No Shirt, No Shoes, No Great Meals

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If I've learned anything living in Miami, it's that objecting to policy is pretty useless. No matter how strong the demonstration against whatever -- a proposal, an issue, a politician -- chances are the powers that be will ignore it. Protesters, however, do stand a better chance if they're well informed about their subject matter and have a base of experience to which they can refer. Let's apply that to a real-life situation. It's great that the community seems to be in agreement about the Diamond Cabaret, the avant-garde steak house on Lincoln Road that allegedly will feature adult entertainment. Naked nymphettes, chromosomally correct or otherwise, gyrating while we dine? It's scandal! It's outrage! We don't even like the idea of it!

But I can hear the proprietors' response from here: shrug.

It's another thing, though, to assess the situation from the vantage point of having been there, done that. How can we protest lap dances on our dinner napkins if we've never actually had the, er, pleasure? We can't. Which is why I thought it wise to check out the dining options in the more risqué establishments in our fine city.

In other words I betook myself to a few strip joints, those that advertise serving food.

I make the distinction because not every joint offers victuals; some, like Tootsie's Cabaret ("where you can still reach out and touch someone") and Stonewall Lounge, only want to tempt your salivary glands, not your taste buds. Others will sell you something to eat if you ask, but don't expect places such as Club Pink Pussycat to be enthusiastic about it. I got nothing but a sullen "Yeah" over the phone when I called to ask if the club had a menu.

Some of our more enterprising strip bars, however, are now trying to use breasts -- of chicken, that is -- as a selling point. Porky's II is tempting business folk with a free lunch (along with friction dancing) from noon till 2:00 p.m. Treasure Island, Inc., a gentlemen's club that proclaims couples are welcome, sets up three free buffets daily, including a breakfast bar served from 3:30 till 4:30 a.m.

I was most interested in the two clubs that are practically giving away steak dinners: the Pink Pony, which offers sixteen-ounce steaks for $3.75 "anytime, all the time," and Goldrush, which not only has $3.75 T-bones but has an "extensive menu serving all day and night." Turns out the Pink Pony and Goldrush are sister operations, so we ponied up to the latter, open since last fall in downtown Miami. Admittedly the location is a trifle bit frightful, given the abandoned nature of the neighborhood, but you can the see the chandelier hanging in the lobby from the street. So we figured we were about to enter a classy joint and set our fears aside.

Lacking the convention badge, sports ticket stub, or hotel room key for which we would have been given complimentary admission, we paid the five-dollar cover charge and set up camp next to the runway, where a young woman with obviously real (read: small) breasts was displaying her neatly trimmed pubis. After photocopying my husband's ID (in case the client decides to run out on the bill, or his wife receives the credit card statement in the mail and denies her hubby was ever in the place), the waitress obligingly brought us menus. Items ranged from buffalo wings to fettuccine Alfredo, at seven bucks the most expensive dish on the list.

We decided to try some appetizers before diving into the flesh of the T-bones and accordingly ordered a sampler platter of chicken strips, mozzarella sticks, and onion rings. Good thing we asked for the heartiest plate, because as it turned out we weren't going to get any more food. "Apparently we don't have any cooks tonight," the waitress admitted when she brought our drinks. "I'll be going back to make your appetizers, but after that, the kitchen's closed." Too bad no one told the DJ, who blared, "Kitchen's open!" between every song he spun.

Not an auspicious beginning for a night of feasting, but the debauchery was fine. The girls were pretty, clean, and nimble, especially the one who could climb her pole like it was a rope in gym class.

Club Paradise, located on the banks of the Miami River, must have hired the Goldrush DJ's twin, since he also wanted us to know at every opportunity that the "full kitchen" was open. Forgive my skepticism but it probably was more like a restaurant around the corner that was serving. No menus were available, and the waitress couldn't tell us what items Club Paradise offered. Instead she told us she'd just bring us whatever the little old Cuban lady in the kitchen felt like making. Ninety minutes later we received a variety of meats sautéed with onions and peppers and a Cuban sandwich, all of which came with French fries.

As a matter of fact, the fare was decently prepared, if lukewarm, but we had lost our appetites. Club Paradise is more like purgatory, the kind of place people are afraid Diamond Cabaret will be. Rather than appearing sleek and well groomed, the women were overweight and slovenly, seemingly forced into their occupations by lack of education and opportunity. Clearly these weren't college students making a good bit of extra cash by exploiting their youth. In between dances they disgusted us by stopping at every table to ask, "Can I have a tip?" If you hesitate, as I did, they'll even hop on your lap and grind a few rounds so that you feel obliged to give them a buck. For the record I far prefer tucking a bill into the G-string of the girl of my choice.

Or boy, of course. And boys were what we were hoping to find at Oz, a gay "restaurante and nightclub" on Calle Ocho. Oz isn't exactly a strip joint, but it does have adult-theme entertainment, in drag and otherwise, thanks to dancers like "Yuri Too Mucch," who performs "with her strippers" every Wednesday. Unfortunately though we'd called before we arrived on a recent Saturday, no one told us that showtime begins at 1:00 a.m. And as it turns out, despite its claims of "Best Cuban food," Oz isn't exactly a restaurant either. There's some kind of Cuban sampler platter you can order, but the place is dark enough to entice Dracula and musty enough to dissuade the most daring of diners.

If you do want to get a taste for what the Diamond Cabaret people could be bringing to a table near you, head up to Rachel's, a steak house and gentlemen's club in West Palm Beach. It's appropriate to call this place a steak house first, because the emphasis is on the beef, some of the finest I've sampled. In fact the filet mignon and rich prime rib justify some ludicrously high prices -- almost.

What makes eating at Rachel's more savory than at places like Club Paradise is the raised dining room, separated from the runways and pole dancers by railings and staircases. And while patrons can order lap dances along with $86 Australian lobster tails, the girls are attractive Velcro-gowned specimens who enjoy a certain prestige: Management enforces a strict no-touch policy. Unless you're eating steak, at Rachel's you taste only with your eyes.

In the way of these kinds of operations, Rachel's advertises class, probably supporting a few of the local plastic surgeons as well as meat purveyors. I can only hope this -- or better than this -- is what the proprietors of the South Beach steak house intend. Lincoln Road is almost certainly not the place for such a venture. But as far as nudie bars go, I can now firmly say, well, I've eaten in worse.

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