Sex, love and Rancho Cordova

Flush your traditional Valentine’s Day, join this writer at strip clubs and The Old Spaghetti Factory

The women of Gold Club Centerfolds look nothing like how this story’s illustrator, Miss Lotion, imagined them. But if they did …

The women of Gold Club Centerfolds look nothing like how this story’s illustrator, Miss Lotion, imagined them. But if they did …

illustrations by miss lotion

An obscenely thin girl who looks like linguine in high heels smiles at me with jagged teeth. Strippers are always giving that look—it’s how they hook you, how they get your wallet open—but this girl seems weary behind those penetrating stares.

Not that I blame her. I’m at Pure Gold Showgirls, off of Sunrise Boulevard. I don’t want to call this spot seedy, because that’s unfair, puritanical and frankly a little sexist. (Is it seedy because someone maybe forgot to vacuum, or because the women are naked?) Anyway, let’s just say it’s the kind of strip club where there’s a self-serve soda machine, like you’d find at AM-PM, and they give you a red Solo cup with admission. A mishmash of leather and upholstered chairs surround three stages. The feng shui includes mirrors and blazing white lights and signs in English and Spanish reminding you to tip the dancers. I’m convinced every strip-club scene from every hip-hop video in the history of MTV was filmed here.

Three friends accompany me, and I comment to them about this skinny stripper and her skyscraper heels. They must be, like, 6 inches tall. “They’re actually 9,” the stripper interjects. There you go.

She high-wire dances in those 9-inchers on the stage, decent by only a threadbare G-string. After a while, she falls to her knees right in front of me, flashes those teeth, then reaches to my face and pulls the glasses off my nose. Folds them up, breathes on and fogs up the lenses.

And then she starts rubbing my glasses against her crotch.

Never seen that move before. And at this precise moment I realize that Rancho Cordova is the perfect anti-Valentine’s Day destination.

Keep with me here. We all know Valentine’s Day is the worst. Hating on the holiday is banal, but indulge me: the prix-fixe dinners even chefs hate, Shari and her damn berries, Hallmark, having to landscape your genital fuzz in hopes of saucy Hollywood coitus (which never goes down, because you stuffed yourself with too much rib-eye and buttercream).

So why not embrace Valentine’s Day’s mindless capitalism and shameless honeypotting? Instead of Ella, Grange or Mulvaney’s, what’s wrong with The Old Spaghetti Factory? And then, for dessert, a night of strip-club hopping in beautiful industrial suburbia. Forget Fifty Shades of Grey on February 14: Be Rancho Cordova’s naughty valentine.

Dinner (but no damn movie)

I like to tell a story about eating dinner at Spaghetti Factory with my family. This was maybe 20 years ago. I blurted out the F-word, or something, in front of my mom. This set her off, and she grabbed the remaining bread on the table, cocked her arm and chucked it at me. But she airmailed it. Or I dodged it; can’t remember, it happened suddenly. Anyway, she missed and hit an older man with a comb-over in the back of the head.

My girlfriend hears this story and agrees to return to the scene of the crime. It will be an ironic date night at Spag, as they call it. Saturday night in Rancho Cordova—and maybe someone will toss a loaf?

It takes a few minutes of maze navigation to land a parking spot at Nimbus Winery, which houses the Spaghetti Factory in Rancho. Waiting area is busier than a Kaiser emergency room. There are three hostesses, and I believe it, because a trio seems insufficient to handle the crowd. None of the hostesses look older than 21, but the bartender also IDs my girlfriend, so age is a funky beast at Spag. It’s an hour wait to sit in the trolley—devastating!—and 35 minutes otherwise, which is surprising.

The bar top is sticky with years of syrupy drinks. Girlfriend orders a glass of pinot noir, golfer Greg Norman’s vintage, for $7.50. I order the libation of choice of my 7-year-old self, a Shirley Temple, no ID needed. A bronze lamp with a red-velvet shade lights our conversation. I ask my girlfriend if the ambience sets a romantic mood. “If the décor of a whorehouse turns you on,” she says.

A quick food-critic rundown of the night: an appetizer, Twinkie-sized slabs of garlicky cheese bread surrounding a lukewarm dipping bowl of marinara, scares. The side salad’s iceberg needs to be crisper if it wants to shine with the too-piquant pesto dressing. Sadly, no one shot-puts the too-hot-to-handle bread loaf. The flagship spaghetti is all about dense noodles that could sink a canoe. The red sauce has the runs. And the mizithra comes with the promise of writing chops—the menu says Homer noshed on the brown butter and cheese pasta while busting out the Iliad—yet the pasta proffers no such inspiration for this writer. (Clearly.)

The spumoni, however, remains epic.

