Grind and Bare It

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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."

The Eurich family grew to a total of four kids. The Hi-Liter family grew, too. Jack set to work recruiting crowd-pleasing dancers from other go-go bars in town. "I just went around and stole all the best girls," he says. "We'd go in and get a drink, and when the girls would go in the john, I'd send Leah or somebody in the john and offer 'em more money. That's the way we got started. We had the best girls in town because we went around and stole 'em."

With the girls came customers. "It was standing room all the way around the building seven days a week," Jack says. "It was so packed we'd have to let two or three out before we could let two or three in. They had to hold their glasses close to their chin.

"This town was always starved for entertainment, right up until the last few years. I would just stand there amazed that they would come back and look at the same goddamn girls night after night. They didn't seem to have any imagination. But there was nothing else to do!"

Not all of the Hi-Liter's early days were skittles and beer. One of the bar's co-tenants in the little office building was a union hall full of quick-to-brawl tradesmen. "At first, in the daytime, it was all union men," Jack says. "There'd be two, three fights a day, guys swinging at me. I was always pushing them out the back door and saying, `Go at it out there.' And they would! They'd go out and, you know those union men, they'd go at it. Those years I was over there, I got sick of stopping those fights."

The union toughs, coupled with a long- running dispute with their landlord, caused Jack and Leah to look for greener pastures for their popular club. They settled on the pasture next door. Jack bought the land and designed a show room. Meanwhile, his landlord had no idea the construction work next door was his tenant's project. Three days after the Hi-Liter's lease ran out at 4712 North 12th Street, the new Hi-Liter was up and roaring at 4716.

"When we built the new place, the union guys threatened me," Jack says. "They said if I didn't have union bartenders that they wouldn't come in. I said, `Jesus, that's perfect for me.' So they blackballed me. I said, `What's gotta be has gotta be.'"

LEAH HELPED DECORATE the new bar, which Jack had custom-made for the purposes of flesh display. "It was really pretty at first," she recalls of the simple block building. A single runway stage was the focus of the action. Judging from some snapshots Leah has kept from the early days, the room has changed very little.

The style of entertainment has changed quite a bit. In the old pictures, a grungy band plays in the background, jamming, no doubt, on "Gloria." The old photos also show a bordello-red color scheme around the room, a quaint touch that has long since vanished. The dancers wear frilly French bikinis and tall go-go boots. Their hair is motorcade-era Jackie O. or swingin' Carnaby Street.

Jack, Leah and older Hi-Liter customers remember with great fondness one dancer in particular, a girl named Haley who had a huge following. "She would dance sometimes twenty minutes to, like, `La Bamba' and `Twist and Shout,'" Jack says. "You could hear a pin drop. All these guys--lawyers, guys with suits on--you could hear a pin drop for twenty minutes as she danced."

Haley's whereabouts today are unknown, although Leah thinks she may have become a nurse.

"This Haley, my God, she'd have ten, twelve guys waiting for her every night out here," Jack says. "She would always kind of pick one. She was kind of ruthless in those days and made fun of the ones that didn't make it."

Alas, those comparatively innocent times were drawing to a close. By the early Seventies, a slight liberalization of local mores called for more show, less go-go. "First they went to net bras with pasties," Leah says. "Then they did away with the net bras and just had the pasties." The pasties would fall soon, too. The law today requires only semi-opaque nipple coverage and the briefest of bikini-style bottoms. Compared with today's bare minimum, Haley's old costume was an infield tarp.

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Dave Walker