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Sep 27

Mad Men Monday: The Playboy Club

I was so excited last night when our ad men ended up at the Playboy Club. I’ve always had a strange fascination with the place.

Photo from AMCtv.com

The first Playboy Club opened in Chicago on February 29 (Leap Year), 1960 and was a success from the moment the doors were opened. The Playboy Club was a classy (no kidding) place that Newsweek eventually called “Disneyland for adults.” Early entertainers in that first Playboy Club included before-they-were-famous Aretha Franklin and Barbara Streisand.

Photo by O'Rourke at explayboybunnies.com, from Playboy June 1965

The Playboy Club eventually expanded to include more than 40 clubs and resorts. In Cincinnati, our own Playboy Club opened in September, 1964. It was located at 35 East 7th Street (current address of The Lodge Bar) and was in business for 19 years. Headliners in our own Club included Henny Youngman, Red Foxx, and Flip Wilson. You might have even heard Bootsy Collins performing in the lounge. From what I’ve read, the best years were between 1964 and 1976. In 1976, the Playboy Club concept moved from classy joint to more of a disco club and continued to change with the times. Our local club closed its doors in September, 1983.

I collect swizzle sticks and there are several Playboy sticks in my collection that I can only assume came from my parents. I called my Mom this morning and, to my surprise, my parents had a membership to the Cincinnati Playboy Club.  My Mom won the membership from a radio station contest around 1975. Mom says she always enjoyed the club because “it had a great atmosphere. You would take an elevator up, as it wasn’t on the ground floor, and then just step into the club.”  She remembers plush surroundings, with couch areas for conversation. Apparently my parents went to the club and restaurant quite often. I tried to find out what they used to drink. Mom thinks she drank something with vodka in it that tasted like lemonade.

Playboy Bunnies were by far the most famous part of the Clubs. Bunnies underwent strict training and weigh-ins. They also had to be able to identify 143 types of liquor and garnish over 20 cocktails. Bunnies were not allowed to date or mingle with the customers and, on the part of the customers, touching a Bunny was forbidden. A move I’ve always loved is the Bunny Dip. It’s a graceful way of bending slightly backwards to deliver and pickup drinks without bursting out of the Bunny Bustier. Something I always loved is that Playboy Bunnies were curvy girls, which was attractive back in the 60s. Famous bunnies include Deborah Harry (Blondie), Sherilyn Fenn, and Lauren Hutton.

In 2006, the Playboy Club reopened in (where else?) Las Vegas at The Palms. Some friends and I visited the Club in 2009 and I loved it. It’s classy and lush, with plenty of couches and a rich gold and red decor. One entire wall is digitized, displaying randomized images of Playboy magazine covers throughout the years. The Bunny costumes are still classy and the Bunnies still do the Bunny Dip.

Playboy Club, Las Vegas 2009

The Club is near the top of the Palms tower and overlooks all of Las Vegas. You can take a private escalator up to Moon, the nightclub with a retractable roof and always-open patio section. Personally, I preferred the Playboy club though – classy cocktails and an environment where I could chat with my friends. If you ever go, cover can run up to $40 on a weekend night. When we went (a Thursday, I believe), the guys each paid a $20 cover and I’m pretty sure the girls were all free.

Playboy Club, Las Vegas 2009

Perhaps the reason I love Mad Men is the same reason I’m fascinated with the Playboy Club. It’s a piece of history where women weren’t a size 2, bars were classy and encouraged cocktails and conversation, and the clothes were amazing. Could I live back then? No. I’m far too independent. I probably relate the most to Faye on Mad Men. But I love the chance to relax in the 60s now and then.

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4 Responses to “Mad Men Monday: The Playboy Club”

  1. Jo Diaz says:

    When my husband and I were in radio, he got a promotional Playboy shirt (looked like a football player’s shirt). I’ll never forget the only time I wore it publicly (great sleeping shirt) the cat calls/whistles went wild… I gave it to one of my kids. I don’t know how she handled it, but I know how I did.

    Love the episode, too!

  2. Nicole says:

    I never had to wear a Playboy shirt to get cat calls and wolf whistles. Just saying…

  3. Donna Parker says:

    Loved the Mad Men My Wine Education. It brought back so many memories. I used to work at the Playboy Club in Cincinnati. Even though it was VERY hard work, I wouldn’t give up the experiences I had or the memories. It was glamorous yes but behind the scenes it was a different story. It was pretty harsh. Still… I wouldn’t trade any of it! Thanks for the memories!

  4. Deborah says:

    My mother was a bunny at the club in Cincinnati. Her name was Ruth, some called her Ruthie, then some called her Penny.

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