Burlesque Still Rules New York’s Clubland!

Nightclub-going New Yorkers owe a giant, heartfelt shout out to Rudy Giuliani. We should belatedly thank Rudy for his crackdown on “smut” and anything else that veered from traditional family values when he was a strict, disciplinarian mayor from 1994 through 2001. After all, it was that very gloss-over that led to an explosion of neo-burlesque sexual posturing in clubs all over town!

As porn shops were shuttered and escorts were driven to the Internet, loft parties and underground boites responded with strippers and other acts catering to everyone’s sex drives by turning genital-related amusement into performance art. For every sex palace that was bulldozed and reopened as a comedy club, there were suddenly a dozen ecdysiasts popping up at the Lower East Side’s hangout the Slipper Room and artful disrobers like Julie Atlas Muz and Dirty Martini were shaking their tatas for applause and dollars all over town. Thanks, Rudy!

But here’s the really shocking thing: In 2010, neo-burlesque still rules the scene. The Slipper Room remains the gold standard in outrageous acts, another club called the Box serves some diversions I couldn’t even describe in mixed company, and you can hardly go to a downtown club—even touristy ones—without seeing bare breasts, strap-ons, and lots of willful shimmying at least one night a week.

Newfangled burly-que has become so institutionalized that the New York School of Burlesque (with illustrious headmistress Jo Boobs) and the annual New York Burlesque Festival are now almost as integral to the city’s culture as Lincoln Center and the Metropolitan Museum. So I guess we need to also thank Mayor Bloomberg for continuing the crackdowns!

Burlesque is clearly here to stay, and in the process, it’s given women the chance to reclaim an art form from a time of even greater oppression and make it their own. (I heard that on NPR!) As Murray Hill, a polyester-wearing crooner and comic (actually a woman in male drag), told me, “No pun intended, but burlesque has broad appeal. The gays, straights, feminists, trannies, you name it, they all enjoy a burlesque show.

“In the recession and with the decline of nightlife for many years now, burlesque has thrived because it’s always entertaining, sexy, affordable and can be done in any club or downtown den.

“What would you rather do–go to a stiff comedy club with insane drink minimums and get pushed out the door after the show or go to a burlesque show where you can laugh, ogle the ladies, knock back cocktails, get heckled by me, and have the showgirls dance a foot away from you? That’s showbiz!”

All of that was roundly seconded by the female strip-performer the World Famous BOB, who just told me, “We are continually having visions of ‘reality’ thrown at us, and burlesque is the opposite, a nod and wink to a glamour that’s passed but not forgotten.”

I dropped by the Slipper Room the other night to make sure this was all still true and found the Orchard Street hangout just as I remembered it—a cozy cabaret with blue and red floor tiles and suitably loud wallpaper, the stage flanked by lurid curtains that reek of wink-wink sex appeal. In the crowd there were no weird old men in trenchcoats. It was a boho bunch mixing all genders and sexualities, cheering on a lady stripper who bumped with assurance, knowing she didn’t have to strain to bring burlesque back. It’s already here!