Unionized, Dancer-Owned Peep Show Shutters on Labor Day

SAN FRANCISCO—The Lusty Lady peep show, the nation’s only unionized, dancer-owned adult entertainment business, closed its doors at 3am today, Labor Day. The irony was hardly lost on one former “Lusty” named Lily Burana, who wrote about the closing and her memories of the unique North Beach business, whose fighting spirit was finally “vanquished” when it could not meet its May rent after 40 years in business.

According to Burana, the landlord, Nevada real estate magnate Roger Forbes, declined to negotiate a new lease, effectively sentencing the Lusty Lady, which unionized in 1997 and was purchased by dancers in 2003 for $400,000, to extinction. Without the resources to move, and no longer able to compete with the Forbes-owned “strobe light-and-spandex McStripclubs” that populate North Beach, “it was announced in late August that the club would shut down. That the closing date falls during Labor Day weekend seems especially poignant for this unique union shop,” Burana wrote for The Atlantic.

“To many of us, dancers, patrons, and support staff alike,” she added poignantly, “the closing of the Lusty Lady means not just the demise of a singular San Francisco institution, but another nail in the coffin of the Bay Area’s Bohemian class—a triumph of capitalism over native culture.”

A two year veteran of the place back in the 90’s, Burana, whose affection for the Lusty Lady has remained palpable over the years, observes, “The Lusty had many distinguishing characteristics—a cocky feminist underpinning that couldn't be found in any other strip club or peep show in the country, a dynamic, punky-queer dancer corps, and a sense of humor about its onanistic mission objective."

That cocky feminism manifested itself in ways Burana never expected, including a unique relationship with patrons that had its own unexpected rewards. “That the terms of interaction were non-negotiable underscored for many dancers a valuable aspect of sexual self-awareness: This is mine," she proudly recalls. "In private or shown for hire, clothed or bare, it’s mine. After a few weeks at the Lusty, when I walked down the street, I felt less threatened by men talking shit to me. My posture changed. If it wasn’t liberating, it was certainly uplifting. Who would have expected such from a peep show? Not me. Then again, to dismiss the idea that vulgarity and uplift can coexist side-by-side is to deny the degenerate magic of San Francisco.”

In that light, it’s no wonder Burana has taken the time to say goodbye to the Lusty Lady, or that she is able to express so palpably the shared sense that more than just a peep show has been lost.

“So, Lusty Lady, as we must, we surrender you to the ages and to the clutches of big business," sings Burana in her final refrain. “Oh, sweet Lady, you dive, you dreambox, you were something special. You will be missed.”