Grind and Bare It

At the Hi-Liter, there's a lot more to show business than meets the eye

n 1962, Jack and Leah Eurich came out from Michigan looking for a saloon of their own. They found a little place they liked, a piano bar in a two-story office complex on North 12th Street near Camelback. Jack tended bar, which had been his line since the end of World War II, serving bottled beer to customers out of a reclaimed fridge. Leah ran drinks to customers. "We couldn't afford to hire a waitress or a bartender," she says.

Business at first wasn't so good.
"We practically starved to death for a year," Jack says. "These couples would come in, but not very many. They were usually cheating or something. They'd say, `You know, we really love it here because there's never anybody here.' I was starving to death and they were rubbing it in."

The Eurichs began to hear talk around town about a new kind of entertainment. A few local bars had gone to go-go, and the bikini-shaking dancers were bringing in herds of customers. "We went out to check out a place where it was occurring," Leah says. "It was real busy."

The couple returned to their quiet bar and thought things over. "We decided to put girls in," Jack says. "I threw out the piano bar and put a couple of pool tables in. The place was so small I had to put covers on the pool tables for the dancers. Then I put up a couple of blacklights."

And so was born Phoenix's newest go-go bar. "The first night it was so busy that we had to get a customer to help bartend," Leah says. "They had people lined up at the front all the way around back."

In 1967 the bar moved a few feet north into a building of its own, which is where the club stands today. In the early Seventies, the dancing girls took off their tops. In 1974, the Eurichs split up. When Leah remarried, she took the last name Hay.

Jack Eurich and Leah Hay still co-own the Hi-Liter Lounge, ~the oldest mom 'n' pop topless bar in town, although their son Johnny manages it for them now. Last year ~the family celebrated the Hi-Liter's 25th year of operation, no small achievement in this business.

Nobody threw a big party or anything.

THE TOPLESS BIZ is not on ~the whole foreign to the concept of "family." There are those in the law enfor~cement community who will testify to the fact that it is several large "families" that run the industry. Topless is not a livelihood for lightweights.

Your best customers are often lonely inebriates who get their only pleasure in life from ogling nearly naked, vastly unattainable "dancing" girls. Your most trusted employees are often transient drug addicts who get their emotional support from 300-pound bikers named Tiny who stay home all day and make speed in the bathtub. Your business is heavily taxed and more extravagantly regulated than almost anything else that is legal, including investment banking. The hours are bad, the music is loud and you better love breathing cigarette smoke.

But. Not all people who enter a topless bar will leave it with ruined lives. Most, but not all. Disregarding for a moment the more sensational aspects of a typical topless-bar operation--not an easy thing to do if you've ever been in one--it's important to remember that it is a totally legal enterprise, that a buck or two can be pocketed by a hardworking small-business owner, and that those dancers and cocktail servers very probably provide a very important service to their customers. You ask: Important service? Like what? Well, say you're a guy. Say your entertainment needs are fulfilled by neither ESPN nor your weekly Bible- study class. Say you occasionally visit a large local disco, where you must deal with a hefty cover charge, costly drinks, dancing--most guys really don't like to dance, but do it only to avoid having to talk--and, ultimately, rejection. Topless bars are, in comparison, a much more cost-efficient form of entertainment.

All of which, it can be argued (and we're still disregarding brother Tiny's bathroom lab here), is good for the economy.

ONE OF JOHNNY EURICH'S first memories is seeing a go-go girl dancing on the family Ford. "Mom," he remembers asking, "why is that girl dancing on our car?"

The car, one of Jack's early brainstorms, was parked on 12th Street out in front of the Hi-Liter. "This guy owed me some money, and he couldn't pay me, so he gave me this Ford," Jack says. "I had a sign put on it, and parked it right on the street in front of the building. I'd have the dancers go out and dance on top of it. Jesus Christ, they'd stop all the traffic, you know. It really got the place known in a hurry."

The Eurichs lived on the street behind the bar, in a house with a red tile roof. The children grew up in the business, starting in a playpen in the bar's back room. "Mom, between orders, would come back and check up on us," Johnny says. "When I was nine or ten, my dad took me in and let me sit next to the stage. The girls would come right over and dance in front of me. When you're nine or ten, when you're a kid, you get really embarrassed, flushed. While she wasn't looking, I'd catch a peek at her from the corner of my eye."

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