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Big-City Playboy Clubs Close Their Doors

July 1, 1986

Undated (AP) _ The pajama and tuxedo set turned out by the hundreds to take a final ogle at the Playboy bunnies as the empire built on men’s libidos closed its big-city clubs in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York - the victims of changing times.

″My wife reminded me on the way over here that we’re going to another end- of-the-’60s party. And it is,″ said Jerry Rubin, the Yippie-turned-Yuppie who attended Monday night’s closing of the New York club with his wife, Mimi.

Playboy founder Hugh Hefner joined a capacity crowd of 550 at the Los Angeles club, including his 22-year-old girlfriend, Carrie Leigh, who was wearing a jewel-bedecked see-through dress.

″The Playboy clubs were a phenomenon, but nothing lasts forever,″ Hefner said in a statement released before the party.

Others attending in Los Angeles were comedian Jackie Gayle, actors Tony Curtis and Jack Carter and singer Mel Torme, said Playboy Enterprises Inc. spokesman Bill Farley.

Although Hefner said it was a time to celebrate the past rather than mourn it, the closings saddened many keyholders, bunnies and company officials.

″I feel badly,″ Harriet Bassler, Playboy’s director of bunnies for the last 10 years, said at the Chicago club, the oldest. ″I’ll get this out of my system first and then start looking for a new job.″

There were once more than 15 clubs either owned by Playboy or franchised since the one in Chicago opened in 1960. Now, bunny watchers will have to go to Playboy’s three remaining franchise clubs - in Des Moines, Iowa; Omaha, Neb.; and Lansing, Mich. - or to the four in Tokyo and one in Manila.

″Tonight isn’t a time to mourn the loss of an old friend,″ Hefner said. ″It’s a time to look back fondly on the good times and happy memories the Playboy clubs have brought to countless millions of keyholders and guests.″ But Joe Chmielik, owner of a Playboy key for more than a decade, said in Chicago: ″When they say a farewell toast at midnight, I’ll shed a few tears. It’s the end of an era.″

It also was the end of jobs for the bunnies - decked out for the last time in their rabbit ears, figure-molding satin suits, tuxedo cuffs, collars and powder-puff tails - and for the rabbits, their male counterparts.

″I guess I’ll try to get more acting parts now,″ said Monica Lindner, a part-time actress who was among the dozen bunnies serving drinks to 200 invited guests on the final night in Chicago.

″Everybody wants to know where the bunnies will go from here,″ said comic Aaron Freeman, part of the entertainment at the Chicago party. ″I envision a bunny heaven where bunnies are served drinks by middle-aged businessmen in funny little costumes.″

The clubs, which once provided 40 percent of Playboy revenue, made up just 5 percent of 1984 revenues. The company in May reported a third-quarter loss of $3.2 million on $42.8 million in revenues. The loss was attributed mainly to the poor performance of the club division.

Other reasons for the closings included the fact that the mainstay of the clubs - the businessman of yesterday - could be the businesswoman of today, and the tameness of the clubs in cities where hard-core sex is as close as the corner video rental shop.

Chmielik said he would try a couple of new nightclubs in town. ″But there’ll never be anything like the Playboy clubs - where you could eat, be entertained and see the most beautiful women in the world,″ he said.

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