Lusty Lady is also a biweekly sex-related column by Rachel Kramer Bussel in the Village Voice.
File:Lusty Lady marquee.jpg

The Lusty Lady is the name of two peep show establishments, one in downtown Seattle and one in the North Beach district of San Francisco. It was made famous by the labor activism of its San Francisco workers.


The Seattle Lusty Lady, known originally as the Amusement Center, was opened in the 1970s by two business associates, who soon after opened the other location in San Francisco. Originally, both Lusty Ladys showed 16mm peep show films only, but in 1983 live nude dancers were added and became the main focus of the businesses.[1] Until 2003 they were both owned by the same company; in that year the San Francisco franchise was bought by the strippers working there and began to be managed as a worker cooperative. The San Francisco branch had already entered the news in 1997 when it became the first (and as of 2008 only) successfully unionized sex business in the U.S.[1][2] (The San Diego strip club Pacer's had seen a unionization effort in the early 1990s, but it was short-lived.[3])


The two peep shows operate similarly: Several nude women dance simultaneously on a stage, separated by glass windows from the customers who each stand in their own booth, paying by the minute. No tipping is possible and the dancers are paid an hourly wage. (The top wage for dancers in Seattle in 2001 was $27 per hour[4], the top wage in San Francisco in 2003 was $26 per hour.[5]) Some of the booths in the Seattle operation have one-way mirror glass; these were removed in San Francisco after worker protests. The dancers are also available for one-on-one shows in glass-separated private booths where tipping is possible. In addition, coin-operated booths showing porn videos are available.

Lusty Lady occasionally features "art days", exhibiting erotic photographs and paintings in the hallways. In February 2002, both peep shows featured a video art exhibition called "Peepshow 28", with one channel in all video booths devoted to showing a sequence of 64 short videos exploring voyeurism, exhibitionism and sexuality. [6][7]

Once a year, Lusty Lady organizes a "Play Day": the dancers walk around, explain the operation of the club to customers, and allow behind-the-scenes peeks.[8][9]

In recruitment ads, the establishments often present themselves as hip and claim to be woman-owned.Template:Fact

Seattle Edit


The Seattle Lusty Lady opened in the 1970s and moved to its present location at 1315 First Ave in downtown Seattle near Pike Place Market in 1985.[10] The club is well known for its frequently changing and often amusing marquee announcements.[11] The Lusty Lady is immediately across the street from the Seattle Art Museum and the marquee often comments on current exhibits or the Hammering Man statue. Mimi Gates, stepmother of Bill Gates and director of the Seattle Art Museum, said "The Lusty Lady's marquee is a Seattle landmark."[12]

In 2006, the Seattle Lusty Lady survived a threatened wrecking ball when the building's owner, a Seattle family, refused a multi-million-dollar tear-down offer from developers of a new Four Seasons Hotel next door. The owners instead received $850,000 "for air rights to the views over their property".[12] Employees celebrated by posting on their reader board: "We're Open, Not Clothed!"[10]


The 1997 book The Lusty Lady by photographer Erika Langley documents the work in the Seattle branch of Lusty Lady. It includes photos by Langley (who had worked there as a dancer since 1992) as well as essays by a number of Lusty Lady dancers, who vary considerably in their attitudes toward their customers and toward their work.[13] In 2000, some of the photos were exhibited in the Seattle Art Museum, across the street from the Lusty Lady.[14]

Elisabeth Eaves, who had stripped at the Lusty Lady in 1997, completed graduate school and returned in 2000 to write a book about stripping in general and her experiences in particular, Bare: On Women, Dancing, Sex, and Power, published in 2002.[15]

San FranciscoEdit


The San Francisco Lusty Lady is located at 1033 Kearny Street, in the Broadway strip club district of North Beach. It is open 24 hours a day.

Unionization Edit

Several grievances led to the unionizing effort in 1997. African American feminist sociologist Siobhan Brooks while working at the club had noticed that African American dancers were discriminated against and filed a complaint. The precipitating event was the installation of one-way mirrors in a number of booths (which also exist in the Seattle branch), resulting in some customers taking photos and videos of the show.[16][17]

Among the leaders of the organizing drive was the stripper Julia Query who documented the efforts on video, resulting in the documentary Live Nude Girls Unite, written and directed by Vicky Funari and Julia Query.

