Mister Growl doesn’t yelp, let’s get that straight. Yelping is a sound too sissified to come from my masculine vocal cords. I have been known to yawp, however. My personal “Yelp” ban left me with only one possible course of action after recently visiting Pumps in Brooklyn: Write about the city’s only rock’n’roll strip joint on my metal blog. It’s not like my friends and fellow headbangers would mind, I mean strip clubs have been an important element of rock excess for 30 years. Where would Mötley Crüe be without strip clubs? And where would we all be without Mötley Crüe, besides maybe just a smidge happier and a lot more sober? As a non-ironic fan of clubs, especially ones with character and rock attitude, I will even excuse Crüe’s entire discography if it means one more place like Pumps in the world.
Pumps is tucked away on a dreary stretch of road that Bushwick seemingly doesn’t want to claim, so people started calling it East Williamsburg. There’s broken glass on the sidewalks and foreboding factories leering down at pedestrians until the glow of a neighboring gas station lures patrons closer, like that famous dock light from The Great Gatsby that Baz Luhrmann will recreate using atrocious CGI. The locale is not hip, it’s not fabulous, but it’s the exact quiet walk you need before and after a trip to a strip club to think of The Greater Truths. The ten minute walk (if you have short legs) from the nearest subway is perfect for an internal monologue about how the stigma of these establishments is just a hypocritical view of “evil” capitalism. Truth be told: Strip clubs offer a service. If the service does not interest you, move on. No need to demonize the patrons, the owner, and especially the workers. Everyone’s gotta make a living. I’m lucky enough to make a few bucks writing about metal albums, and those are the cleanest dollars I make. My day job is no better than someone shedding a little clothing to a song off ...And Justice For All.
Which they do at Pumps. I walked in with Metallica’s “One” playing loudly and three topless dancers performing in front of a long mirror, creating the illusion that the venue is twice the size. After the initial M.C Escher mirror mind-trick I was able to take in the layout: A long bar with 2 female tenders sliding drinks to eager customers and one long aisle to walk behind the stool-perched patrons lining the counter with a narrow lap dance lounge separated from the main room by a curtain of beads. Two beautiful motorcycles hang from the ceiling with assorted rock/sports related posters and knick-knacks decorating the walls. The dancers take turns twisting around two poles, leaving one to freestyle against the mirror or on the floor of the platform. There’s a refreshingly blunt streaming neon sign over the bar reading “If you don’t have money take your broke ass home!”
Which takes me back to this being a service. Remember, most services cost money. I don’t know what your job is, dear reader, but I assume you would not do your job for free, unless you’re a lowly intern, which means that you have all my sympathy. Unless you wander into Pumps without the ability or desire to spend some money, then my sympathy dries up like a mummified vagina. There’s no cover, which is awesome and increasingly rare, unless you get some glossy postcard for a Times Square strip club and enter a place before 7PM, which I’m not against but will definitely limit your ability to accurately enjoy the full splendor of any establishment. Beers are $7, stronger drinks are $10 or so. The bartenders live off of tips, as do the dancers. After each song the dancers on stage will stroll around the bar, say hello, and ask for a sign of your appreciation, which is a dollar amount of your choosing, as long as it’s one or above. Some will gripe about this practice, as there’s usually more distance between seats and the stage, affording customers less anonymity and privacy. I personally love it, and it makes the experience more personal and closes that gap between performer and patron. This is a small place to begin with, so it’s not like you’re gonna find a dark corner and camouflage yourself to ogle without detection. Cough up some cash and treat everyone right, which includes polite tipping and staying respectful. Lap dances are available for the standard $20, but the dancers are not topless, which I admit is a bummer. Still, if you want some conversation and friction this is a promising opportunity. You’re also welcome to buy a dancer a drink if you’d prefer more conversation and less friction, and they will usually opt for a $20 glass of champagne. These prices are pretty standard for this industry, so if you’re rolling your eyes at them you have my permission to stay at home and peruse the internet for nudity, which should take an exhausting .6 second Google search.
The staff of dancers is eclectic but leans toward Suicide Girl territory, with body mods abound and Manic Panic hair moving brightly in the black light. Still, if you’re searching for a certain body type or ethnicity they are very likely represented on a weekend night. All of the dancers were very friendly, offering chit chat if it was sought, or vaster discussions about art if you pay for their time. I won’t mention any names (since aliases mutate regularly in this business anyway), but the staff in general were fun and laid-back, cracking jokes about their Catholic roots while Rage Against the Machine blasted in the background.
One extremely talented performer, a dark-haired beauty named Mia, invited me to a Pumps-hosted event later in the week featuring an art exhibit and a burlesque show. I used to frequent Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School over at the Slipper Room, my favorite burlesque joint in the city, so the union of art and burlesque is totally my jam. I will cover Aubrey Roemer’s dynamic work soon as a featured artist on this blog, so stay tuned for that, because it features the Pumps Pin-Ups.
Anyway, I’m one of those annoying guys who is fifteen minutes early for everything, including the art exhibit. The Pumps owner (or manager, unsure which) was kind enough to not only open the doors to me, but give me a drink on the house for being the early bird eating the fuck out of the worm. He then said, “If you were wearing a Pumps shirt I’d have given you two beers.” I was wearing the Down “smoking Jesus” shirt. Frowny face. Still, little gestures like that are what make a business part of the community, and it did not go ignored. The burlesque show was sassy fun, showing off the singing/dancing/teasing talents of the Pumps Pin-Ups with smiles abound. Burlesque is one of my favorite forms of entertainment and they nailed the mischievous, playful tone that makes it so appealing.
I definitely recommend Pumps to anyone seeking a gentleman’s club experience more in line with my own blue collar working attitude. Scores may get all the Yankee players, and they can keep ‘em. Pumps get the rockers and metalheads who stop by Duff’s and Saint Vitus, though the clientele is diverse as well. I see Pumps as a positive life experience, one that discards the bells and whistles of polished, upscale clubs and succeeds with quality talent, personality, and a playlist that rocks harder than any other club in the city. It may not be glamorous and it may not be the Vegas strip, but I know Crüe would approve, and they’re pretty much the Roger Ebert of strip club opinions and insight.
Get more information on Pumps over on their site, including the address and happy hour times (with $4 beers, which is totally solid): http://pumpsbar.com/