A Shot in the Dark: My Night with the Male Strippers at Hunk-O-Mania
by Melissa Batchelor Warnke
I had never touched an ab in my entire life. I didn’t know anyone who had one. But before the big night, I found this Yelp review of our destination, a male strip club in Hell’s Kitchen:
I have to start this review by saying I ABSOLUTELY LOVE MY BOYFRIEND he is the love of my life, my angel, my heart my soul. ok with that said…O-M- F’IN-G THESE MEN ARE SIMPLY OUT OF THIS WORLD! I didn’t know a place like this existed. AND LADIES PRAISE JESUS, MOTHER EARTH, GOD, BUDDHA, ALLAH whoever you freaking pray to THAT IT DOES!
Now I have been to Hunk-O-Mania, and I have touched some abs, and the more time passes, the more I think: Mirjana R., I see you.
“The show will begin in 69 seconds!” shouted the emcee. “Ladies, are you ready for your hunks to get absolutely butt-ass naked?”
Screams erupted from the throngs of women huddled on white folding chairs in a dark basement near Times Square. There was nothing subtle about Hunk-O-Mania, but we hadn’t come for a subtle time. I was there to roll out a friend’s last night of single-dom; she had cleared the event with her fiancé, who laughed and laughed and didn’t care.
You must arrive at least an hour before the show starts; the owner personally called the maid of honor earlier that afternoon to drive that point home. When you do walk into Hunk-O-Mania, you are then forced to buy two drink tickets, cash only.
This seems like an imposition, but is actually a public service. You will need them as gorgeous men of every ethnicity, hairstyle and build sidle up to you, drape their arm around your shoulders and lean in for a good, old-fashioned conversation. There may be as many as three hunks on your party of six at one time. You are also invited to buy lemon drop shots, which the hunks balance tenderly on one hand. I tipped for our drink service by handing one of the hunks a dollar bill; he took my hand, unclenched it, and dragged it down his chest into the top of his underwear.
So: even if you don’t like lemon drops, you will need a glass of warm champagne at the very least. Because after you chat about where you’re from and what you’ve been doing all weekend and they make small talk that weaves in actual details of their lives and they are ACTUALLY ALL SO ATTRACTIVE IN A NORMAL WAY which is the confusing part, you kind of don’t want them to take you to the strange back corner of the large room and give you a semi-private lapdance. You do, of course you do, because it is strangely elegant and surreal and because you’re finally about to touch an ab and because they are wearing Axe body spray and that is also confusing. But maybe you also want them to be your lover or, after an hour of priming conversation, you feel your chosen one already is? (Mine had long hair; I’ve always been a moth to flowing locks. The bachelorette preferred one who was a hotter version of Eminem in 8-Mile.)
I’m no fragile Mary, but the two-hour show was some absolutely next level shit: an interactive experience where the bachelorettes (and one bachelor) were flipped upside down, twirled, and had all kinds of simulated sex with the hunks. Some of the ladies looked like they were bathing after a year in the desert, jumping up and down, unable to contain themselves. There was quite a lot of bare ass-grabbing. There were men in the crowd at the same time as onstage; I glanced over and saw a girl entirely covered by a hunk, only one spare arm sticking out, pulling him closer. My bachelorette looked like she was getting electrocuted during her lap dance, as if they were to touch two bare parts of their body together it would trip a wire. God bless her.
The next morning, I crawled over to get a bagel from the corner store, blinded by the July sun. I couldn’t pay for my order because I was holding five Hunk-O-Mania branded dollar bills. The long line of normal people waiting to pay for their breakfast didn’t understand why I couldn’t use what to them looked like a regular handful of cash. And if they didn’t get it, they never would, I thought, excusing myself to the back of the line.
As I lay in bed for the better part of that afternoon, I had ample time to ponder the mystery and the magic of what we had experienced. Where did the hunks live: with roommates, with their parents, with boyfriends? In Astoria, in Long Island ranch houses, in cramped Lower East side apartments? Why did I love muscles so much all of a sudden when I had never thought about them before? Had they wanted to be actors, or were they already? In New York, you could never really be sure.
I flipped through my last three and a half years in this city, a mental rolodex of my exes. The list read like a cast of characters that could work in a Hunk-O-Mania dance number: ex-Mormon vegan, sensitive Frenchman, hipster coffee brewer, Jamaican video editor, preppy musician bro.
The good ones had been creative, interesting and adaptive, just like the hunks, who moved to meet the tone and temperature of each woman. Each was different enough — the Eminem character gentle, conversational and bemused, my Lothario aggressive, direct and intolerant of giggling — to present a range of options. Hunk-O-Mania was a fantasy life in which we were all dating one man while simultaneously basking in the affections of his barely dressed friends, the Navy Seal, the Firefighter, the Cowboy. Hunk-O-Mania was like traveling through past and future, cataloguing all of the beautiful things a person could show to you, without the bad tempers and laziness and the self-seriousness, without the force of sheer effort that it often takes in New York to get a functional relationship off the ground. The pointless, repetitive texting. The mind-numbing inability to claim one thing and honor it. The eventual exhaustion of inborn optimism.
I’m not recommending we make Hunk-O-Mania a part of our weekly routines (although, yes, of course I will go with you). But I am suggesting that, for the straight up pissed off New York man or woman momentarily between crazies, the hunks might just help get you through.
Melissa Batchelor Warnke is a freelance writer and editor. She’s worked in the Google Creative Lab, as a human rights grantmaker in Africa and as an anti-genocide activist. She is invested in research, strategy and writing that is people-centered — that honors and illuminates human experiences, stories & ideas. She tweets @thewarnke.