The Playboy Club: As Creaky as Hef?

Like the once popular rage that sold millions of lime green leisure suits, hula hoops, rat finks – What? You don’t remember Rat Finks? – some things have their temporary place as must-haves but soon lose momentum and become buried in the past. Forever.

Recently resurrected, however, is one of those relics that dwindled into that proverbial burial ground of gotta-be-there-and-be-seen: The Playboy Club, soon to resurface in Chicago. Maybe it’s the upcoming hype about the Playboy Club TV series; perhaps it’s the infantile ogling of scantily clad female servers at one of Playboy’s descendants, Hooters. 

Whatever motivated it, the Playboy Club is a 40-year throwback to another era, long gone and certainly not in keeping with today.

Here’s what it was like back then: The bunnies wore these colorful corseted costumes: fluffy tails, rabbit ears and corseted suits resulting in breasts so pushed so high they appeared air-born. In other words, Hugh Hefner’s fantasy. 

I always wondered why he chose the bunny costume. Maybe he had a stuffed rabbit toy as a kid, instead of a teddy bear, and had play sex with it. Whatever.

But these women in their bunny outfits, teetering around in high heels serving drinks and dinner, were plastic apparitions, with a strict customer look-but-don’t-touch-code. 

In reality, they were competent servers and really not sexual at all. I know, because the minute I turned 21, I was taken to the Chicago Playboy Club with business colleagues (never a date) who thought it was really cool to take young, single women just entering the workforce there.

The Club attracted the business community and because most colleagues were male, the venue was a perfect male-bonding place to entertain. The social crowd usually came in packs – four, six, 10 guys out to have a beer and a leer. Clearly there was sexual innuendo in place, but it was something like good, clean fantasy. And to a degree, the bunnies were like actors in a role – all good clean fun and flirting. 

Even serving drinks – the cocktail tables were low, so they did the trained knee-bending ‘bunny dip,’ which never showed cleavage and by today’s standards was quite sterile. (BTW, you had to have good knees to perform the dip.)

Call it fantasy, but it was just that. Did the bunnies offend female guests? No. These were pretty, albeit plastic, women dressed like grown-up, sexed-up Easter bunnies. But times change. Today, do you know any guy in their ‘20s or ‘30s who would relish being called a “playboy”? 

And what impression would this gent have on you if he took you – first date? – to the Playboy Club? You’d probably think: “Hmmm, a Hugh Hefner wannabe, the later years.” The word Playboy lost its luster decades ago and now has negative connotations.

And you know it’s over when cabbies abandon their Playboy symbol air fresheners hanging over their rear view mirror in favor of a pair of dice.

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About Sherren Leigh

Sherren Leigh is president and founder of Today's Chicago Woman and Today's Chicago Woman Foundation. She muses about life - the good, the bad, the ugly - and anything else that's on her mind in “Girl Talk.” Sometimes funny, other times serious, she's always thought-provoking and often controversial.