent an evening at a Playboy Club. I’m not sure what we expected. Hugh Hefner look-alikes surrounded by adoring Bunnies? Wild sex parties? In truth, it was not much more than a dinner out and a show.
A friend of ours worked for a man who had a Playboy Club membership, and he offered her use of his key card. She was dating a best friend of ours, and the four of us did a lot of things together back then. The idea of hitting a Playboy Club for an evening sounded like a novel experience to us and would be one we would probably never repeat (that turned out to be true by the way). We were all living in Columbus at the time, and Cincinnati had the closest Playboy Club. Columbus, Ohio in the 1970s was not the metropolis it is today. It was a sleepy second-tier city that contained Ohio State University and claimed status as the state capitol. That was it.
The only question to be settled before embarking on our adventure was who was going to assume the identity of Playboy member “Gary Harris” (The name has been changed to protect the innocent; we still, in truth, remember his actual name!) Our male friend was positively insistent Greg be Gary, so that was that. We don’t remember the plastic membership key cards having id photos on them, so we would only have had a problem if Greg were asked for a driver’s license or some additional proof of identity. We realized we might drive all the way to Cincinnati only to be turned away because Greg was not provably “Gary.”
We chose our night to go and made the two hour trip to Cincinnati. When we arrived, we were greeted at the door by a cotton-tailed Playboy Bunny who glanced in a cursory way at the key card and showed us to our table. Greg had passed the Gary test!
Our Playboy Bunny server (or since this was the 70s, waitress) was named Tracy. This was her real name, unless she was using a fictitious Bunny name. Like our greeter, she, of course, also wore the requisite strapless corset, bowtie choker, stockings, high heels, cottontail, large bunny ears, and Playboy logo cuffs around her wrists. The corset cups were designed to enhance her cleavage, and its tight fit was also designed to enhance her small waist. The outfit must have been very uncomfortable, but its purpose was surely to evoke the Playboy ideal of what a woman should be. We don’t remember much about what we ordered, but it was some typical steak and potatoes American fare. The main course was really not the food! Tracy was more memorable than our meal, but we guess that was the point.
After dinner we wandered over to the “Club Room” for the show and chose a table in the middle left section. There were few people in the Club Room that night, unfortunately for us. Although our table was not close to the front, the comedian performed a Don Rickles-eque kind of routine, and he needed targets to insult. Because our male friend wore a longish dark beard, he was immediately selected. The comedian approached our table and started off with a joke directed at our friend, “When did you come off the cross?” He asked each of us questions in turn, using insult humor at our friend’s expense. It was an uncomfortable hour (or maybe less, but it seemed interminable). We were all relieved when the show was over, and we could make the long trip back to Columbus.
By the time we made our Playboy Club visit in the 70’s, Playboy magazine had already become a feature of the American cultural landscape. The magazine, with its famous nude female centerfolds and Playmates of the month, helped shape our generation’s concept of what was desirable and beautiful in a woman. Young, innocent, airbrushed, posed, playful, and (possibly) eager to please in bed, the Playboy Bunny represented the acceptable public facet of the perfect male sexual fantasy of a woman.
Around this time competitors to Playboy began to thrive, reflecting a harder and kinkier take on the male view of American female sexuality. Penthouse and, particularly, Hustler began to peel away the veneer of urbanity and glamour that Playboy projected. The “playboy” was a man of taste and refinement, with perhaps more than a little money and an ability to attract the finest women. As American public depictions of sexuality began to democratize, the “playboy” lost his smoking jacket, his tuxedo, his pipe, and flute of champagne, becoming everyman, with everyman’s heterogeneous and grittier tastes. In 1988, the last Playboy Club in America closed, ending an era that we, courtesy of “Gary Harris,” had a small glimpse of.