Monday, March 5, 2007
So here I am on Saturday night at this new tiki bar in Topeka called Sharkey's. It's next to a strip club and shares a parking lot with a bowling alley. Out front, the Girls Gone Wild bus takes up eight spaces and promises a good time.
I'm sitting alone at a table in the corner with my notepad and a 16-ounce can of Bud Light. I watch as guys in their 20s and 30s pile into the bar. Most come with buddies. Some come alone. A few bring girlfriends.
They walk through the doors grinning, sort of bouncing. They no doubt have seen the endless ads on late-night TV, and they heard the Girls Gone Wild film crew was coming to town on its "Search for the Wildest Bar in America" tour-and, dude, why not? It could totally be worth the $20 admission fee.
My fiance wasn't too pleased when I told her I was going, but, as I told her, an assignment is an assignment. My editor sent me to ask the girls one question: "Why go wild?"
So far, though, the wildness has been elusive. Scratch that, it's been nonexistent. I ask a bartender-a pretty young woman in a very low cut shirt-what to expect. She smiles and assures me that it's early. Soon girls will be drinking, dancing and letting loose in sexy contests. Just like on TV. Just wait.
Five girls are drinking cocktails at a table positioned in the middle of the bar. Before them is the stage. A Girls Gone Wild banner hangs encouragingly on the wall.
One of these girls tells me they are part of the new Top City Rollergirls team and they came to "support the bar," a cross-promotional thing. Will they go wild? Time will tell.
A young woman at another table came with her long-term boyfriend and doesn't plan on going wild.
It's past 10 and I have been here for more than an hour. One guy complains that he arrived at 8 and not a shirt has been lifted. And where are the cameras?
More guys bounce in, survey the bar for wildness, buy a drink, sit down and wait. I walk across the floor to the beer stand for another Bud Light. On the way back I survey the crowd. One guy's shirt says "you had me at swallow."
Another guy, in work boots and a cutoff shirt that shows his tattooed arms, sits alone in a booth. He drinks his beer and stares blankly at the Girls Gone Wild banner, as if its presence alone will conjure magic. It seems every guy is looking there and wondering if his $20 was a waste.
I return to my table. There is a ripple in the crowd when the bartender in the low-cut shirt climbs atop the beer stand. The dude next to me stands to get a better look. Will she go wild? Close, but not quite. She gives a guy a body shot-which means she sticks a vile with some green liquor down her shirt, bends down and lets him pry it out with his teeth.
A thin man with a mustache and glasses starts pacing. A guy asks a girl if her phone shoots video. I ask one of the bouncers when the wildness will start. "I don't know," he says. "It was supposed to start at 10, but it keeps getting pushed back."
Then the bar's owner, Damon Sutherland, gets on stage and grabs a microphone. The crowd grows quiet.
"The film crew's been through surveying the, uh-surveying the area." He says whatever happens tonight will appear on a segment of a Girls Gone Wild DVD. Some of the cameramen, he adds enticingly, have connections to Playboy. So drink up. Let loose.
Bartenders take positions on the stage and atop the beer stand and pour liquor down the throats of any guy or girl who wants some. The guys' line is much longer than the girls'.
Just after 11, two men walk through the doors. They are holding midsized cameras with lights mounted on top. There's a cheer from the crowd. The disco ball is going. The music is thumping. Liquor has been poured down throats. Guys are primed. The wildness, it seems, is just around the bend.
The bartender in the low-cut shirt takes a microphone and announces the first contest. Four guys sit in chairs with balloons on their laps. Four girls grind on them, trying to pop the balloons. "What you're gonna do," the bartender instructs the girls, "is be sexy and sensual."
There's a mad dash to the area surrounding the stage. One guy can't see. "Hey bud," he says to the guy in front of him, "is it any good?" "Eh," the other guy says with a wave of his hand. After a minute or two the balloons have all been popped, but the girls' clothes have stayed on.
Dudes slowly move away from the stage, wondering what's next. More liquor is poured down more throats. Sutherland grabs the microphone. "Here's your chance to be on a DVD," he says. "Come one, let's go."
To get things going, a cocktail waitress gets on the beer stand and starts dancing. The camera shines on her. She starts rubbing her breasts. Salivating guys crowd the stand. She lifts her tank top-but not her bra. "A little more than that!" yells a guy who could be 40, with a goatee, a K-State jacket and paint-stained jeans. At that she steps down from the stand. The cameraman leaves her and the crowd dissipates, searching for wildness elsewhere.
I stand against a wall taking notes. A young guy with a close-shaven beard walks up to me. His name is Travis. A little drunk, he recognizes the absurdity of the moment.
"You gotta paint this picture," he tells me, waving his hand panoramically across the bar. Crowds congregate in pockets where the cameras film girls who might go wild. You pay $20 for the chance of seeing a girl lift up her shirt, he says, and then no one does it. He wonders: Are Kansas girls that prudish? Or is Girls Gone Wild that lame? Are Kansas girls too smart to flash the camera? Or too stupid?
In any case, he says, "I wish I would've thought of it."
Travis goes on about how dumb guys are for wasting their money on something so juvenile. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees a girl get on the beer stand and, lo! the moment of ejaculation is nigh. Off comes her top. Travis speeds away, saying, "OK, now there's some boobs. I gotta go see 'em!"
And that's pretty much the end. Not long after, the cameras disappeared.
I looked for the girl who had taken her top off to ask her why she went wild, but she was gone.
I was about to leave, when I ran into Travis again and he told me he saw six or seven girls lift up their shirts in the corner, away from the cameras.
I heard the guy in the K-State jacket talking loudly and drunkenly to a woman and pointing at others, saying, "I've seen her titties, I've seen her titties, and she wouldn't show 'em to me 'cause she's stuck up. Now, which do you wanna be?" The woman was debating whether or not to do it until her friend threatened to slap her in the face.