Dance-hall owner Jack Smythe shakes his head while skimming an application from a well-groomed, middle-aged woman who'd just applied for a job as a hostess at his new establishment.
Forty-five-year-old men don't want to come in here and talk to a 45-year-old woman," says the 49-year-old Smythe. If he wants to talk to a 45-year-old woman, he can talk to the one he's got at home."
Talk (with anyone, of any age) is not cheap at Giggles, Smythe's hostess-for-hire club located at 4236 North Central. The club charges male patrons at the rate of $21 an hour for the privilege of chatting with a female hostess in a dimly lighted ballroom that formerly housed an Arthur Murray dance studio. Hostesses are fully clad (They're sexy but not sleazy," says Smythe) and no alcohol is served.
And thanks to a long-forgotten but recently rediscovered city ordinance that bans taxi dancing" (a term coined for dance palaces where patrons bought tickets, in effect renting" partners), the Giggles Girls"-as Smythe calls themÏare forbidden to trip the light fantastic with patrons.
For now, this is a dance hall where no dancing's allowed. But chatting with Jack Smythe about his dreams of a classy" joint isn't a bad way to kill an afternoon. And it's free.
While conducting a tour of Giggles, the verbally pugnacious Smythe frets about his bad luck. It looks as if his dance hall has gotten off on the wrong foot.
We're dead in the water," he says. Smythe, who's also owned the Dancing Sunshines topless club on East McDowell for the past 18 years, claims he didn't learn of the city's obscure ordinance against taxi dancing until the day before he opened for business.
It's killing us," says Smythe, who vows not to sit this one out-he adds that he's appealing his case to city officials. I can't keep any girls here because they can't make any money if there aren't any customers-and if there aren't any girls, there aren't any customers."
Smythe alternately likens his brain child to a geisha house, dime-a-dance joint, lonely-hearts club and USO get-togethers. But on a recent day, it looked more like a UFO function, with three bored young women in evening clothes chain-smoking while the scent of garlic wafted from a simmering steam table. In the background, Fred and Ethel Mertz argued loudly in an I Love Lucy rerun.
If all goes according to plan (even though, so far, nothing has), Smythe expects that the typical Giggles customer will be a businessman who drops in on his way home after a hard day in the financial jungle.
A guy comes in here and we treat him like a king," says Smythe. That way he doesn't have to go home and face the wife and kids right away. As soon as he gets home from work, his wife says, `Don't tell me about your bad day-I already had one. Johnny did this. Susie did that.'" Smythe grimaces. The guy doesn't need that-he's had enough grief at work. So he comes to Giggles on his way home and takes his frustrations out here."
Frustration? With the legality of dancing currently in limbo, harried businessmen are strictly limited to such mundane pastimes as shooting the breeze, playing pool or pinball or watching TV-
all in the company of a nubile Giggles Girl."
Once we get the cable installed, there will even be something to watch," says Smythe, who also reveals plans to expand the club's entertainment horizons by hooking up a VCR. But because copyright laws forbid unauthorized public exhibition of feature films, Smythe explains that Giggles' video library will be a little more specialized. We can't show movies but we can show documentaries," he claims. Battle of the Monster Trucks, how-to golf videos, those Time/Life tapes about WWII you see advertised on TV for $19.95-you know, interesting stuff."
If your interest runs to smarmy encounters, look elsewhere. Clearly, not every woman can measure up to the lofty standards required of a Giggles Girl." According to a strict set of 21 rules Smythe outlines on the application form, a hostess must refrain from yelling and using profane language. She must pay close attention to that Ôgreat asset," personal hygiene. She must wear pantyhose, even.
No free feels, kissing, hugging or sitting on a customer's lap," warns one mandate. You are required to wear shoes at all times," commands another. Remember, there could be broken glass." And, needless to say, liquor, drugs and prostitution are absolutely taboo. We do pull dressing-room and handbag inspections," threatens yet another edict. If you don't like it, don't work here." We're not looking for go-go girls or the hard-core biker-type girl," says Smythe, who adds that the parking lot will be patrolled regularly to discourage off-premises commerce. What we're looking for is the girl who works at Home Depot, McDonald's or another nondescript job like that. Maybe she's selling advertising or working in a boiler room doing telephone solicitation. Basically, we're looking for Suzy Homemaker, the kind of girl who's got a little smarts upstairs but just can't seem to find a job where she can use them."
Should a hopeful hostess be lucky enough to land a Giggles gig (starting pay: $6 an hour if she has a customer-plus tips), she can expect to find herself communing with her intellectual equals.
Or at least that's the way Jack Smythe sees it. We're not looking for the kind of clientele you'll find at a topless bar," he says. We don't want the construction worker or the guy who's been working up on the roof all day. We don't want the guy with the unemployment check in his pocket. We're going after the middle-class businessman, the Ivory Tower guys."
Smythe, who recently showed up at the club wearing shorts, a tee shirt and a gold bracelet that spells out his first name in flashy stones, adds: That's why we've got the very stringent dress code. If you want to come in here, you've got to be dressed for itÏnice pants, nice shirt, nice shorts, like that."
If the properly attired gent runs out of things to talk about, he can always treat his companion-for-hire to an Italian submarine sandwich (The biggest sub in town!" boasts Smythe) or visit an on-premises miniboutique featuring sequined gowns and jewelry of the sort favored by Vanna White.
A dress shop in a dance hall?
That was kind of my wife's idea," says Smythe, who explains that his spouse used to be in the rag business" in Scottsdale. The girls came in and saw this dress shop and said, `Wow! We'll get these guys to buy us dresses!' Uh-uh. I tell 'em, `Use your heads. Tell the guy to go in and buy his wife a dress.' That way, the girl has shown concern for the wife and the guy appreciates that. It's a classy move."
If you're having difficulty following that logic, join the club.
No one understands what we're trying to do," admits partner Doug Middleton, who reports that since the club opened June 11, maybe" 50 customers have wandered through the door. According to Middleton, most took one look around and left.
Maybe we're sending out the wrong message with the name `Giggles,'" theorizes Middleton. We've had people come in thinking it was a comedy club, a topless joint or a gay bar." Middleton also suspects that the club's marginal advertising-a pair of rollicking radio commercials backed by a cacophony of giggling girlsÏmay be less than effective in reaching the target market. I myself see this as appealing to lonely widowers or people who don't have anyone to tell their troubles to. When you really get down to it, these girls sort of act as unlicensed shrinks."
Jack Smythe, meanwhile, thinks the whole town is crazy for not beating a path to his door.
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Here you've got topless joints all over town, all sorts of alcohol problems, you name it," he fumes. And the City of Phoenix has nothing better to do than breathe down my neck because I want to open an alcohol-free dance hall? It's nuts."
The final indignation?
Last Friday Smythe contacted the local chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving and asked whether the organization would join him in holding a televised press conference at his booze-free social club. (Cheryl Lester, executive director of the MADD local chapter, tells New Times that the group never endorses clubs.) They just blew us off," says Smythe. Unlike the few girls lounging around his club, he isn't giggling.
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