Patrons at the Lucky Devil Lounge in Oregon can get a socially responsible pole dance show and takeaway food
In a car park in Oregon, a woman wearing nothing but a gas mask, fishnets, and knee high boots swings elegantly around an elevated pole. Ten feet away, another dancer in gloves raises a toilet roll over her head as she entertains passing cars. Standing on podiums shuttered off by metal barriers, the dancers are lit up by pink lights and surrounded by giant bottles of Corona.
“It’s almost like going into a haunted house,” laughs Shon Boulden, the owner of Portland-based strip club, Lucky Devil Lounge. “There’s curtains around so you don’t know what’s going on, then as soon as it’s your time to pull into the club, we open the curtains and off you go.”
The newly-launched burlesque drive-thru, called ‘Food to Go-Go’, gives visitors a coronavirus-safe pole dance show while they wait for their food order. The club runs like a regular drive-thru: customers pull up, put their order in, then wait in a queue in their cars. The only difference is that the queue snakes through a makeshift strip club.
“Now we’re in pandemic mode, you have to think of creative ways to make money and still be safe,” Boulden tells Dazed. “When the governor shut down all the bars, restaurants, and strip clubs, we had to think really quickly about how we could pivot to something else.”
Like all other non-essential businesses in Portland, Lucky Devil Lounge was forced to close its doors when the city imposed its lockdown on March 24. Boulden immediately decided to keep the club’s kitchen open, initially offering a service he called ‘Boober Eats’, which saw topless dancers delivering food orders. “It was a big hit,” he recalls. “It kind of went viral – everybody was laughing about it and making jokes. It was pretty fun.”
Unhappy with the riff on their name, Uber Eats sent Boulden a cease and desist order, forcing the club to rebrand as ‘Lucky Devil Eats’ – although this didn’t impact business. “We’ve delivered food to everybody in Portland,” says Boulden. “We’ve delivered to the elderly, to dudes who are super stoned, sometimes we’re just delivering to someone who wants to see another face.”
The drive-thru came quickly after the success of the delivery service, when a local event company reached out to Lucky Devil Lounge with the idea. “Not only is it healthy and safe,” explains Boulden, “but it’s providing some (positive) mental health for our workers and customers.”
“Not only is it healthy and safe, but it’s providing some (positive) mental health for our workers and customers” – Shon Boulden, Lucky Devil Lounge
Lucky Devil Lounge dancer Olivia says her experience as a stripper is very different in the drive-thru than the club. “When I’m stripping on stage, I’m able to create a personal, close, physical connection with my audience,” she explains. “I feel in charge of the energy and the interaction. The go-go tent is much more of a show, where I try to match the energy of the DJ and the rest of the party going on around me.”
By launching the drive-thru, Boulden has made it possible for dancers to maintain their livelihoods in an industry that has almost come to a complete halt. With the porn industry shut down, and self-employed sex workers unable to work due to lockdown restrictions, many sex workers are looking at a major income loss. Often self-employed, and not awarded the same rights as most workers, those in the sex industry don’t always have access to things like furlough schemes and sick pay when cash flow runs low.
“Sex workers have historically been stigmatised as dangerous and spreading impurity, both moral and physical,” sex worker Alice* told Dazed in March. “We are often mischaracterised as vectors of disease that threaten morally ‘healthy’ populations, and our bodies are policed as a result.”
In the UK, sex worker-led collective SWARM launched a hardship fund for sex workers “in financial crisis due to COVID-19”, while in the US, a number of initiatives have been set up to help, including a relief fund in Portland, which has currently raised over $14,000 (£11.5k).
“The first and most important thing that we’re doing is providing income for our employees,” asserts Boulden. Lucky Devil Lounge dancer Brodie Grody tells Dazed that working at the drive-thru has had a positive influence on her mental health during the pandemic. “I am so thankful to still be around my family/friends/coworkers,” she explains, “and it’s awesome to be able to still make some kind of income and make people happy in these dark times.”
Olivia agrees. “I feel abundantly lucky that I am able to still earn money to keep food on the table, and feel fortunate to interact with my coworkers, who – since the virus – have become my family. I am also grateful for the special interactions with delighted customers.”
“I feel abundantly lucky that I am able to still earn money to keep food on the table, and feel fortunate to interact with my coworkers, who – since the virus – have become my family” – Olivia, dancer
As well as protecting the income of his employees, Boulden is focussed on maintaining a rigorous hygiene routine in order to protect them from coronavirus. “We have hand sanitisers, we wear gloves and masks,” he tells Dazed. “Everytime anyone comes to work, we check their temperature before they enter the building, and then we log all the temperatures. We’ve been very successful at turning the inside of our club into a cleanroom.” Although dancers don’t always wear gas masks – “she had one and decided to wear it because it looked cool,” Boulden says of an image that surfaced online – they do strictly wear gloves and masks, and maintain a safe distance from visitors.
Described by Boulden as “more gogo dancing”, the drive-thru provides visitors with a different experience to Lucky Devil Lounge’s traditional offering. “There’s quite a lot more space, everybody’s wearing masks, and the music’s kind of loud, so you don’t get the same interaction where you can talk to them, unless you yell.” Boulden believes this is the appeal for many customers: “Sometimes they don’t want to talk, they just want to take a look.”
As well as dancers – one of whom occasionally hangs upside down from a “hula hoop that extends from the ceiling” – customers at the drive-thru are also welcomed by a DJ, lasers, and a fog machine. “It’s a pretty amazing experience to go through,” declares Boulden. “You pull in, you get two songs, and then you pull out so that we can deliver your food to your car.”
“Visitors are, for the most part, very respectful and excited to interact with the dancers,” Olivia tells Dazed. “With the boisterous atmosphere, customers typically exchange just a few words with us and then continue watching the show.”
Grody adds: “They always look super happy and are more than willing to take videos and pictures while they’re watching.”
Now renowned in the local area, the drive-thru has become a place to regain a sense of community while everyone is trapped in their homes. “The customers are awesome,” Boulden tells Dazed, “they tip with ones, they honk their horns. Some people come through with convertibles, others pop out of their sunroof. People are bringing out all their vintage cars and their hot rods. It’s a lot of fun, and it’s all about doing it in a safe way. Everybody comes out with a huge smile on their face.”
Lucky Devil Lounge’s drive-thru is open every Thursday to Saturday in Portland.