My best friend for many years was Roy. Oddly, he was a couple of years older than I was and was actually a classmate of my older sister. Still, he and I were friends for years and years. I called his mother "Mom" and she considered me one of her children. As we grew through our teen-aged years, Roy and I saw a bit less of one another. When I went to a different school for a few years, we lost touch. But we ran into each other later and pretty much just picked right up being friends right where we left off. But now we were legally adults.
For a while, I moved in with Roy and his mother, who still insisted I call her Mom. We had a lot of late evenings sitting in the kitchen and drinking coffee. Mom made a vicious cup of coffee. A spoon set into the cup center of the cup would stand up. Well, that's a bit of an overstatement, but you get the idea. Roy and I would also go out and visit various clubs and nightspots. Roy was a much better dancer than I was. But we had fun, met women, double-dated and were just average, high-spirited young men.
Roy had always felt he wanted to be more than the lower middle class people he and I both were. He wanted to move up in the world. I did, too, but Roy really wanted it to be so, sooner rather than later. He tried very hard to be more sophisticated than his upbringing would lead you to expect. He was actually rather good at it, too. He routinely got dates with really nice women who were technically "higher class" than we were. Their parents liked him, too. One of the things he believed helped him become more sophisticated was Playboy magazine.
Now in those days, before internet porn and feminism, Playboy was more than airbrushed centerfolds (it probably still is, I haven't seen one in years now). It had "lifestyle" information for swinging, young bachelors. What stereo to buy, what music to listen to. What clothes to wear. How to talk to women. The whole works on how to be the man women loved. Roy bought the whole package and tried hard to be that suave sophisticate. He even had a Playboy Club key.
Now, I honestly don't know if that key was ever used. But I remember how proud he was that he had it. It was on his key chain and he flaunted it, even to women. I wonder if he still has it.
Because maybe he could use it again. (Or for the first time.)
Now, two decades after rising feminism and a fading nightclub scene helped close the last U.S. Playboy Club in Lansing, Mich., in 1988, a new Playboy Club is set to open Oct. 6 in Las Vegas, just as fresh and retro-hip as a pair of bell-bottom jeans.
"Things that become old-fashioned in a certain time frame, in a new time frame take on a whole new kind of mystique," said Hefner, the 80-year-old founder and majority shareholder of Playboy Enterprises Inc. "That is exactly what happened to all things Playboy."
The original clubs, staffed by bustiered Bunnies and spurred by the sexual revolution, spanned the globe in their heyday in the 1960s and '70s, from Chicago and New York to Manila, London, Tokyo and the Bahamas. At their height, 22 clubs were in operation, employing more than 25,000 Bunnies and boasting more than a million "keyholders," or members.
But they ran into feminism on one side and easily accessible explicit adult content on the other.
The Margaret Thatcher government challenged and then revoked the club's casino license in the U.K. in 1981. It forced the closure of the London club, once the company's most profitable operation, and led to the inability of Playboy to obtain a gambling license for a hotel-casino in Atlantic City, N.J., shortly after.
"Once we lost the gaming, we were really not able to financially carry the rest of what we were doing," Hefner said.
The last overseas club closed in Manila in 1991.
Today, Hefner's original idea of providing a roadmap to urban life by urging men to appreciate food, music, high ideas — and beautiful women — has taken on a new cachet.
"If you look at the magazine even in the early days, there were features on decorating your apartment, cooking, buying nice clothes, buying wine," said James Beggan, associate professor of sociology at the University of Louisville. "I think that they've always been ahead of their time in advocating what later becomes known as the 'metrosexual identity.'
"Society has caught up with Playboy's view," he said.
The new club, on the top three floors of the Palms hotel-casino, pays homage to the past while introducing its swinging bachelor lifestyle to a new generation. Lounge seating is back, as are the famous Bunny outfits, complete with ears, bow tie and cufflinks, designed by Roberto Cavalli.
"Ninety-five percent of the people who are going to end up spending all the money here have never been to a Playboy Club," said George Maloof Jr., the bachelor casino magnate who runs the Maloof family's $915 million resort. "So it's not even like your dad, maybe it's your grandfather (who) went. We wanted to create something that did remind people of the Playboy Club, but had a fresh new look."
Everything old is new again. I should give Roy a call and see if he still has that key.