The underwear-dampening downpour begins right after I depart Midtown’s urine-scented Port Authority subway station.
I’m not the one who’s supposed to look like a wet T-shirt contestant, I think, as I walk on water toward distant Hell’s Kitchen’s Headquarters Gentleman’s Club. Though I typically abstain from visiting flesh markets during daylight, today is special: I was invited to attend Headquarters’ open call for its forthcoming upstairs steakhouse, Bianca’s Triple Ds—dinner, drinks and dances, in whatever order a man desires.
“We are looking for a talented female chef with great looks and a great personality,” Bianca’s notice read, adding, “culinary training strongly recommended, previous experience preferred.” Friendly waitresses were also required. Anyone was welcome to apply.
“Here’s an application,” a young Asian man says as I enter the death-quiet club, looking like a half-drowned dog. “Reporter,” I reply, sogging upstairs. Behind a linen-topped table sit three judges: slick Sopranos cast member Will DeMeo, director Paul Borghese and Michael Musto, the Voice’s flamboyant gossip columnist. He’s the last man I’d expect at a strip club.
“These boys are desperately straight, and Michael is desperately gay. I thought it’d be a perfect balance,” says R. Couri Hay, the event’s equally flamboyant PR mastermind. Hair combed back and blue glasses dangling around his tanned neck, he offers me water. I’ve had my fill. “We have more than 65 confirmations,” he says, as I sink into a red-velvet seat.
Minutes dissolve. Nobody materializes. “I thought people needed jobs in this economy,” Hay says. I guess rain has made gals question their objectified employment aims. Bored judges finger cell phones. I wring my sodden grey sweater. Hay hurries off, then rushes back.
“Our first contestant is here!” he announces. In walks a pint-size, coal-tressed applicant with a washboard chest. His name is Jay, and he’s from Nepal. “We’re not sexist,” Hay says. “Tell us about yourself.”
In the cautious manner of someone for whom English is a second language, Jay tells his tale: He started cooking in 2007, toiling in steakhouses and attending the French Culinary Institute. “So you’re not just here for lap dances?” Hay kids.
Jay titters. Now that would be a job perk. “Do you have a green card?” Hay asks. “No,” Jay replies, his laughter high and pinched—is this an immigration sting?
“Well, maybe we can sponsor you,” Hay jokes. “Would you like to cook our steaks— two medium, two medium-rare, please?” Jay jaunts into the kitchen, while a willowy blonde with a flowing white shirt walks in. She’s Ukrainian, a former blackjack dealer.
“Are you the next hot chef?” Hay asks.
“I don’t cook,” she replies, confusion crossing her eyes. “I’m a waitress.” Nonetheless, the judges have cuisine questions.
“What’s your best dish?” DeMeo asks.
“Ever work with peanut butter?” Borghese chimes in.
The Ukrainian’s brain spins. She wants this job. Bad. “Squirrels,” she answers proudly, nodding.
“You stuff squirrels?” Borghese asks, aghast—ask a question, be prepared for any answer.
“No, I feed squirrels peanut butter. In Central Park. I don’t cook them.” She laughs heartily, as if to say, I’m not the savage here. She’s sent off to demonstrate her napkinfolding skill.
“Our next contestant has a résumé and a green card,” Hay announces, ushering in Ann, a slender brunette in tight black slacks. She recites her chops, cooking at a Brooklyn restaurant till it went bust. She’s articulate, skilled and cute.What’s she doing here? Before I find out, in strolls a statuesque Californian, crammed into tight blue jeans and a low-cut teal top. The judges—two, at least—admire her buoyant assets.
“I should get a job because I came here in the rain,” she declares. The hetero judges agree, just as the steaks arrive, steaming and juicy. Ann is sent to the kitchen to prepare filet mignon, while a hangdog gent of advanced years enters the room.
“I’m here to be a waiter,” he croaks, also demonstrating his napkin-folding skills. For a strip club, there’s a real premium on linen service.
“Some people did not read the job description closely enough,” Musto groans, shaking his head in disbelief. I, too, am incredulous. I came expecting a circus, but instead discover a train wreck. These wannabe waitresses and chefs are not in on the joke; they’ve braved the ugly elements to play extras in a publicity stunt gone painfully awry.
“Would you like to be the next hot chef?” Hay asks me, scanning a room that’s empty in so many ways. Give up writing to char meat for horny men? I decline and depart into damp Hell. I slog along, passing a garage housing Central Park’s carriage horses, where I watch one equine release a hot, steaming encapsulation of the afternoon.