Love Ranch or bust
A tour of normal at a Las Vegas brothel
Thu, Oct 20, 2011 (4:05 p.m.)
Photo: Ryan Olbrysh
I love road trips, especially when they involve beer and brothels.
A few weeks ago I received an email with a “special invitation” to visit Dennis Hof’s Love Ranch, a brothel 80 miles north of Las Vegas in Crystal, Nevada. To sweeten the deal, the promotion included a 30 percent discount on anything and everything the ranch has to offer, from souvenirs to sexual services. It also included two free drinks at the bar. I’d never visited a brothel before, so on Saturday my boyfriend and I hit the open road with one goal in mind: the Love Ranch or bust.
It was the perfect day for a road trip—warm but not too hot, sunny but not too bright. The windows were down and my feet, which I had slipped out of my sandals, were up on the dashboard. With each passing mile, Vegas, with its strip malls, tract housing and neon, receded further into the distance. For 30 miles, we passed no other cars. It was just us, a lonely stretch of Interstate 95 and James Brown on the radio singing, appropriately enough, we thought, “Stay on the scene, like a sex machine. And shake your money maker.”
An hour and a half after leaving Vegas we pulled into the parking lot of the Love Ranch, a series of interconnected, double-wide trailers that sits pretty much in the middle of nowhere. There was no 7-Eleven on the corner or McDonald’s down the street. With the exception of several cars in the parking lot and two pink bikes leaning against the building, we were far removed from any telltale signs of civilization. It was rural Nevada at its finest.
We rang the bell and the brothel manager, Liz, welcomed us in. We didn’t want a lineup, we told her, but rather we just wanted to sit at the bar and have a beer, if that was okay. She said it was and took us back to the bar, where the five women who were working that day greeted us in clingy dresses and high heels.
Three hours and three beers later, with souvenir photos and a bottle of autographed hot sauce in hand, we bid our farewells and started our trek back to Vegas. Here are some highlights from our visit:
Biggest surprise: We arrived at the brothel to find eight women from the Red Hat Society, a social organization for women over 50, sitting at two tables in the bar eating chocolate cake. The scene was so incongruous to anything we had expected—a social gathering of septuagenarians in a brothel?—we initially had a hard time making sense of it. The group, which included a woman with a walker, had just finished a brothel tour. We watched as they whooped it up with the “girls.” They posed for racy pictures and bought souvenirs to take home to their husbands. One woman, who was celebrating her 73rd birthday, surprised us by whipping a pink vibrator out of her purse. It was a birthday gift, she told us, from the women at the brothel. “This is my BOB—battery-operated boyfriend,” she laughed.
The tour: Soon after we arrived, Sydney, one of the brothel workers, asked if we’d like a tour. We left the bar and walked down the hallway to see the rest of the Ranch. We passed the cashiers desk and I noticed a stack of board games. It’s not uncommon for a client to stay for a weekend, she explained, and it’s nice to have things like games around when they do. We walked through the main room of the house, which was filled with couches, comfy chairs and two plasma screen televisions, and headed back to the girls’ bedrooms. Sydney showed us her room, which was bright and tidy with a big bed in the middle, and mentioned that she’s the newest girl to start working at the Ranch. (It was her fifth day). She then took us into the “VIP Room” and the “Massage Room,” both of which, I have to admit, looked inviting. “I’m a licensed massage therapist,” she explained, “so you could come for a massage and, well, anything else you might want.”
What’s behind that door? Dennis Hof of the HBO series Cat House, who owns four brothels in Nevada, purchased the Love Ranch about a year ago, according to Sydney. Since then, he’s undertaken major renovations of the property. Sydney opened a door to a part of the brothel not currently in use to show us what it used to look like. We stared down a long, dark hallway with doors on either side, wood paneling on the walls and worn red carpet. The renovations, it would seem, make good business sense. “I’ve shown this to some clients,” she told us, “and they’ve said, ‘I wouldn’t want to go down there.’”
The normalcy of it all: After we finished the tour we returned to the bar where we sat and talked with Sydney for the rest of our visit. She told us about her decision to work in a brothel, life back in California and what she hoped to do with the money she saved. We talked about the Bay Area and books. It was a slow day and while Sydney, who was as sweet as could be, talked to us, the others surfed the Internet and watched YouTube videos on their laptops. They talked about the barbecue they’d eaten the night before and what they wanted for dinner that night—the mundane stuff of daily life. At one point, a car pulled into the driveway and a man got out. The bell rang and we watched as the women hastily reapplied lip gloss and ran their hands through their hair. They excused themselves for the lineup and returned five minutes later, rolling their eyes. “Waste of time. He wanted to know what he could get for $100.” From his swift departure, the answer was clearly nothing. A little while later another car pulled up and one of the women smiled and jumped to her feet. “She’s expecting a client,” Sydney said. And the client? It was a woman.