This is the second part of the story of Guy Brenkman, an Illinois strip club operator who built and operated Bikinis outside Beatty.
Treatment of Women
Brenkman said that a lot of women working in the entertainment business are not well-treated. He said he felt sorry for them. A lot of the dancers got treated “real bad by the club owners” in the Midwest. He said sometimes the women get bilked out of a great deal of money by management.
“They fine them for everything—one second late getting onto the stage and they’re fined $50. They come in late to work five minutes, they’re fined $100.” He compared it to coal miners in West Virginia, where the company store takes all their money all the time.
“One of my first statements to these girls is, ‘Come in here and do your job and don’t cause a problem and I’ll treat you like you’re my daughter. I’ll protect you; I’ll look out for you. You’ll get your money; I’m not out to steal your money. I want half,’ that’s what the split is.”
Most of the women were appreciative of Brenkman’s philosophy. The girls would say, “Hey, we’re working, we’re appreciated.” He said he fed them, put a roof over their head and had a cook who prepared good meals for them. At Bikinis, the women were not charged room and board.
“The human condition is paramount with me,” Brenkman said. “I grew up dirt poor in a poor part of town. I know what it’s like. I like treating people like I like to be treated.” Brenkman said he coached the girls to pay their taxes. He told them to keep their receipts for the makeup they buy, the shoes they wear to dance, their jewelry, their hair stylists, their fingernails. It’s all tax-deductible.
After hearing this, I told Brenkman, “I think you’re on the leading edge of a progressive movement in prostitution. I don’t think you can stamp it out. They’ve tried it for centuries, for thousands of years, you can’t do it. The way to do it is to humanize it, and that’s what you’re doing.”
That’s what in large measure the Nevada system of legalized prostitution is all about.
Operation of Bikinis
Brenkman recruited new employees for the business through ads in local newspapers, including Las Vegas. Ads said something to the effect, “Dancers and entertainers needed for a new gentleman’s club in Beatty.”
He had been used to recruiting girls for his club in Illinois where, he said, “On any given day, I would probably have ten to 15 girls come through the door looking for a job.” But it was more difficult to find women for his new business in Beatty.
Looks, of course, were important in hiring a girl. He said he preferred hiring the “girl-next-door type than some hard-looking girl with tattoos.” Two types of women were hired for his Beatty brothel and bar. Some were dancers; they did nothing but dance. They did lap dances and took tips on stage and so on. Sex with a dancer was out. “She can’t; she isn’t licensed to do it,” Brenkman said.
Girls who did sex for money at Bikinis mingled in the bar. Brenkman said typically a customer would ask the bartender, “Who are the girls I can party with?” He kept a notebook on the bar with those girls’ pictures in it. A customer would go through it and was told which girls were working that night. “Oh yeah, she’s over here. I see her… . How about the one on stage?”
“No, she’s just a dancer.”
Clients were local men and people traveling up and down U.S. Highway 95, including truckers. The establishment had a big sign visible from the highway and on the walls of the building saying, “Bikinis.” “Nude Girls.” Brenkman said people would figure out what it was.
He said the nude girls sign was a bit crude, but it worked. Early on, he painted “Cat House” on the wall of the building and found out that was a big mistake; it was against the law. He said there was a learning curve in operating the business and “I learned the hard way. I made the sheriff mad, I made the brothel commission mad. I’ve since mended those fences and painted it over,” he emphasized.
Jack Daniels was the favorite whiskey at Bikinis. Bottled beer was the most popular beverage, with Bud Lite the best-seller, followed by Coors and Corona. The most popular mixed drinks at Bikinis were rum and Coke, Jack and Coke, and Captain Morgan and Coke.
“Guys will come in, drink a Coke, spend a few bucks on the girls, or maybe not,” Brenkman said. “They’re just as welcome as the guy who comes in and …” He said men walk through the front door and you can tell it’s the first time they’ve ever been in a brothel. He said, “They look scared to death, just like I would be. They’ll go up to the bar and sit down and are just like anybody else in a few minutes.”
Brenkman estimated that 60-to-70 percent of his business was repeat. Local business was probably 50 percent. Some people were there just to drink. A lot of couples came.
“Women seem to get a hoot out of coming to a cat house. They really do. They’ll just be tee-heeing and giggling. Occasionally, you’ll get a woman that … she decides she doesn’t like one of the working girls and she gets a little foul-tempered. But by and large, they come in and have a good time.”
In summing up his view of his establishment, Brenkman said he first ran a tavern, second a strip club, and third a brothel.
Brenkman said that that he wanted “to make a nice place… . Not real big, not real busy.”
He recognized that he didn’t have to make a living at the brothel and bar; he had made his money years earlier. He appreciated the fact that this was a luxury most people going into business don’t have. He said he was looking for something “to occupy my time.” Unfortunately, he said if he had known what was coming, he wouldn’t have done it.
Not long after he opened the brothel and bar, he suffered kidney failure.
“Diabetes knocked both of my kidneys out; I almost died.” Brenkman opened his establishment in late January 2011. I interviewed him in late November that year. At the time, he was on dialysis seven days a week. A year earlier, he said, he could pick up a barrel of beer and carry it on his shoulder to the bar. Now, he had to hire somebody to do it.
Brenkman’s problems with his diabetes persisted. His health deteriorated. For health reasons, he closed Bikinis and he and his wife moved out of the beautiful home they had so recently constructed in Beatty and relocated to Las Vegas, where he could be closer to medical treatment.
Bikinis closed June 20, 2013. Guy Brenkman died Sept. 25, 2013, and the establishment remains closed.
Bob McCracken has a doctorate in cultural anthropology and is the author of numerous books in the Nye County Town History Project.