Forty-two years ago, Playboy founder and editor Hugh Hefner began to run in his magazine "The Playboy Philosophy," a massive statement of hedonistic intent (it eventually ran to 25 installments) for himself and his publication. At one point early in the lengthy treatise, Hefner wrote, "We at Playboy think there is a depressing tendency to confuse seriousness with earnestness and dullness. We believe in the Western tradition of satire and polemic (and it is our feeling that some of the mass media could do with a little sharpening of their senses of humor), and we aren't above poking fun at ourselves once in a while either."
Bold stuff for 1962, but in 2004, when plenty of media outlets do almost nothing but poke fun at themselves and/or their audiences, it reads pretty quaint. Which brings us to the Catwalk club in Pioneer Square last Thursday, June 3, where Playboy celebrated its 50th anniversary with a traveling party that has hit 51 cities. Outside the Catwalk, the line—overwhelmingly male, attire largely shiny-casual— contrasted markedly with the more earth-toned denizens of First Thursday just down the block. The party was well attended, though Playboy's door person was reluctant to offer hard numbers: "Well, the room holds 1,000 people, and it's full right now," he said around 9 p.m. "So yeah, there's 1,000 people here."
That same vagueness permeated the party right from the start. VIP ticket holders paid $146, which got them drink tickets, a freebie bag that was given away upon exiting (and which many VIPs forgot to receive), and the privilege of entering the party at 7 p.m.—which might have meant more if the VIP line hadn't abated right around, what do you know, 8 p.m., when regular ticket holders, who'd paid $65 each, were let in. The first hour of any party is its most uncertain, but the nervousness that hung in the air was exacerbated by the added promise of, you know, sex, or at least skin.
There was some of that, thanks to the 10 Playboy Bunnies and various other costumed females stationed around the venue, not to mention the dozen or so women wearing Hawaiian Tropic sashes, even though Hawaiian Tropic wasn't sponsoring the event. But the VIP portion of the evening had the air of, as a female co-worker who attended put it, "a sausage factory. I should have gotten my girls out here—except these guys have no game."
"They should have had a Playmate contest," her boyfriend added. "Then there'd actually be some women here."
Eventually, more women did arrive—a generous estimate would put them at one-third of the crowd. Which is hardly unexpected, given Playboy's demographic. But if, as the press release put it, partygoers were having "a once-in-a-lifetime chance to experience the luxurious Playboy lifestyle," the lesson was clear early on: Opulence is tedious. Hefner's famous round bed was on display, and what do you know? It looks like a bed with a rug on it. (Not unlike Hefner himself, actually.) The Bunnies looked vacantly at and through the crowd, though the very odd older man who stood in the center of the main bar area, holding his fingers up in a looking-through-a-camera square and occasionally rubbing them together like a Boy Scout with sticks, did receive a few furtive, is-he-OK? glances.
The entertainment was smartly chosen: Burlesque diva Dita Von Teese performed a pair of superb stripteases, while the music was provided by Atlanta DJ Shortee, who put out a couple of good scratch-heavy hip-hop records in the late '90s, though here she was limited to obvious party favorites. But for all the "party" atmosphere, almost nothing felt spontaneous, and some things were just puzzling, like the No Photos sign at one stand attended by a pair of gold-lamé outfitted women hawking Camel cigarettes. Wasn't the merch table selling disposable cameras for $20 a pop? "Pictures get on the Internet," one of the women explained—apparently, it's crucial to ensure that no one thinks that paragon of social freedom, Playboy, in a nightclub full of people drinking co-sponsors Chivas Regal and Michelob Light and ogling half-naked women, might endorse cigarettes. (Zippo was also a sponsor.) This reached even more absurd heights when a man taking a picture with a Playmate had the Budweiser in his hands nudged out of the photo's range by a beefy security guard.
As for poking fun, the last word surely goes to the attractive blond partyer whose T-shirt was the wittiest thing at the event. What did it read? "Cocktease."