The Playboy Club, a chain started in 1960 which expanded to over 30 locations nationwide over its 28-year run, is reopening in Midtown Manhattan next week. It is going to be, uh, quite something.
Under the Playboy luxe rebrand helmed by Hugh Hefner’s 26-year-old son Cooper Hefner (chief creative officer of Playboy Enterprises), the club screams opulence: designer Cenk Fikri, whose projects include Manhattan’s gold leaf-and-crystal Goldbar frequented by celebrities (ad copy: “many many beautiful people”). In a vivid portrait of the relaunch, Fikri tells the New York Times that the club intends to evoke a “007 lifestyle” with 14,000 square feet of marble, black walnut, leather, and a tank for fish flown in from Japan. V.I.P. clientele can access the “Rabbit Hole,” a “club within the club” for a membership fee of no less than $25,000 per year. A source told the New York Post that they’ve already sold $2.2 million in memberships, 45 percent of which come from women. (There’s now a membership “waitlist” according to the site).
The New York institution famously generated Gloria Steinem’s 1963 undercover piece “A Bunny’s Tale,” in which she described grueling hours, painful costumes, piddling pay, and ritual debasement of women as an overt expression of society-wide gender inequality.
But former bunnies contacted by the Times refute her description. Mary Hutton, who worked there during Steinem’s run, considered the lucrative job as an escape from minimum-wage work:
“I think it’s a great job for a girl if she’s got no training in anything, like me,” said Ms. Hutton, who was turned down from several fast-food joints before being hired at the Playboy Club. “And you know, I was making $600 on a lunch shift in 1963.”
Another, Kathryn Leigh Scott, who came from a Minnesota farm and went on to publish a book of interviews with fellow bunnies, told the paper that many of her friends went on to be “entrepreneurs, scientists, [and] architects.” “[A] lot of us were earning more than our boyfriends or brothers, even our fathers, and we were 18 years old, going to school and launching careers,” she told the Times. “And it was fun.”
Based on the Times description, this iteration is more exclusionary in its hiring practices. Rather than a fast food worker, the paper names a maître d’. Many others are actors selected from a pool of hundreds of applicants. Incidentally, this comes at a time when New York strip clubs (several of which are close to the Playboy Club) are teetering on the brink of a mass shut-down.
The Playboy Club opens Wednesday, September 12th at 512 West 42nd Street.