Bump and Grind

Strip-club disc jockeys spin to the beats of different drummers

As Alexis breaks it down, "Diamond [Cabaret] is definitely geared toward being a high-end gentlemen's club. The Sports Cabaret is sports-oriented -- and I definitely don't want to work in front of big-screen TVs. If you give a guy a choice between looking at football or tits, they'll always choose football." And Roxy's? "This," she says simply, "is a party club."

Sure enough, the DJ's role at Roxy's is part music director and part sideshow pitchman. The DJs pitch each set of dancers as they come to the stage. They pitch each dancer between songs, coaxing the customers up to the stages. As bachelor and birthday parties roll in, the DJs determine how far they go in bringing the honored guests into rather dishonorable positions. (If two or three guys don't wind up pants-less and spanked on a weekend night, it's just not Roxy's.) But even at moments such as this, a degree of professional courtesy is involved.

As Barnett says, "If a guy's 300 pounds, I'm not going to say he's fat. You will talk to the guy's buddies and get every bit of information you can, on all the stupid shit he's done. You might say that he's hung like a fruit bat. But you won't say, 'Look at this guy's fat ass.' You don't want to hurt his feelings."

Don Barnett knows what to do when a lesbian wedding party comes into his room.
Jennifer Silverberg
Don Barnett knows what to do when a lesbian wedding party comes into his room.

At some clubs, the DJ is even more involved. On the night of our first visit with Barnett, a crew of DJs at PT's Sports Cabaret calls the entire dancer lineup onto the stage, where they perform a complicated, time-consuming (and, to paraphrase Kendall, "not sexy") routine. Lots of talk, lots of stoppages. At other rooms, such as the Washington Park venue Dolly's Playhouse, there's no DJ at all; the dancers control the vibe by simply putting another dollar into the jukebox. Down the way, at Larry Flynt's Hustler Club, there is definitely a DJ, and his role is geared much more toward selling private dances and trips to the on-site adult shop. His call-and-response is constant.

At Roxy's, though, it's no-frills. It's a small room, overseen by Craig, Stan and Don from their tiny raised bunker on the back wall.

Though he's had shots at working rooms all across the country, Don Barnett keeps coming back to Roxy's, working vampire hours one week, a more traditional noon-to 9 p.m. shift the next. He'll keep bringing in discs from home to augment the 400 that line the booth. With seventeen years in the business, Barnett remembers when the vinyl took up nearly the entire booth. He remembers a time when 3 a.m. licenses were the rare exception, so audience built earlier. He follows the tracks and trends in the one steady job he's had since earning a history degree at Southern Illinois University and falling into the business on a whim.

With that kind of track record, he's the kind of professional who knows what to do when a lesbian wedding party comes into his room. "One night, there're ten guys in here," he remembers, "and then this party comes in -- a wedding party, but a lesbian wedding party. Now there's, like, twenty women in the room. They're having fun; they're drinking and partying. So I put in some Melissa Etheridge. Now they're all singing; they're all pretty into it. You gotta know how to mix it up. We want you to come back, and we want you to bring friends."

Stories. Songs. Wisecracks. Don Barnett's got a million of 'em.

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