The end of the Lusty Lady
San Francisco, California
By Stephen Lam
Sometimes, you just have to wait.
A few weeks ago I was assigned to photograph the closure of the Lusty Lady, the first unionized and worker-owned strip club in the United States, located in San Francisco’s popular North Beach neighborhood.
In the week leading up to the event, I had a difficult time getting in touch with my contact at the club, but I was finally able to get the green light two days before it shut. The club had been extremely busy since the closure was announced, but they allowed us to cover the story on the condition that I remained respectful to everyone there: challenge accepted.
As part of the closure, the club hosted a New Orleans-style funeral procession around the neighborhood before the final night of shows at the club. I was greeted by the sight of current and former dancers from all over the country, along with curious onlookers.
As the procession continued to grow, the dancers began to strip in the streets – a move met with confusion from many bystanders who were enjoying their dinners or just walking by.
Once the procession was over, I followed the mass back to the club where some of the dancers performed routines as the others turned the sidewalk into an impromptu lounge to relax and to catch up with friends.
After spending about three hours waiting for backstage access, I was finally allowed to photograph the dancers’ break room. Though my allotted time there was short, it was an important part of the story, since I really wanted to capture behind-the-scenes images of the club.
As the clock continued to tick, it was clear that emotions were running high. A pair of Michael Jackson impersonators gave their best “Billy Jean” performance as employees packed up their belongings and slowly disappeared into the dark streets of San Francisco.
Fist pumps and hugs were exchanged and at 3:35 a.m., The Lusty Lady closed its doors for the last time.