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There’s not much new to be said about strip clubs, especially ones that have been around since the Reagan Administration. Even Matt Dunafon, longtime manager of Glendale’s Shotgun Willie’s and stepson to its legendary female founder Debbie Dunafun, says, “Honestly, not much has changed over all these years, and that’s kinda the beauty of this place.”
On a recent Saturday night, parsing all that makes Shotgun’s beautiful is, of course, part of the fun, even for a 43-year-old woman like me. Despite having to peer through a heavy cloud of cigar smoke, there is plenty to see, including a lot of eye candy.
Cinnamon tarts it up on a yellow stage, while Serena works her seductive magic on an orange one. One lovely young lady has the dexterity to undo her bustierre while she’s hanging upside down from the dancer’s pole. Scantily clad waitresses deliver long necks and low balls in high heels that—mental note—do remarkable things for the marginally covered female derriere. Men of all ages, races, and creeds (and with penchants for wearing wrinkled button-downs) gaze up at women of all shapes, sizes, and skin colors on elevated platforms. In some cases, the men are not alone: In fact, girlfriends and wives are everywhere here. “Actually, that is maybe the one that that has changed and for the better,” Dunafon says. “In the 1990s, it was still like, ‘Oh my god, a lady is in here.’ We have way more female customers now.”
Maybe that’s why the vibe at Shotgun Willie’s feels so comfortable. Or maybe it’s because the place, with its ubiquitous flat-screens tuned to ESPN, reads more like a sports bar where, oh yeah, half-naked women are Cirque du Soleiling it on floor-to-ceiling stripper poles. Or maybe it’s because the place doesn’t take itself too seriously.
To celebrate the big 4-0, Shotgun Willie’s is hosting a wet T-shirt contest Wednesday night, a dog fashion show on Thursday, alumni night on Friday (“it’s like a very adult high school reunion you actually want to go to,” Dunafon says), and birthday cake wrestling on Saturday. “We’ve done these kinds of theme nights since way back in the ’80s and ’90s,” Dunafon says. “It’s good fun and good energy.”
And, if you’re so inclined to see it this way, it’s also sexy. Realizing a beautiful woman sidled up to your date while you were in the restroom can be a strange aphrodisiac. Having a nearly nude goddess ask why you aren’t on stage is, despite the complete absurdity of the notion, a confidence booster you didn’t know you needed. And watching dozens of men riveted by women with every body type imaginable—small breasts, wide hips, skinny legs, and flat bootys included—is oddly one of the more body-positive experiences around. (Dunafon says Shotgun’s standard is “the girl next door” and, well, it clearly plays.)
All of that is to say, even at 40, this female-founded, female-owned fortress of femininity still looks pretty good. “Debbie is still my one and only boss,” Dunafon says of his 70-something stepmom. “She taught me everything I know, and what I know is that everyone here is a VIP. We want everyone—whether you’re a guy ordering a Bud Light or a lady getting $850 Champagne—to have a good time.”