Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Penthouse Club food preview: sex and steak

Media night at the Penthouse Club. FYI, that's not me.
The Penthouse Club opened earlier this month in San Francisco, kicking off with a 4-hour preview for the press in which PR firms heavily pushed the food angle. It's a steakhouse! It's going to feature premium dining AND women wearing nothing but panties.

Media day must be a nightmare for them. Most of us don't make enough money to throw it on stage, no matter how enthusiastically they shake their near-bare buttocks at us.

But they also make conversation. Conveniently for me, the first beautiful woman in lingerie I approach, Naomi, says, "My job is to represent Penthouse. By being gorgeous and friendly and polite. (long pause) And by representing the food."

Great! Since the press preview only has snacks which aren't on the actual menu, I ask Naomi what she knows about the real food.

"I'm from Texas. I love meat," she says, standing about four inches from me, making concentration difficult. "I just had the best steak here. I like Mike. Mike is the chef. I like the chef." I envy Mike, but learn little.

For my next interview, I'm drawn to the most beautiful woman in the room. Her name is Katya, she's from Estonia, and she doesn't know much about the food either. I chitchat longer with her because it's media day and normally private-esque time with her like this costs $100 for three songs, so I get about $40 worth of talk about California weather for free.

As for the private booths in back, with smoked glass, pleather couches and video screens, to visit one of those with the girls, I can't tell you how much that costs. The security guy says, after I prod him (not literally), "It depends. We take cash and credit. They range from $350 and up depending on how many girls."

If you think that's pricey, check out the drinks list. A bottle of vodka for $325, plus mandatory 18% service charge!

But "service" has real meaning at the Penthouse Club. When they let the public in, I watch a group of five guys order two bottles. Each has a woman sitting on his lap until one decides he doesn't like his. His friend is forcibly holding hands with a silicon-enhanced half-Japanese woman; forcibly, because each time she lets go, his hands wander in what he thinks are stealthy fashion down to her panties until she grabs them again. Second base obviously costs more than $650.

The drinks on the menu are all sickly sweet. My friend tries a couple, but I give up and order a Makers Mark Manhattan; I don't know what it would cost outside of media day. The bartenders are all female, showing a lot of cleavage, and as a group slightly more attractive than the women on stage. I wonder if they're from the same labor pool, and if so, which task is considered more desirable. The Manhattan is respectable.

The highlight of the food they do serve the media -- which you can't have, sorry, but part of the club experience is not having what you want -- is mini roast beef and pork sandwiches, freshly carved. They're pretty good, so I line up to get another and find myself behind Katya from Estonia, which is how I notice that most of the 25 cm2 or so of fabric she's wearing on her 5-foot-10 frame is deployed on her front side.

We make small talk again -- about $15 worth -- and when she turns around she wraps her arms around herself. Maybe she's cold. Later I run into a wine-writer friend who says, "The kind of nerdy humor, irony, that I usually use just doesn't work here." I realize that the best possible opening line in the Penthouse Club would be, "You've heard of my father."

The lapdance room: $100 for 3 songs
I clearly don't spend enough time in clubs like this, because the restroom came as a surprise. Everybody who works for the Penthouse Club wants to shake hands with me, but who knows where those hands have been; most of the girls working the pole (I mean the METAL pole on stage) wipe it down with something before starting their act. So I go to the restroom to wash my hands. There are at least a half-dozen cologne bottles at the sink, but no soap. I ask the attendant, "Is there soap?" and he sprays my hands with green stuff from what looks like a Windex bottle. Customers who soap their own hands are less likely to tip.

When I get home, my wife asks if the women of the Penthouse Club were as beautiful as those at the Bada Bing on the Sopranos. I say they were very different, and I think that may reflect regional tastes. Most have tattoos. Fewer are blonde; there are many more Asians.

(Two days later my guest at the event calls excitedly to tell me he's in one of the photos from the event on the Penthouse site. So I look at the photos, in the normal light of morning, with no alcohol in my system. How do the women look? I'm just going to quote my friend's wife, who says, "I could get a job there.")

My wife asks about the breasts. Were they enormous? Again, not as much as on TV. Some of the women had notable silicon, but most did not. Most of the women seemed like ordinary 20-somethings (and a few 30's) who just happened to be wearing lingerie. Almost all were slender, but that isn't unexpected in San Francisco. Maybe realistic women are part of the attraction. When your lap dancer says, "I'm working my way through grad school," maybe she really is. English majors gotta eat too.

And these women do have skills other than suppressing their shyness. Which is a skill for sure: tell the truth, could you stand around making small talk wearing 25 cm2 of fabric?

I'm standing idly when Tora from Humboldt introduces herself. She tells me how much she would like the food if she could eat meat, but the hormones make her crazy. She says she's not into dairy because "the concept of dairy is weird." I try doing her job for a while, pretending to be interested in what she's saying. It's hard. I mean, difficult.

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Anonymous said...

Bravo, too funny!

Anonymous said...

If you go to the Penthouse sight and look very hard at the photos of the event, you can actually see Mr. Gray seated comfortably in the background. Thanks for making the sacrifices for us so we can all learn from your experiences!

Rafaelle said...

I tried to leave you a comment on your palate Press column but couldn't get it through.
I'm a big admirer of your work and hope you will give a second chance for Terroir to do a better job if you choose to go there again.
I've been going there regularly for about a year and think it's such a nice place in the city of San Francisco, well informed staff that is really into their wines and approachable; nice people really.
I hope you will give them another shot, I will buy you a drink if I have the pleasure to see you there :)

W. Blake Gray said...

Rafaelle: Since I wrote that I was told that it was one guy with an attitude and my experience was not unique. Too bad for me that I didn't get one of the friendly staff who others have also assured me work there.

I wouldn't swear off Terroir forever based on that visit, but to be honest, I prefer wine bars that serve food.

Alder said...

What!? No review of the wine list? You could have at least found out what red they are pouring for some ungodly price by the glass. You must have been distracted.

Ruth Lieu said...

Glad it was you Blake and not Alder.

W. Blake Gray said...

Alder: The wine choices were uninteresting, some big-production wines in the $15-$20 retail range. I don't know what they were charging for them. There were some NV Champagnes on the bottle-service list at the same prices (thus same markups) as the whiskey bottles above.

Ruth: Are you sure Alder didn't have a business meeting that day?

Chuck Hayward said...

Yea... That wine list is guaranteed for sure not to attract any of the hipster wine crowd, no gruners or roses from Slovenia to be found anywhere... Now if Estonia had any wine, you could match the stripper with the wine to study for a whole new MS test question.: Which of the following wines goes best with Katya?