4805 Convoy Street, Kearny Mesa
(No longer in business.)
“It’s demeaning,” says Carla. “Treating them like sex objects. And the men! They look so stupid, like kids spying on a nudist camp.”
Part of me agrees. On the other hand, my buddy Frankie — Cisco — wants me to go with him to this strip joint, for lunch.
“Why, dude?” I asked.
“Why? Because it’s free.”
Now he has my attention.
“Free burgers, free sandwiches, no cover. ’Course, gotta buy a drink, but they have $2–$3 beers. Imagine: lunch, ladies, liquor! Three buckaroos…You in or out?”
This is Shannon. It’s Wednesday, around 1:00 in the afternoon. The sign outside says “Dream Girls. Cocktails and Lace. A Gentlemans’s Club” — yeah, they have the typo up there in big plastic letters. I forgive them. The place sits next to a bunch of outfits like C&D Cycle Center and a Chinese acupuncture-and-herb place.
In the inside gloom after the midday sun, it’s hard to make out if Shannon is real or a phantom.
“Stay cool, dude,” Cisco tells me. “Try not to look like some dental-floss dealer from Denver.”
“Something to drink, gentlemen?” Shannon asks. We’ve felt our way over to a table with red velvet chairs near a brass rail that — now my eyes are adapting — look over a lower gallery of more tables facing a stage with a single brass pole. I notice a Dollar Maker machine. “Get your $1 bills here.” For stuffing in garter belts. The way-big speaker system’s playing that old War classic — “The Cisco Kid/ He was a friend of mine...” Except, nobody’s onstage dancing to it.
“Two Pepsis,” I say to Shannon. Figure that must be cheapest.
“You yo-yo,” Cisco hisses. “Pepsis aren’t part of the deal!”
Lord. The guy’s right. Shannon appears with the two Pepsis. Whack! Five bucks each. Plus $2 tip. We’re down over a Hamilton already. And we’re still starving.
“Uh, is it true you have free burgers for lunch?” I ask.
“Oh, yes, absolutely,” Shannon says. I can see her now. She’s in a little black number. All legs. Nice face. “Free burger or free chicken sandwich, from 11:00 to 3:00. But you should’ve come yesterday. Tuesday we have $2 drinks — Grey Goose, Hennessy, 1800 Tequila, just about everything — and a $2 eight-ounce New York strip with steak fries. Fridays we do a free buffet with roast beef, mash, gravy, lots of fresh, steamed veggies. That’s from 4:00 to 8:00. No cover between 4:00 and 6:00. Today we have $3 Heinekens, no cover, and...”
“And no dancers,” Cisco says.
“Sorry, gentlemen,” says this guy Justin. He’s a floor-walker. Job is to make sure customers are behaving. “Last night’s $2 Tuesday was kind of crazy. All the girls are sleeping late. We’re trying to round them up. How ’bout some Heinekens?” Very cool.
We order a burger for Cisco and a chicken sandwich for me. I’m starting to feel better, starting to see better, too. It’s all red velvet in here, with brass rails, a Roman-goddess plaster bust, and red sconces that make it brassy but classy. I can imagine the scene at night when this gallery’s full.
Shannon turns up with the chow. Full-size, plus they come with a bag of Lay’s Classic Chips and a dish of buttered popcorn. My chicken sandwich is basically a chicken burger. Cisco’s beef burger has a big cheese-melt over the patty, with tomato, lettuce, pickle — and is that sautéed onions in there?
Shannon turns to leave. “Oh man, perfect buns!” Cisco blurts. He’s looking at his burger. “Just toasted enough, but soft. How’s yours?”
Mine has that big chunk of chicken breast under layers of red onion, lettuce, and lots of pickled jalapeño peppers. The meat has a lemony tang and a burnt-edge thing going on, which is great. So do the buns.
“Yes,” I say. “Great buns.”
Now a pair of fishnet stockings whisks past and heads down to the stage. A voice growls out of the speaker, “Ladies and gentlemen, our first...” Soon this doll is swishin’ around the pole. Cisco’s lost to the world. I’m hoping my eyes aren’t open too wide. I know. We should be beyond all this. But as Zorba the Greek said, is not man stupid? At the second tune, she’s down to her G-string and climbing the pole. Am I cool with this? Well, long as gals like Carla can go places and watch studs do the same thing, yeah.
“Gentlemen?” An elegant gal with dark wavy hair stops by. Monique, the bar manager. She’s also making the rounds to explain why the other dancers ain’t here. And while we’re on it, I have to ask the Carla question.
“Isn’t it demeaning to, like, strip in front of a horde of ogling guys?”
“No way. I danced for 11 years,” Monique says. “I felt empowered. I started on Midway Drive, at the Déjà Vu. I was 20. It was amateur night. I was nervous, but after, it felt liberating. Women’s bodies are beautiful. I don’t understand why society tries to make us feel ashamed of beauty.”
Shannon comes back. Yes, she says, a second free meal’s cool if I get another $3 Heineken. Deal. A burger this time.
“We’re definitely coming back,” says Cisco when he returns from stuffing $5 in the lone dancer’s garter belt.
“Fine,” I say. “Except, uh, you square it with Carla, okay?”
The Place: Dream Girls, 4805 Convoy Street, 858-279-2444
Type of Food: American
Prices: Free hamburger or chicken sandwich with purchase of drink, 11:00 a.m.–3:00 p.m., Monday–Saturday; Tuesdays, eight-ounce New York strip with steak fries, $2; Wednesdays, street tacos, $1; Fridays, free buffet (with purchase of drink), roast beef, mash, gravy, veggies, 4:00–8:00 p.m., no cover between 4:00 and 6:00 p.m.; standard prices include “Big Cheese” burger with 1/2 lb. patty, $7.95; blackened cheeseburger, with sautéed onions, mushrooms, jack cheddar, $8.95; sliders (Angus beef, fries), $6.95; chicken quesadilla, $7.95; fried calamari, $8.95; rolled tacos, $4.95
Kitchen Hours: 11:00 a.m.–10:00 p.m. daily (midnight Tuesdays)
Buses: 27, 44
Nearest Bus Stops: Convoy at Ronson