Our waitress is unmemorable, and that’s a good thing. The busboy, however, has a cold—coughing into his shoulder, using his fingers to scrape scum from a fork. We fear the measles.

My girlfriend points out that the couple in the booth next to us are seated side by side. We agree that there’s something very wrong with couples who don’t dine facing each other. She says that if I’d taken her to Spag on a first date eight years ago and maneuvered to sit side by side, there never would’ve been a second.

Servers sing “Happy Birthday” for a fourth time as we leave.

You’d think the ironic date night was a flop, but the girlfriend raves about our anti-Valentine’s evening later in the week. “When are we going back?” she asks, joking. Kind of. I agree that the no-expectations evening out (and sans a damn movie!) is a relief from the wallet-busting, first-world problem of traditional date nights.

Score one point for Ranch Cordova—but would the girlfriend be down for a strip-club crawl next?

Lap dance à trois

A woman who goes by the name Thor raises her eyebrow at me, like Skyler would to Walter White. The pissed-off Skyler. Thor is a blonde in a T-shirt and cutoff jean shorts. I’ve explained to her that I’m a reporter working on a story about strip clubs for Valentine’s Day, and it’s clear she thinks I’m bullshitting. I don’t blame her. Perhaps that’s even one of the oldest tricks in the book: Yeah, I’m working on a novel about strippers. Can we hang out?

Eventually, Thor at least pretends to believe me. She points to the whiteboard at Gold Club Centerfolds’ entrance. There are names written on it in blue pen: Trinity, Alexandria, Cherry and two-dozen other monikers for the strippers working on a recent weekday night. I exchange a couple 20s for $1 bills, then Thor warns me: “I’m not going to protect you.”

What does that mean? I’ve been to strip clubs before. I’ve even heard that new Usher song. The one that goes, “Shorty, I don’t mind if you dance on a pole / That don’t make you a ho.” It’s actually this gentle ballad, albeit an homage to the virtues of dating a stripper (in and of itself sexist and patriarchal, as if strippers need a man’s validation, never mind Usher’s nonchalant bitch-and-ho vernacular). But that’s hip-hop. I mean, one of the most popular songs for today’s youth has Lil Wayne rapping about eating truffle butter off of Nicki Minaj’s vagina. And parents used to freak out about Madonna.

But I digress: If Usher says strip clubs are innocuous, what could possibly go wrong? Why do I need to be protected?

It’s your birthday? Keep your pants on—otherwise, the strippers at Déjà Vu Showgirls might snatch ’em and make you chase them up the pole.

A dancer sits at the bar (there’s no alcohol served at all Sacramento-area strip clubs, just FYI). I tell the her that I’m doing this story, then ask her what she would write if she were in my shoes. “Write nice things,” she says. Not helpful. She jokes that I should call her Chocolate Thunder and her friend, who just walked over, Chiquita Banana, instead of their real names. I’ll abide.

A 27-year-old video-game addict, Chocolate says she’s been dancing for three years, or “too long.” This is the second time I’ve heard someone say “too long” when describing the tenure of their strip-club employment. She’s wearing a black two-piece that shows off her willowy curves, and her peacock-tail eyelashes are fake but real flirty. Chiquita is more casual. Her tank top, which says “Relax Bitch,” barely covers her profoundly huge breasts. She’s no-nonsense. For instance, when I ask her about the kind of guys that frequent the club, she gives me a “What do you think, reporter dude?” look.

“The guys don’t change just because it’s here,” she says. “Some guys, you want to punch them. And some guys, you want to stuff them in your vagina.”

I’m neither. Thankfully. (P.S. That is the quote of the damn year.)

The two dancers say you have to spend “at least $200” to have a really good time at Centerfolds. But of course they’re going to say that. I don’t disagree: Cash equals king at Sacramento strip clubs, what with their $20 cover charges and private dances. Bring at least $100. If you can’t afford this, that’s why Al Gore invented the Internet, I guess.

At Centerfolds, a lap dance in the main room runs you $10 per song. It’s “proper etiquette,” their words, to leave a dollar or more on the stage during each stripper’s performance. The dancers are always trying to squeeze money out of you. The club’s waitress, Megan—who says she makes enough serving drinks two days a week to live off—calls the dancers “closers.”

Case in point: After about 20 minutes of chat, Chocolate and Chiquita ask if I’m going to buy a dance “or what?” (This is the point in the story where I’d like to disclose that I’ve never had a lap dance from a source.) But these dancers are persistent—“We could be making money, but we’re talking with you”—so I hand them $40 and direct them to my friend.

And now I know what Thor was trying to protect me from: overdraft charges.

