* Oh yeah, there is a special pass to visit The Yellow Rose on the back page. Read the issue first and then go check it out. Thanks Mike and DK..********
AUSTIN DAZE: How long have you been in Austin?
DON KING: I’ve been in Austin for I’m thinking, 28 or 29 years. I’ve been running clubs for 28 of those years.
DK: I’ll tell you what, I know everybody in town and if you ask any manager at any topless club, they will say that they got into this accidentally. I was a quarterback in high school; national honor society. My hair was never longer than this, you know. I got out of high school and went to Southwest State University and that’s where my wild days started. I was very conservative until that. I never had a beer until I was 17 years old. I’ve had a lot since then. Everybody wants to be a bartender and I finally busted my cherry at the Magic Time Machine. I was working there about 28 years ago. Have you been? It’s where everybody dresses in different costumes and every table is a different space in time. One would be a space capsule, a wigwam, a teepee, a log cabin. All the bartenders and waitresses were like Alice in Wonderland. I was General Custard. I was Lawrence of Arabia with a turban and tights. It was so much fun–so many great people. It still is in San Antonio. After that I was running a place on 4th and Brazos. There’s nothing there now, they tore the whole block down. I ran a place called Crazy Bobs and we went out of business and I ended up at the Dollhouse. Actually, I ended up at Little Abners, a little titty biker bar on 45th and Lamar, and then I ended up at the Dollhouse and then the Dollhouse became the Yellow Rose. I also worked at Rome Inn, The White Rabbit, and Beans Restaurant
I opened Yellow Rose and ran it for 8 years and got a really good offer to go run Sugars and I was really disenchanted with the owners of the Rose at the time. I had been through three sets of owners at least, Mike, wrestled me away. He was a good customer at Sugars and he got a chance to buy the Rose and he did. He bought the Yellow Rose and dangled carrots in front of my nose until I bit. We became best friends and partners.
It’s always accidental. You ask anybody–Kenny, Ricky–anybody. You can go all over town and ask them how they got in this business and they will say, “You know what, I’m not really sure”. “I needed a job and how cool would it be to work in a titty bar”. It sure is cool to work in a titty bar. I’ve been happy doing anything I’ve ever done. I’ve built houses all over the country, I worked for a chemical company, I was an oil worker in west Texas…I’ve done everything in the world and I’ve always been happy with everything I did, but I can’t imagine doing any of those things anymore.
AD: What is your secret to being such a successful manager?
DK: It’s what I just said, if you’re happy with what you are doing, you can probably do well with it, you know? And I absolutely adore women and a lot of people in my business don’t treat women well, that’s where our industry somewhat gets a bad name because there is a lot of predators and lecherous managers with clubs like this who take advantage of a girl being their employee instead of doing anything they can to enhance their lives.
And I get to meet new beautiful women every day…
AD: Every day?
DK: Every single day. Yesterday, two gorgeous girls walked in and I just walked up to them and I said, what are you applying for? You can have my job. They were customers. They were just there to party. Its amazing how many women go to topless clubs now.
AD: You must have to reject some dancers. Tell us how you handle rejecting them?
DK: It’s a lot of bullshit. It’s really hard to tell somebody, you know? You don’t come out and tell somebody. What you do is you tell them, look, we just have too many girls right now. Do you understand? We’re running one too many girls right now and nobody is making any money. And I can show them. I get ten applications a night and I can show them and say, look this is how many I’ve got before you got here so I don’t need girls right now. And then I send them over to Sugars. And Sugars hires them.
AD: What do you say to people that say strip clubs are dehumanizing or objectifying women?
DK: Guy walks into bar with 400 bucks. Girl walks out of bar with 400 bucks. Who is dehumanizing who?
Here’s the other thing too: we create an atmosphere that is a very good neighborly bar even without the topless women. It’s even better with them there but people that go downtown always stop at the Rose first. Everybody meets at the Rose and sometimes they don’t leave. But as far as dehumanizing, you could take that from anywhere. From Sports Illustrated to Playboy or whatever. If I was a good looking girl I sure would want to show off and if they pay big bucks, so much the better.
I ran biker bars. Back then, if you were a stripper you were a stripper. All the bad shit you heard about titty bars was true. If you worked in a titty bar you were either a biker’s old lady, a drug addict, or destitute single mom. I’ve watched it evolve. Girls who are students. Girls who are putting themselves through school. If you can make 500 bucks in one night why would you shovel ice cream at Amy’s 20 hours a week to make 200 bucks?
I’ll tell you right now, I’ve put thousands of girls through college just by having the facility and almost without exception they are outstanding students because they are paying for their own tuition–they are doing it on their own. The girls that are dancing, mommy and daddy aren’t taking care of them–I promise you that. And if they are, those are the girls that have so much on the ball because they want to work so they can by the nice bling bling things, the new Denali, clothes and shopping and stuff like that. If you look like a Playboy Playmate you can make $600-800 a night.