After a vote of the employees, the business was organized by the Exotic Dancers Union, an affiliate of Service Employees International Union, then a member of AFL-CIO, Local 790.[16][17] The Bay Area Sex Worker Advocacy Network (BAYSWAN) provided website support for the workers' unionization effort, which helped to garner public support for the workers as well as inquiries from other exotic dancers and sex workers throughout the country.[18]

Worker cooperativeEdit

After management cut hourly compensation at the San Francisco Lusty Lady in 2003, the workers struck and won, but the closure of the peep show was announced soon after. The subsequent efforts to turn the club into a worker cooperative were led by Donna Delinqua (stage name), a stripper and graduate student in English. Other cooperatives provided input, among them the worker-owned San Francisco sex-toy business Good Vibrations.[19]

The workers bought the club for $400,000, with money borrowed from the old owners.[5] In 1996, the club had had a revenue of almost $3 million; by 2003 this had fallen by 40%. The monthly rent was $13,442 in 2003 and had doubled over the preceding three years.[5] The club had a revenue of about $27,000 per week in the first half of 2006. [20]

After the change in ownership, the union was retained, but some changes in management were instituted. While dancers had been regularly evaluated by managers before, now a "peer review" process was established wherein dancers evaluate each other. The team leaders are elected from among the dancers for six month terms.

A dispute began in the summer of 2006 when a male employee wrote a confidential email to the co-op board, complaining that hiring of too many heavy women drove customers away, thus lowering every employee's income. One member of the board posted the message on a message board, causing considerable consternation among dancers. The board member was dismissed.[21] Two of the male employees have argued that the union should be abandoned as not useful in a worker-owned cooperative.[20]


Lily Burana, who stripped for a time at the San Francisco Lusty Lady, wrote about her experiences there and in other strip clubs in her 2001 book Strip City: A Stripper's Farewell Journey Across America.[22] Carol Queen also wrote about her time dancing at the Lusty Lady, in her 2003 book Real Live Nude Girl: Chronicles of a Sex-Positive Culture.


  1. 1.0 1.1 "A Brief History of the Lusty Lady Theater", Lusty Lady San Francisco website.
  2. "S.F. Strip Club Ratifies Union – First in U.S." by Glen Martin, San Francisco Chronicle, April 11 1997.
  3. Martha Irvine, "San Francisco Strippers Enjoy Union Coverage", Las Vegas Review-Journal, May 12, 1997
  4. "Stripped 'Bare'" by Patti Jones, Seattle Times, October 29 2002. Reports on the book by Elisabeth Eaves.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Tad Friend, "Naked Profits", The New Yorker, July 12 2004
  6. "Peepshow Gets an Artistic Implant", by Robin Clewley, Wired, January 21 2002.
  7. Peeping by Bethany Jean Clement, Seattle Weekly, February 14 2002. Report on visiting the Peepshow 28 video art exhibition.
  8. Merry XXXmas to All by Leah Greenblatt, Seattle Weekly, December 11 2002
  9. "Events", Lusty Lady San Francisco website.
  10. 10.0 10.1 The Ex-Mayor's Booby Prize. by Rick Anderson, Seattle Weekly, March 29 2006
  11. "Seattle's Irreverent Marquee is no Bust" by Robert L. Jamieson Jr., Seattle Post-Intelligencer, March 17 2001.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Seattle Hotel Bows to a Peep Show, Pleasing Gates's Stepmother,, 14 August 2006
  13. Review of The Lusty Lady by E. J. Levy, Rain Taxi Review of Books #9, Spring 1998.
  14. "Photographer/peep-show dancer takes 'alternate universe' to art museum", Associated Press, January 19 2000
  15. Bare: The Book (official website).
  16. 16.0 16.1 "Lusty Lady Dancers Ratify Union Contract", by David Steinberg, Comes Naturally #58, May 2 1997.
  17. 17.0 17.1 Laurel Druley: "Lusty Labor", Mother Jones, January 6 1998. Report on the unionizing effort.
  18. Irvine, Martha. (1997-04-12). "Strippers get ground-breaking labor pact." Associated Press.
  19. "Under Nude Management" by David Steinberg, Comes Naturally, September 16 2003. – Report on the worker's effort to buy the San Francisco franchise, and the new management style.
  20. 20.0 20.1 "The Lusty Lady loses its innocence" by Sarah Phelan, San Francisco Bay Guardian, September 29 2006
  21. "S.F. strip club's hefty lady show sparks tempest" by Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross, San Francisco Chronicle, October 2, 2006.
  22. Strip City,, 9 October 2001. Review of Lily Burana's book Strip City: A Stripper's Farewell Journey Across America

Books Edit

External links Edit

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