The whole room smells like eggs, and there’s a man wearing only underpants suspended from the ceiling.
Is there a more precise word than underpants that we can use to explain this? What do you call the kind that cover a rear end but not much else? Is “hammock” still a thing?
We’d better learn fast, because the underpants are everywhere at “Sir Sunday,” Washington’s first all-male burlesque brunch. Sax, the cabaret-themed downtown restaurant, is known for its skin-baring, butt-shaking entertainment. The kind that’s free of Y chromosomes and lush with feathers and lace, that is.
But at 11 a.m. this past Sunday, and every coming Sunday for as long as the venture is successful, Sax is serving up brunch with a side (or is it the main course?) of nearly nude, Ryan-Gosling-level-attractive men.
And here they come now, on a stage above the bar, dressed in cargo pants and black tank tops that are sure to be made of an easily rippable fabric.
The audience howls. They take bites of their Gruyère quiches. They howl more. There are 125 guests at the sold-out brunch, mostly women in their 20s, 30s and 40s, dressed like this is any old Sunday outing. A few pretended that it was.
“Tell your man you’re going to brunch with the girls, then come here!” says Sheyla Jimenez, 26.
Nearby, a few of the women look not quite ready to tuck dollar bills into elastic bands on the biceps and thighs of their attentive servers, a.k.a.“table studs.” They sit perfectly upright on the ornate tufted couches, as if good posture can atone for impropriety. Then the studs pour another round of mimosas.
“This is just like church!” exclaims Judith Wrenn, to cheers from her friends, a group of moms from Ashburn, Va., who arrived in a white limousine. “God made man in his image. So we’re here to worship his image.”
The men onstage have started marching. They’re wearing camouflage hats. Oh, no. Didn’t someone tell them —
“It’s September 11!” a woman tells her sister. “Honestly, though, what a great way to celebrate America.”
The dancers start caressing their muscles to the sound of Destiny Child’s “Soldier.”
“They don’t do that in the Marines,” says one of the few men in the audience.
This spectacle must have meaning beyond simple risque entertainment, right? Despite the surge of young people into the city in the past decade, Washington has not lost its reputation as a buttoned-up town. Buttons are part of the daily uniform. Most residents would never be caught in one of the city’s long-running strip clubs. Many of the venues that tried to get Washingtonians to unearth their more primal tendencies, such as Red Palace on H Street NE, have closed. And as in Sax’s regular burlesque shows, the performers at those establishments were mostly a straight man’s version of eye candy, anyway.
At Sir Sundays, there’s no doubt that the aim is to entice crowds of women, especially those who release their raunchy inner selves only at bachelorette parties.
“Women have been objectified for years,” declares Joy Falzarano as the “soldiers” ditch their trousers. “Now it’s their turn!”
That is most definitely not the lesson of feminism, but in a room full of women, in a year when a woman might become president, the references to the power of women flow freely.
“D.C. women are strong,” explains Betsy Koch.
“That’s right, guys, we are ready to see it!” says her friend Gina Dandi.
“And feed me and give me drinks while we’re at it,” Koch agrees.
That seems to be the consensus — as long as the guys don’t get too close.
“We are high-powered, government, corporate women,” one of the high-powered women remarks. “I don’t want your groin in my face.”
She was speaking hypothetically, of course. There were no groins near her face, because of the strict rules imposed on the “sirs” of Sir Sundays, who usually spend their days as models, personal trainers and stage performers. They may not touch their genitals. Their underwear must stay in place. (A Sax official declined to divulge how the briefs don’t budge during the dancing, citing “secrets of the trade.”) And an arm’s-length distance should be maintained between performers and customers.
On Sax’s balcony, there’s one exception. A dancer is hugging one of the older women in the VIP section.
“This is my son!” says Eunice Dodson proudly. She says she’s been to every one of his performances since he started dance classes as a child and that this would be no different. But even she has limits.
“Here you go,” she says, handing him a $5 bill. “I’m not sticking these in your shorts.”
Every 10 minutes, the lights go down and the men start a new routine, to cheers that grow ever louder as the champagne supply depletes.
Now there’s a customer with them on the marble dance floor, seated in a regal blue throne. She has a birthday sash on, and everyone knows what’s about to happen.
“Ooh, it’s like ‘Magic Mike XXL’!” a few women squeal.
It’s actually just like “Magic Mike XXL,” the 2015 sequel to “Magic Mike,” the 2012 Channing Tatum movie about male strippers. There’s a scene in which Channing and his fetching companions visit a club for women. The men there don’t just dance; they worship their female guests, calling them “queens” and telling them how beautiful and valuable they are. Just as on this dance floor, they put a woman in a chair and dance around her as her expression changes from nervous to confident.
The ladies can’t stop name-dropping Magic Mike, though most say this experience is almost like Mike. If it were the real thing, the birthday girl wouldn’t need to go get a cheeseburger after this.
“The food is not great,” she whispers.
“I wish the men were a little less flamboyant,” another confides.
“That one is balding,” a woman says to her friend. “He needs to shave his head every day.”
But then the shirtless aerialist hops back on the ribbons hanging from the ceiling and does a split in the air, and everyone is screaming again.
Somewhere backstage is Derek Brown, the choreographer responsible for convincing Sax’s owners, Richard Vasey and David Karim, that covering men in loincloths and having them dance to a song called “Jungle” while the guests eat berry parfaits would actually work.
“D.C. is conservative, whether you like it or not, so we had to be careful,” Vasey says.
The restaurant’s security guard is not so sure about that anymore.
“I’ve never seen women act like this,” he says.
Soon, the lights have come up, and his job is to usher out the guests who don’t want to leave. The second sold-out brunch is set to begin in 30 minutes.
The customers wave their dollar bills in the air as they make their way to the open front doors, from where they can see banks and hotels and endless office buildings. The old D.C. So they back away from the doorway and clamor for pictures with their table studs, asking, “Can we come back tomorrow?”
One woman slips a dollar into the pocket of a news photographer. He’s fully dressed. He doesn’t work here. But he doesn’t have the heart to ruin her fun.