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Before the cellphone became ubiquitous, with no explicit arrangements, you could swing by Jilly's strip club any given night and find yourself with the usual crew.
You could just as easily run into a co-worker ("What are you doing here? I didn't think you were that type of guy"), a neighbour, boys from the old hood, celebrities and whatnot. It was a blast made more so by the fact that the working women would hang out with the fellas even when they weren't on shift.
We came up with nicknames for them: Hummingbird, Chicago, Don't Touch, Overseer, Jeep, James Brown. And carnal particulars aside, it was a general yukfest with them, no money exchanged, that oft stretched into the wee hours.
But times change. And so did Jilly's.
The block it occupied on the northwest corner of Broadview and Queen was just screaming for some kind of makeover. Gentrification has already taken hold further west. And in May, Streetcar Developments announced it had bought the property in the interests of creating "a destination that's public for the whole community to enjoy."
On Sunday, July 13, Jilly's shut its doors for good.
What I observed on different nights during its week-long "farewell party" helped me recall the Jilly's of old, when the J-spot, as we affectionately called it, was a local clubhouse.
An old pal is in town on a junket, and someone drops the notion of popping in.
"I can't set foot in a place like that. I have two girls now," he matter-of-factly states.
It's no secret Jilly's has been a hurting for a while now. In fact, I don't know anyone who goes any more - and my odd attempts to do so have ended in a quick exit, sometime even sans beverage, and a lingering sense of sadness.
In a jacked-up economy of 10-buck (with tip) suds, the high-pressure sales tactics for minimal-contact $20 lap dances and long breaks between stage shows just weren't cutting it any more.
But in that week before the castle lights grow dim, the J-spot is rocking to a different vibe.
There are people milling outside to get in.
Inside, the walls are already exposed, 40 or so support beams (apparently serious structural concerns need addressing), plumbing visible and electrical wires dangling. Looks kind of cool, actually. The joint is hopping, with an unfamiliar mix of folks for any stripper joint.
There are old and young, all-male and all-female tables, girl-girl couples, dude-dude couples, mixed arrangements of every assortment, just as you'd find in a beer tent at a raucous summer event.
People are just givin'er like it's their last night on earth. And the nattily attired bouncer is having conniptions trying to herd them. It's a losing game.
Perhaps it's the "All DRINKS must go at $5.25. Come one Come All!" banner hanging out front.
The dancers plying their trade onstage are doing a brisk business. There are stage-divers lying face up with $5, $10 and $20 bills in their mouths in exchange for a body surf. It's mostly women taking the plunge. Hilarity ensues.
But in one gonzo scene, a dancer drops her bare genitalia on a dude's mouth and the place erupts with shock, awe and applause.
At different times, both men and women take to the stage and start dancing themselves. Mr. Bouncer don't much like that. "Get the fuck off the stage!" he huffs.
One gets the sense that some of these folks are newbies to the experience lured in by the beer prices or some bucket-list ambition. The cat beside us has been mostly madly texting all night. Jeez.
But amidst all the reminiscing and revelry, there's a very real human collateral damage component. What are these women going to do for a living now that the place is going belly up?
The answers are eerily akin to the reasons they said they started dancing in the first place. There's the going back to school, going to travel, etc.
The top three responses to the "what now?" overture are:
- "I'm done with this shit. I bought a house in burbs."
- "Come up to the VIP and then I'll tell you."
- "I gotta get a fuckin' job - that's what!"
And let me not forget - "Fuck you! You've never ever got a dance from me all these years." True.
But the reality is that strip clubs are going the way of the dodo in Toronto - no more are allowed to open and when one goes, its licence is non-transferable.
It was always a thing not to linger until the house lights went up at the J-spot, so at around 11 pm Sunday my running mate and I make our move to jet. The place is almost out of beer, only Coors left, and we're down to just shots.
We're barely outside when Mr. Bouncer starts denying entry, bellowing: "We're closed! There's no more booze!"
A CityTV truck sits in the parking lot across the street, and several squad cars are down the block. Probably a very good thing as this last wild night at Jilly's turns ghost.