November 24th, 2010

Body Tap closed sometime last year. New management called the place STACKS for a while. Now it’s called Whispers. In 2005, I went there to take some photos of Big Boi – we were told to show up at midnight. It was probably a Tuesday, the place was mostly empty – Big Boi was pretty much running the place, Cee Lo showed up for a drink.

Later on, we went back to photograph some of the girls that worked there – a bunch of those show up in the book. The club wasn’t too far from Midtown, out on an industrial strip of Marietta Drive – but something about it always felt a little more Southern than the rest of the city. Will wrote a short piece about the club for S Magazine that helps explain things:

Body Tap is a giant rectangular bunker of a club that glows at night like a pilot light in an otherwise spartan and slumbering industrial stretch of southwest Atlanta. Pull into the lot through the gap in the chain link fence and roll down your window. A dude holding a wad of bills so big it can’t really even fold runs up and tells you it’ll be twenty. Nah, you tell him, I’m gonna park back there, in the grass lot, gesturing far out into the darkness, and he says Alright player – ten, then just pull on back.

The Body Tap experience begins with cars – more specifically your car, and how it stacks up with the other cars in the parking lot and those that can be expected later, and how much you’re willing to pay to put yours where. As you ease towards the back of the lot, a Rolls Royce Phantom and a couple Range Rovers parked in prime places up by the door quickly give way to high-riding box Chevys with electric kool aid acid paint jobs and cartoonishly-sized chrome wheels, which soon relent to customized Chrysler 300s and Dodge Chargers that eventually leave room in the cheap seats for beat up Tercels, Altimas, and whatever other compacts and pickups get the working stiffs, line cooks, and mechanics from A to B and back again. You park in the high grass up under the line of trees and get out of your car, then do the whole automotive pecking order on foot and in reverse, all the way back to the club. The bouncer pats you down. He feels your cell phone, knows it’s got a camera on it, and sends you back out to where the kudzu grows. Ain’t no pictures goin on in here.

Body Tap is essentially a warehouse set into the side of a hill, and when you get past the bouncer, pay the cover, and walk past the shower with the glass door and purple walls, past the DJ booth perched high above the main floor, and arrive at the top of a large set of stairs, you see the whole place broadly, and from above. It’s one A.M. and it’s heating up – just coming to the rapid boil that the DJ, the dancers, the MC, the bartenders, and the club-goers themselves have all been purposefully working towards. Standing at the top of the stairs, you look out and what you see is a frenetic, wild, unencumbered, chest-cavity rattling orgy – but sex is just one part of the swirl, and maybe a subordinate part at that, a minor player. Instead it’s an orgy of money, booze, weed, food, style, conversation, and yes, tits ’n’ ass, too—all set to music specifically calibrated to push the energy forever upwards.

The orgy starts when the DJ really starts dropping the shit-hot regional hip-hop hits that are burning up right now. The music is specifically designed for this exact environment: Girl pussy pop it, shake that monkey. There are girls working the floor of the room for lap dances – What’s your name player? You wanna dance?; girls on the pedestal-like side stages shake-shake-shakin’ it for a single crew that’s gathered around with their bankrolls in hand; girls on the main stage, spiraling dramatically down the 30 foot high poles and looking like they might need ropes and a harness, eventually joining at the front of the stage for a simulated sex. All of the girls respond to different of-the-moment records with lit up faces and ramped up movements like, This is my joint right here! Once you’ve installed yourself on the floor, the dancer closest to you is bouncing her unfathomably round ass below her impossibly slim waist as she swings her hair and snaps along with both hands, looking back over her shoulder a little bit, one cheek clapping rhythmically with the other, as though her core came factory-equipped with a motorized drive belt. Now dudes’ necks are snapping hard to the beat, countless blunts are lit, jet streams of weed exhalations shoot into the air, and on a good night so many green bills are fluttering through the air in shimmering clouds that the dancers who aren’t dancing just this minute are doing their part, shoveling the money into Hefty Cinch Sack garbage bags and handing it to bouncers who walk it back into the guts of the club. An MC encourages the fellas to throw more money, and more, all the while giving shout-outs to rappers, producers, producers-turned-rappers, rappers-turned-actors, and characters of unspecified notoriety in the building. The frenzy is a very collaborative effort.

The energy in the club, even when it’s jumping, is loose – every player and his money are welcome. Also: the club is dotted with couples as well as co-ed groups out partying; there is even a table full of women – girls night out – buying bottles of Grey Goose, soliciting lap dances from certain strippers for each other, and attracting as much attention from the fellas as the working girls gyrating and wearing nothing but a belly chain. In Atlanta, where the bar closes at four and the girls strip naked, Body Tap and places like it aren’t “the strip club” – they’re just called “the club,” full stop. The skeevy cliché of goateed men saddling up to the stage and holding a one or a five out until the overly-tanned girl of the moment saddles down to him and let’s him snap the money into her garter doesn’t happen. Here, when the spirit moves, it’s more disinterested; some would say even more vicious. You just throw a quarter inch stack of ones from the brick of singles in your hand into the air above the dancer on the pole – or maybe hold the stack above her ass as she’s on all fours, pushing a couple ones at a time off your bankroll so they waterfall over her ass and onto the floor. Here, money is spent for the sole purpose of having been spent – having been had and no longer needed. The spending – the no longer needing – is performed as publicly and ostentatiously as possible.

It hardly bears saying that in every single detail except for the holy trinity of nude girls, music, and floor-to-ceiling poles, Body Tap is something entirely different from the other clubs in the Strip Club Capital of America. Different from the Cheetah 3 – the ritzy strip club downtown near all the fancy hotels, with its endless chain of white stretch limos and its row of Benzes in the premier valet. It’s also something entirely other from the rundown strip joints that dot the Atlanta area’s endless exurban sprawl—the pickups, SUVs, and compacts that sit anonymous and lonely outside the Pink Ponys and TKs in the seedy back corners of the Georgia exurbs. At Body Tap and the handful of clubs like it—places like Magic City, Pleasers, and the Gentleman’s Club – there exists a whole culture – specifically Southern, specifically black – with its own signifiers and signifieds; it’s own tailor made music; its own unique rules and complex social structures. Understand the difference between this club and the places scattered across Everywhere, USA: At Body Tap, it’s the clientele that’s on display, as much or more than the girls at work inside. It is a social gathering spot first and foremost. People aren’t here to hide – they’re here to see and be seen, make themselves part of the show, make it rain. Forget that white-boy right of passage called the bachelor party. Nobody’s getting a ten-dollar grind to a washed up Motley Crüe song in an effort to work up a nut that’ll later get shot into a wad of toilet paper before the car gets put in gear and driven home to the wife. Shame has no place here; there are no shadows in this club. No, it’s all about display, and amidst the sensory spanning orgy – in the scrum for attention – that means the girls here have to be twice as good at what they do.


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