When people think of Atlanta, their minds usually jump to hip-hop, disappointing sports teams and, of course, the Cheetah. Located on Spring Street, between Square on Fifth and University House, this Atlanta landmark has found itself ingrained in the Georgia Tech mythos, becoming something of a rite of passage for students entering their 21st year of life.
Boasting a relatively low cover charge and some of the best brunch in town, the Cheetah also plays host to frequent celebrity visitors who are in the Midtown neighborhood looking for Atlanta’s premiere strip club experience.
At least, that is what I had heard about the imposing windowless structure I pass whenever I buy groceries. I had wondered about it, sure, but without any real reason to visit I was content with the true nature of the Cheetah remaining a mystery. With Taco Bell right across the street, I always figured I could get something much more substantial with the stack of ones in my wallet.
One day, on my weekly trip to stock up on saltine crackers and store-brand orange juice, I noticed a new sign outside of everyone’s favorite gentlemen’s club. It read “Hoops and Hotties,” two things that hadn’t been mixed since season one of Flavor Flav’s Flavor of Love.
Beneath it was something much more titillating: the promise of a seven dollar cover charge and a free buffet. I was sold.
That Friday, a friend and I made the three minute journey to the establishment, kicking off what proved to be one of the strangest days of my young life. The entrance to the Cheetah was predictable enough, with a cashier checking patron’s IDs before they awkwardly squeeze through the lobby’s singular turnstile. More awkward than that, however, was the five minutes I spent sitting in the “gift shop,” a small room full of lingerie and various other items of that nature.
While I counted the disappointingly low amount of ones in my wallet, my friend browsed through the store’s wares. Though she had her eye on a particularly sultry set of transparent heels, we opted to save our money for whatever else the afternoon decided to throw at us.
The smell of smoke long preceded my entrance into the main room itself, which wasn’t surprising considering the many vending machines pushing Marlboros rather than Milky Ways.
When I finally reached the ‘club’ area, I was met with several sights that are familiar to anyone who frequents Buckhead’s bars: overpriced light beers, an abundance of cigarettes and a surreal mingling of college students with middle-aged men clad in suits.
As we squeezed our way to the buffet, we got a general sense of the whole ordeal. Hoops and Hotties was a March Madness special, with the Cheetah’s numerous TVs showing the games and its numerous dancers representing the 64 teams in the tournament. There were girls on tables, girls on the floor, girls on poles, girls on chairs, girls on staircases and girls practically everywhere you could imagine. It was, as the emcee put it, an “asstravaganza.”
Once we reached the folding table that housed the buffet, we were greeted by a woman in a Falcons jersey.
“Help yourself to anything on the table, just don’t forget to tip,” she told us cordially.
Confused, I tossed three of my precious bills into a bucket next to her and grabbed a suspicious looking hot dog.
Strip club tipping etiquette was still a mystery to me.
Food-in-hand, we made our way to the bar, a fixture that ran the length of the room attached to a raised platform, the main stage. On any other day this would be prime seating, but during Hoops and Hotties all attention was directed to a smaller stage on the far side of the room.
While college basketball matchups droned in the background, pairs of dancers would take to this smaller stage in a series of dance-offs, each woman representing a different school in the tournament. Much like their basketball analogues, these competitions were all about the buckets; two buckets, one for each dancer, were passed around the crowd to collect the tips that would ultimately decide the winner.
These buckets were followed shortly after by a clipboard. Earl Lloyd Jr., son of the first black player in the NBA, was petitioning for his father to be put on a commemorative postage stamp. Though I didn’t know why he decided to do so in a strip club, I quickly signed my name before throwing some money into a passing bucket labeled “Khaleesi”.
After an hour of watching these competitions, three minute affairs that showcased physics-defying acts of athleticism, I decided that my taste for female objectification had been satiated for the day.
As my eyes got reacquainted with sunlight, I was still asking myself why I had given a three dollar tip to a girl who had done nothing but sit behind a table. This led to a lengthy Google lesson on strip club etiquette, knowledge that I think every patron of a gentlemen’s club should have in his repertoire.
Unbeknownst to me, the dancers aren’t paid by the Cheetah. In fact, they pay what is called a “house fee” to be able to perform. All the money they take home, after the house fee and tips to the DJ and house mom are paid, comes strictly from their tips.
Had I known that, I would have put more than a measly two dollars in Khaleesi’s garter.
Khaleesi, if you are reading this, I’m sorry.
I’m also still waiting on my phone call.