There have been rumors circulating for some months now about the Westway, the soon-to-open “ironic-hipster strip joint,” as it was labeled in one report. It’s easy enough to imagine: American Apparel models shimmying around and SuicideGirls serving cocktails; guys in denim pulling singles from their Comme des Garçons wallets. The proprietors, the budding impresarios Matt Kliegman and Carlos Quirarte, own the Smile on Bond Street, host parties that pack the Jane Hotel Ballroom, and pal around with artists and the people who tattoo them. They seem like the types who might dream up an ironic-hipster strip club—which, of course, means they have to deny any such thing. They are too tasteful and image-conscious to cop to flesh peddling, even of the winking variety. “We’re not strip-joint owners. We’re not strip-joint guys,” Quirarte asserts, mere feet from a polished pole.
Never mind that they did in fact buy a former strip joint, which under their ownership will continue to feature some adult entertainment. It seems we are to believe that at the Westway, as in a teenage boy’s dream, topless girls are incidental. Named for one of the largest development battles in city history—the plan hatched in 1971 to bury part of the West Side Highway and build a park atop it—the space on Clarkson Street still smells like a construction site, metallic and pleasantly toxic. It has the look of a set scraped together from seventies pop culture, with light-up floors reminiscent of Saturday Night Fever, glittery walls à la Ziggy Stardust, and oxblood-colored banquettes straight off a Scorsese lot. (Even when it comes to the décor, they deny any agency whatsoever. “We’re not trying to re-create some era,” Quirarte says. “We just want people to have fun.”) As for the brass stripper poles: Those sprout from elevated stages down-lit with the red-gelled spotlights used in strip clubs everywhere to camouflage lumpy thighs and mottled skin.
The building has always been fleshy. At one point it was a meat-processing facility, hence the two-foot-thick walls; then a gay-porn theater; and finally an array of strip clubs, including Mystique and the Westside Gentleman’s Club. Kliegman and Quirarte would argue—do argue—that, in a sense, they’re just honoring that tradition. “For us not to take advantage of the fact that that’s what this place existed as wouldn’t make any sense. It would be like ripping out this kitchen and not using it,” Quirarte says. The Westway is now hosting private parties and will begin welcoming patrons in March, and when it does, along with “inspired bar food” and maybe a pinball machine, there will be male go-go dancing on Sundays and female topless go-go dancing the following night. Should the limited professional performances happen to loosen inhibitions during the rest of the week, so much the better.
“If people see how we’re using it on the Sunday and Monday,” Quirarte says, “maybe on the Tuesdays and Wednesdays and Thursdays and Fridays and Saturdays, they’ll feel more comfortable getting up there, having seen someone already do it.” Quirarte and Kliegman approached the dancer-recruitment process the way they do everything else, with an air of effortlessness. They’re not auditioning girls from midtown gentleman’s clubs or even explicitly hiring per se. “I didn’t think either of us knew any go-go dancers,” says Quirarte, “but apparently we did! And they, uh, reached out. It’s mostly friends, or friends of friends, or new friends.” But for all their laissez-faire approach, nudity—even part-time and partial—does require some planning. Writhing, sweaty bodies can leave marks. “The surfaces are all wipeable,” says Kliegman. “They weren’t before, oddly enough, but they are now.”