AD: What do you say to people that have a shady view of strips clubs and strippers? The Yellow Rose is far from shady. Why do you think these people feel that they operate on a higher moral ground?
DK: Hypocrisy. I liken this exactly to the smoking ban. The people who are on the forefront of the smoking ban don’t go out to bars. They aren’t going to start going to see live music now that there isn’t smoking there. They never have and they never will. They are only there to queer everybody else’s s**t. The first election, we won. The second election, they won, and instead of going to a nonsmoking restaurant or club, they went to a hotel room to celebrate and brought their own beer in. Hypocrites!
Here’s my deal: we aren’t doing anything wrong. We aren’t doing anything immoral. If you want to trade politics for theology, the two biggest, most commercially successful evangelists in the history of the United States are Jimmy Baker and Jimmy Swaggert and the only way those are going to get into heaven is they are going have to jimmy the gates.
AD: What do you think of the popularity of strip clubs in Austin? Do you feel the competition?
DK: I take my show on the road. You’ve got to appreciate people. I’ve got friends at all of the places of competition. They all have their own niche. People are creatures of habit. Some people like different things about different clubs. All the clubs here in Austin are well run with good people for managers
Topless clubs are not like in other places. You don’t get hassled and you don’t get hustled. You can go have a nice drink at Expose, Bellagio, Perfect 10, Sugars, Joys, any of them, without getting the hell beat out of you like they do in Houston, or if you go to Chicago, or a bar in Miami, or heaven forbid, if you ever want to walk into a topless club in California. You can get a drink comparable to the prices of the drinks they serve at Oslo or Sullivan’s.
Therefore we get a very mix blend of people-this man is construction, we get students. We get everything in there. We get all shapes and sizes and colors because of it. We get lawyers, lobbyists and laborers.
You’ll know the bartender on a first name basis by the time you leave. Why would you want to go somewhere that you don’t already know people? The door guy knows you, the valet knows you.
I’ve got to take this one off record but I’ve got a really good anecdote for you…
AD: Take this one off record?
DK: Yeah. So it’s this guys birthday and his wife takes him out. She puts him a cab and takes him to the best strip club in town. The guy gets out of the cab, valet guy looks at him and says, “Hey Pete, what’s up?” And she looks at him like, “How do you know this guy?” They walk in and the door girl says, “Hey, Pete, come on in. We’ve got your table ready for you and all that. And the wife says, “How do you know her? And he says, “Oh her husband bowls in my league and I met her”. So he gets seated and the waitress comes over and says, “The same thing Pete?” And one for you date?” And she says, “How the hell do you know that girl?” He says, “She’s also in the bowling league, too”. Two dancers come over and sit on his lap and say, “Do you want your regular two for one, Pete?” She gets up and storms out of the titty bar and he’s running after her trying to explain everything to her and she gets the closest cab, opens the door and jumps in the back seat and he jumps in the back seat with her. He’s profusely apologizing, explaining to her over and over and she’s just going off on him and the cab driver turns around and looks at him and says, “Looks like you picked up a real bitch tonight, huh, Pete?”
Did you see where that was going?
AD: What do you think makes Austin special?
DK: I think Austin started being special a long, long time ago. I’ve been here 30 years and I used to go to Soap Creek Saloon, Armadillo World Headquarters and all that. My freshman year of college I was standing on the table, at Soap Creek Saloon, watching Michael Martin Murphy sing, watching people smoke pot and thinking, wow, what is this s**t? I was brought up in a small town and Austin kinda blew me away. That’s the way Austin was then. The hub of liberalism. It’s changed a whole lot. I’ve seen it get more and more to the right. Just like the strippers… I’m a lot more conservative than I was before 9-11
And I don’t smoke cigarettes, but we had a thousand t-shirts printed that said, “It’s a bar stupid”. Can you imagine going into a honkey tonk and not being able to smoke? What do I tell my waitresses? If they want to smoke I have to send them into a parking lot 15ft away and I have to send a security guard out with them to make sure they are ok…
It’s the same liberal democrats that were smoking pot 30 years ago at Soap Creek that are now calling for music ordinances and smoking bans.
But still. I’ve had a chance to work in many different cities and I look around here and I think, why would I want to be anywhere else?
AD: Do you go out at night on your free time?
DK: We go out a lot. If we get some time off we plan to maximize it. We go wine tasting all the time. We have a limo business and if it’s slow down there we grab three or four girls and grab a limo and head downtown. If there is good music. If there is something special, we are on that. BB King came to Antones–anything special like that.
AD: Do you get mistaken for the other Don King a lot?
DK: We were both in Vegas once and I was getting his phone calls. He was getting my dinner reservations. He’s bigger than me in Las Vegas but I’m bigger than him in Austin. I’ve got better appreciation.
AD: Anything else?
DK: I love your magazine. You’ve got my card now.