Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Billy’s Topless


Here's a Christmas memory from 10 years ago as I delve into the archives for a more distant vanishing.

Personal journal entry from December 19, 1997: Last night was our office Christmas party. I had three gin & tonics. Then I went over to Billy's Topless to look at the girls. A crazy girl who called herself Heidi did her thing in a sexy Santa outfit--red with white fur-trim skirt, panties, bra, and camisole--and blue glitter eyelashes. She was very 1950s camp, blowing kisses and shooting us with her fingers, going "Pow! Pow!" and blowing on her finger like it was the smoking end of a gun. She licked her nipples and stuck dollar bills to them, then shimmied until the dollars fell off, fluttering to the stage. I couldn't tell if she meant to be campy or was just out of her mind.

That was the last year Billy's was topless. Thanks to Giuliani’s “Quality of Life” campaign, Billy's Topless, like the majority of New York's great neighborhood strip joints, was forced to require bikini tops and driven out of business. Located on The Corner, at 6th and 24th, it is now a bagel shop.

These changes drastically reduced the quality of life for lots of honest working girls. They moved from areas like Chelsea and Tribeca to dangerous neighborhoods in the Bronx where work could still be found. Or, if they made the cut, they moved to Manhattan's "upscale" strip joints, where they would have to hustle drinks and lap dances, and where plastic surgery is required.

Billy's wasn't like that. For over two decades, Billy's was a neighborhood bar. They served a free sterno-heated buffet (that no one ever touched). The customers and the dancers knew each other, chatted together, and no one got hustled. There was no cover charge. I went in once with a cheap guy who refused to buy a drink--the only requirement for the privilege of sitting in Billy's. The bouncer bought the guy a beer and said, "Just sit with it in front of you."

Girls from the Coney Island Sideshow danced at Billy's, tattoos and all. The stars of the new burlesque paid the rent and tried out new routines at Billy's. Each girl was unique, some beautiful, some boring, while others looked like something straight out of Diane Arbus.

But like everything else in New York, stripping was plowed under by the monoculture, the machine that, in the name of sanitation, dictates: Everything must be the same.

all photos of Billy's are screenshots from the movie Rounders


Anonymous said...

Ah, Billy's. Many dollar bills lost there. You forgot to mention that when they valiantly soldiered on after Giuliani's crippling "Quality of Life" dictum, they were forces to change their name to the entirely inane "Billy's Stopless" (as in "we don't stop dancin'). Horrible.

Anonymous said...

I remember they changed the sign from Billy's Topless to "Billy Stopless"

Lisanne said...

So retarded!

Anonymous said...

Those were F.I.T. girls dancing at Billy's back in the day. What happened to Billy's is reason enough for voting against Mr. 9/11.

Rambler said...

I miss Billys. It's skankiness was its appeal.

Anonymous said...

i knew it was time to stop going to billy's when i heard myself say, "what time will raven be appearing today."

Douggie A said...

I once saw perhaps the most beautiful dancer I have ever seen in Billy's.
Her name (yes, I still remember) was Dylan Brooks.
She had more curves than an MIT trigonometry final, curly dark hair with the most slow and sensual dancing you can ever imagine.
She hypnotized an entire table of guys that night. We were all just silent, watching this incredible dancer.
She kept allowing her bikini bottom to slide off her, revealing tantalizing snatches of paradise, so much so that one of the bouncers had to come over and tell her to tighten it up.
In all the time I went to Billy's, she is the only dancer I ever remember.

Anonymous said...

The italian buffet they served at lunch was a gourmet extravaganza!

Anonymous said...

the autographed photo to Billy's from Kelsey Grammer was the validating moment for me.

Anonymous said...

I remember gorgeous huge titted Tonya in her stilletto heels & adorable "little" girls giggle!!! I still think about her to this day!! I wanted to make love to her!!!

Anonymous said...

Sometimes I can't help myself and come over to your blog & peel through the remnants of a NYC now gone.

I implore you to find out about the sex industry, then & now. It was a huge part of NYC's cast of characters. Not only for men, but for the women of this city. Think of all the creative women who didn't fit into office environments. The women who would have struggled. There were loads of strippers & dominatrixes who paid their rent, made their way through school, supported their visions of becoming an actress, or musician. There were SO many! You could pick up the village voice and seek employment via the "Adult" section quite easily. There were lots of seedy strip joints and dungeons. They advertised in NY Magazine and Screw. They watched, or partook in the Robin Bird show. All of that gone, or sanitized. Now we only invite collegiate women who make more than 70k per year. They're not so interesting. Those women were.

Anonymous said...

This is long after this was 1st posted. I was a topless dancer in the 80s and I worked at Billy's and The Baby Doll and all over Queens and The Bronx. I liked The Baby Doll the most. Billy's owner/ manager had some CRAZY puritan rules, LOL. Like you couldn't touch your own breasts! I hated working there.

Sassy said...

Striptease is a dying art and the big brash upscale palaces are definitely dominating the landscape. In London dancers are continually battling puritan councils to keep our older 'strip-pub' industry alive. How about a blog hook-up - I'd love to write a little linked piece on the NYC striptease industry?
Here's my website - feel free to browse and hear our stories. www.sassylapdancer.com

Anonymous said...

I have a number of Billy's adventures, having worked at various places in the nabe in the 90s, but the one thing that was the most endearing part of it was the easy combination of sleaze and innocence there. No drink hustles, no cover charge. The girls were nude or semi nude while they wiggled their way down the stage. It was just looking and drinking and conversation, either with your friends, if you didn't come in alone, or with the girls, either joking with them as you passed a few buck(and with the stage separated from the bar by a three foot gap, you could only barely just reach their outstretched hand). During their breaks they'd come down and and out at the bar. Many of them had interesting stories to tell, and were fun to talk to. It was also a great place for people watching.. The oglers, the artists, the loud business guys who came in their suits talked loudly and never tipped, the occasional group of self conscious lesbians, the lone guy feeling sorry for himself, the old guy who claimed this was the secret to his longevity..

Eventually, my friends and I realized we had been going there a little too often when we came in and got a "Cheers" style welcome. Always beloved in my heart, but Billy's wasn't a place where you want everybody to know your name..

1060michaelg said...

My Billy's Topless story was during a classic NY cinematic night...December '99 and my wife and I had decided to separate that afternoon. I lived in Brooklyn, so I took the F train into the city and got off at East Broadway. Bounced around the LES and after a few more rounds at McSorley's, trundled my broken heart over to Billy's.I sat at the packed bar, watching the bikini clad girls with all the other dreamers. There was this ravishing Indian girl who kept moving her bikini bottom aside to show us what we wanted.Quick, furtive peeks, which made it even hotter.
I realized I still had my shades on even though it was almost dark outside, and inside even. A skinny guy next to me said, "I seen you on TV, right? Uhh?" I shook my head in and took a slow, dramatic sip of my vodka and tonic and said, "Nah...I'm just an asshole." He threw his head back and laughed. Two minutes later, a tap on my shoulder. It was my neighbor--- HE now had shades on, too. "Lookit," he said, "I'm an asshole too!!" We both high fived and laughed and bought one another a couple of drinks...shared some life stories.
And that's what I miss so very,VERY much about the NY that I remember and cherish the memory of...the HUMAN NY.

BigB said...

Does anyone remember JJs just outside the Holland tunnel