After about a year of chiding my boyfriend for going to The Dolphin Tavern on Broad and Tasker, I finally got up the nerve to go too.
It was a friend’s birthday and we decided to meet up there—a group of ten or so of us drinking tiny cocktails and putting dollar bills between sagging cleavage.
Lately I’ve been excited about new experiences. I viewed this trip to “the Dolphin” as a kind of social research project. I’m not one for strip clubs, or sexual escapades—I just wanted to see what it was all about (I recently had a burlesque lesson too, proof that I’m a lot less uptight than I used to be).
For anyone who hasn’t been to The Dolphin Tavern, I suggest you go with a group of friends, just to be safe. The Dolphin is set up in the bottom floor of a row home like most South Philly watering holes. It is long and lean, with a skinny bar in the front room, a light up dance floor in the middle and some games and pool tables in the back. The bar is a walk-around, so you can get a glimpse of the dancers from all sides. The dancers stand on podia while the small bartendress darts around filling the drink orders. Drinks are cheap and small, and the air is rife with whiskey and cigarettes.
Dancers perform every hour on the hour, I believe Thursday through Saturday. They dance to a couple of classic rock songs or Pearl Jam tunes, waiting for clients to beckon them with the promise of a dollar or two.
My boyfriend showed me how to tip the dancers. You approach them with your money out and you either put the dollar in their underwear’s waistband, or you wait for them to squeeze the bill between their breasts. I think I jumped about four feet when the dancer’s bosom grasped the dollar and my fingers. I didn’t know you could touch them, and I was a little discomfited by the soft flesh on my hand.
The dancers were nice—very nice. Not in the fake way I would have imagined “stripper” strippers to act, but in a genuinely nice way. They seemed like they were having a bit of fun and enjoyed the attention. Still—there was a palpable sadness in the air at The Dolphin; lost youth and beauty, maybe regret and missed opportunities were whispering in the ears of the dancers and the clients. There were a lot of immigrants and a lot of loners, looking for some companionship, looking for camaraderie and a chance to feel less alone. I know this, because I talked to a young man who wanted to buy drinks for anyone, as long as they’d talk to him for a few minutes. It was interesting, but not uplifting.
The interesting and refreshing thing about these women is that they were not your average strip club Betties. They were not svelte, they were not tan and they were not “enhanced”. Despite this, the clientele seemed overjoyed to get their attention and have a glimpse at the almost bare breasts. With a predominantly male client base, I’m sure the dancers make some good tips.
I don’t know if I’ll return to The Dolphin Tavern, but I am glad that I tried it out. The idea that there are women in my neighborhood who will take off their clothes and dance around for a few dollars really intrigues me. It makes me wonder what the difference between them and me is—what could make women act so disparately? But maybe we aren’t that different.