I’ve invited three friends, 30-something men and a woman, to join me on this evening’s Rancho Cordova strip-club getaway. That’s right: one night, three strip clubs, all located within a couple of miles of each other in this small industrial burg. The Rancho lap-dance triptych, were it a Hieronymus Bosch painting. My girlfriend passes in favor of a night at home with Netflix.

The friends are seated at one of Centerfolds’ two stages. Two-dozen men slouch in teal and orchid chairs that look like they were upholstered by Stevie Wonder. A mirror ball illuminates the room.

A stripper tells the crowd, “You don’t have to sit back and worship from afar.” This is the same stripper who later will bend over, showing her smooth, white ass, and then simulate inserting a vibrator into her vagina before finally making a splash gesture with her hand. It’s like Shamu at SeaWorld, but with imaginary dildos—and no one gets wet if you sit in the first three rows.

All four of us agree that Centerfolds is the “nicest” strip club we visit this night. As a Yelper put it, “Sacramento has beautiful girls and they seem to work here.” (P.S. I highly recommend reading strip-club Yelp reviews.) Like all local clubs, the girls disrobe completely when performing. That means vagina. One dancer tells me that they pay a monthly fee to work at the club, just like a hairstylist rents out a chair at a salon. Centerfolds is the only joint in town where strippers pay to play, she says. The club’s main room is cleaner than probably 90 percent of Midtown apartments.

A dancer named Malia slips out onto the stage in 8-inch heels. “You guys been here before?” she asks me. I tell her about my reporter thing. “You’re full of shit,” she responds. She then proceeds to push her breasts into my face as punishment.

But the girl in our group—let’s call her Allison—gets the royal treatment: Malia grabs her by the head, bends her over, puts Allison’s head between her legs, then slaps her ass. And then she puts her hands up her shirt.

The groping of Allison continues all night long. Later, at Pure Gold Showgirls, a young, curvaceous Latina stripper asks Allison if she is bisexual. “I like girls,” the stripper whispers before smothering Allison’s breasts. “I’m going to come play with you later,” she promises. (Allison insists we leave immediately.)

Perhaps she’d have stayed if she knew that, later at Déjà Vu Showgirls, the dancers would drag her onto the main stage, lay her on the floor, expose her breasts and pile on top of her.

“There have been worse things in my life than getting felt up by a stripper,” Allison says at the night’s end. None of this will ever manifest on Instagram, sadly, because smartphones are against the rules at all clubs.

Please allow me to spit some newly acquired strip-club knowledge: Chocolate at Centerfolds says “30 is old” for a stripper and that one should be wary of the 18-year-olds dancing (she implies this is because they will take all of your money, a bad thing, and because they have no moral compass, no comment). Ruby at Déjà Vu says that a dancer can make at least $800 during a Saturday-night shift—“but you have to work.” The manager at Centerfolds says that “at least 20 percent” of his customers are couples. And Tyler at Centerfolds tells my friend that she prefers working in Sacramento over Las Vegas, because in Sin City, “You’re competing with chicks who are down for anything.” Yes, that means Chris Rock is full of crap: There is sex in the champagne room. At least in Vegas.

Not here in Sacramento. At Centerfolds, private dances go down in the Platinum Room and start at $20. Both my friends who experienced dances back there kept most of their clothes on (one lost his belt; the other says, “She used her knee a lot,” whatever that means).

Bobby at Déjà Vu—perhaps the most genial strip-club manager in the history of the world—gives me the grand tour of his club, which is tucked away among industrial buildings just off Sunrise Boulevard. The private VIP back room is best described as a series of dimly lit Macy’s dressing rooms, painted all black and with couches inside each. There are machines that accept cash in each room, and it’s pretty clean. Ruby at Déjà Vu says the rooms and main floor are packed on weekend nights. They also offer vaporizer hookah pipes; we smoke the Jolly Rancher flavor.

The front doorman at Pure Gold says his club is “where people go after the bar.” Fifteen dollars gets you admission—and don’t forget that red Solo cup for the self-serve Pepsi machine.

Our night fades into dawn at Déjà Vu just after 2 a.m. A 20-something boy wearing only blue boxers is tied to a chair while a parade of dancers have their way with him. The birthday boy is all smiles as a procession of breasts and ass smash into his face, which just might be permanently stuck with a grin after tonight. That is, until he has to climb a pole (unusually high at this club, at least 13 feet) to retrieve his pants, which the strippers affixed to the ceiling.

Minutes later, a guy in the 20-something’s entourage puts a stack of dollars onto his open palm, then one by one floats them over the naked stripper in front of him. This is the first time I’ve ever seen someone “making it rain” in real life.

Later, the deejay announces that it’s time for a game of “sexual Simon Says.”

And that’s our cue to leave. Simon says Valentine’s Day is over. Phew.