11/13/09

The Golden Age of the Playboy Club


I don't think that most people today realize the extent of the success of the Playboy Club in the 1960's and early 70's. In 1961, The Playboy Club was the busiest night club in the world. The Chicago club alone brought in around 132,000 customers in 3 months. Famous entertainers like Bob Hope, Ray Charles, Steve Allen, Ann-Margret, and Dizzy Gillespie performed at Playboy Clubs from New York to Manila, London, Tokyo to the Bahamas.


And these weren't sleazy strip clubs. The Playboy Clubs were classy, cool and hip. In Diamonds Are Forever, we learn that James Bond is a member. It became a status symbol to be a "Keyholder" for 25 bucks a year. To give you an idea of how "unsleazy" Playboy's reputation was at the time, Hefner had a television show called Playboy's Penthouse.... this at a time when networks would never dream of putting Ward and June Cleaver in the same bed! Indeed, these were places you could take your wife and not feel awkward - they were tasteful and swank.


Of course, the main attraction were the Bunnies. Inspired by the Chicago's Gas Light Clubs of the 1950's, Hefner had his hostesses wear similar outfits the Gas Light Girls, and the rest is history. Here's a pic of the Gas Light in its prime..

At one time there were 25,000 Bunnies and over a million Keyholders! And the revenue kept pouring in - soon, The Playboy Casinos became the primary source of income for the Playboy empire. In fact, the 45 Park Lane Playboy Casino was the most successful casino in the world at one time.

All good things must come to an end, however. Playboy lost its gambling license, which killed a huge source of profits. Other factors included a general decline in nightclub attendance and the meteoric rise in feminism put the final nail in the coffin.


There's a new Playboy Club at the Palms in Vegas. However, it's got a long, long way to go to recapture the  hip reputation and global success which it once enjoyed. So, let's relive the past a little and take a look at a few pictures from when The Playboy Club was king.  I'd be interested to read comments from anyone lucky enough to have visited the club in its heyday.

I'll start with a picture of me at age 12 at the Baltimore Playboy Club in 1971. (Not really.)




Several image sources found here at the ex-Playboy Bunny site



The next two are from LP Cover Lover



I told you it was the kind of place you could take the wife....




....and last but not least, in honor of the great Soupy Sales who passed last month. Here's to you, Soupy!

19 comments:

  1. My mom was just telling me recently about one time when she and my dad went out to celebrate something for her, and dad took her to a Playboy Club. She did NOT appreciate it. But the food was good.

    ReplyDelete
  2. The women in the picture with Hef certainly look miserable!! As a woman, I can only say that some of the really cool stuff was killed thanks to the women's movement. They took things much too seriously back then.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Old school Playboy bunnies are the most. Groovy post.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Wow. I wish I could go back in a time machine to visit one of these clubs. It's one of the things I most love about that era.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They were lots of fun! I used to go dancing on the light up circular dance floor with a girlfriend at the time.

      Delete
  5. Thanks for this! Last year I read the most recent Hef bio, I guess trying to recapture just what you did in this post. The book was pretty good but man, I love the pix from that era!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Wow! Millie Small sang "My Boy Lollipop" in 1964 and that is her in the bunny outfit. Millie, Jamaica, Ska, and the Playboy Club.
    When they finally discover time-travel I think I've got my destination set.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Like Barbara, I was amazed at the first photo; there are like 15 people in the photo and only two are smiling. Hef, don't you check these things before you send them, out?

    ReplyDelete
  8. This is interesting! In my parents' wedding album, there's a photo of my straight-up Mr. Clean Navy officer dad with 2 Playboy bunnies. I think it must be at his bachelor party in 1965. I never asked him about it...some things are better left unasked. Good to know it was fairly classy back then because I was always a bit perturbed by that photo of dad.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I remember when I was a kid, maybe ten or so, my whole extended family would go to the Playboy Club in Buffalo for brunch on Easter and such. Like, a dozen aunts and uncles and grandma and everyone. I distinctly remember running around with my cousin and getting in trouble for trying to snap photos of bunny tails.

    ReplyDelete
  10. The Playboy Clubs were like Mensa: Just as Mensa is the organization for people not smart enough to =not= join an organization like Mensa, the Playboy Clubs were for people not hip enough to =not= become a Key member.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are insame , Sorry

      Delete
    2. Buzz, Buzz, Buzz. Is that what the voices in your head sound like to you? Why did you "=not=" pull your head out of your butt before you posted your wannabe hipster comment. To anyone spending a lot of time in cities all over the nation, the Playboy Club was the place you knew you could go and not be treated as a stranger. Taking a date for the first time to a club was always fun, because inevitably you would hear " But this is nice!". The original L.A. club (on the Strip) had a great view. The New York club Sunday Smörgåsbord was always a delight. And, in London, you could live at the club in the Playboy Apartments cheaper than the Hilton. So, "Buzz", you can sit there in your mother's basement thinking mean thoughts about which you know nothing, while I bask in memories of good times at a great club.

      Delete
  11. The New York City Playboy Club on E.59th Street was THE number one post-prom destinations in the mid-1970's for many who didn't want the evening to end early. You showed up in tux, and the admission charge for non-keyholders was waived. You were expected to act like a gentleman whether you had a date with you or not. The buffet was great, and the bunnies very friendly. I had agreat time trading jokes with a couple of Bunnies named "Gina" and "Terri" for about an hour, played a few hands of poker with some other folks, saw a singer in the (4th floor?) lounge, and went home just before they closed, around 4 a.m. A fun evening to remember!

    ReplyDelete
  12. The Playboy Clubs were somewhat sophisticated for its time and very creative. Feminists have always had something to say, but they are like the cat flora. See the site of the former Playboy Bunnies and see that there are none that have felt slighted by using the bunny costume. Unfortunately many people think without knowing who is speaking

    ReplyDelete
  13. I remember going to the Playboy club in Baltimore. I was only 21 but having a key, got me a lot of dates. I was the only sailor at the Naval station in Washington that had a key, and lots of guys kept wanting to borrow it. I never had a girl turn me down for a date, when I ask her if she would like to go out for dinner and a show, at the Playboy Club. Wish those days were back again.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Hello
    I was a Los Angeles Playboy club member and now collect Playboy Club keys. Is there a list of the codes used for the keys.
    Thank You
    Lee

    ReplyDelete
  15. This leads to a photo of what could be called Hef's Brown Elephant...the Playboy Club Hotel and Resort at Great Gorge, in northwestern New Jersey. It was built with casino space ready to go, but gambling was awarded to Atlantic City. As a result, it never did that well, despite being within two hours of Manhattan.

    https://www.facebook.com/109113822533347/photos/a.114508175327245.19291.109113822533347/381891448588915/?type=3&theater

    Hef sold it, and it was subsequently purchased by others...with this result

    http://www.nytimes.com/1994/09/25/nyregion/harriman-suit-misconduct-or-just-bad-luck-investing.html?pagewanted=all

    ReplyDelete
  16. Ernie in Petoskey, MIMay 01, 2016

    I just found my key "M36739". My mother bought the membership for me to celebrate my first job out of the US Army with Proctor & Gamble in Cincinnati. She must have bought the key from the Miami location, but I only visited the Cincy club. It was great, and yes somewhat of a status thing.

    ReplyDelete