Photo: Courtesy of Al Mancini
Al Mancini doesn’t see himself going back to writing strip club reviews, a vocation he took up shortly after he moved to Las Vegas with his wife in 2001. By now in his career, he’s a well-known food critic in the city—he hasn’t reviewed strip clubs for a while.But by Mancini’s own account, his food writing might be considered a natural extension of his sex writing.
“Writing about sex and writing about food have one thing in common: everybody eats and everybody f**ks,” he told me in a recent phone conversation. “These are primal urges, things that everybody can relate to.”
Mancini, who just turned 44, wears a mohawk and a long goatee (both dyed varying colours) and has set himself apart as a sort of punk rock gatecrasher in the world of fine dining.
He hosts a show on the food blog Food Enquirer called “Dining Invasion,” and writes about food for the weekly newspaper Las Vegas CityLife. He wrote a book last year, Eating Las Vegas: The 50 Essential Restaurants, with John Curtas and Max Jacobson, two other chief food critics in the city.
An Unlikely Duo
But Mancini christened his Vegas writing career with a regular sex column in which, for about nine months, he reviewed strip clubs for the alternative newspaper Las Vegas Weekly.
Mancini and his wife had been going to strip clubs together for a while before he took the reviewing position: with friends, on vacation. When they moved to Las Vegas from New York, the only people they knew in the city were strippers whom they had met on previous trips there.
“My wife and I are pretty open-minded people,” Mancini said, when I asked him why they go to strip clubs together. “I think a lot of women enjoy looking at naked women as much as guys do,” he added.
“The reason people go to strip clubs is because they’re fun,” he said.
For their first six months in Las Vegas, Mancini and his wife went to Olympic Garden, the topless gentlemen’s club, on Fridays before six (no cover). They were making friends, trying to get comfortable with the city.
Mancini had moved out West after convincing ABC News Radio, for whom he worked as an entertainment reporter, that the company needed a full-time Las Vegas correspondent.
“What happened was I was writing all these national stories, and Vegas is a very small, insular town,” Mancini explained.
He wanted to get a job writing for a local paper to feel like he belonged in the city. He met the editor of Las Vegas Weekly at a local punk rock dive bar (he remembers because he had gotten a tattoo that day) and, as it happened, the only available position was for a strip club reviewer. He took it.
Or rather, he and his wife took it. Though Mancini wrote the reviews alone, he and his wife went to the strip clubs together, evaluating them as a couple.
Photo: Courtesy of Al Mancini
So how does one go about doing such a thing?The Criteria
“One of the criteria was how friendly the strip clubs were to women,” Mancini said. “Sometimes women wouldn’t give women lap dances.”
Mancini explained that the culture of Las Vegas strip clubs has changed since his reviewing days. Women are now more likely to go to them. When he was going with his wife, if she didn’t feel comfortable, it affected his view of the club.
He also considered diversity. “Everybody is a Barbie doll, all blond hair and blue eyes,” Mancini said. “I like girls with tattoos and piercings”—he repeated this later in our conversation—”I like women of all races.”
Other factors were the prices, if the drinks were watered down, how hard the strippers hustled you: standard considerations.
Along with strip clubs, Mancini and his wife reviewed swinger clubs, adult video stores, dildo shops; it was a general sex column he was writing, he said, but strip clubs were the main feature of it.
“It’s a part of Vegas culture, you have to keep in mind,” he explained. “You go to see tits if you come to Vegas. If you’re old and uptight or whipped then you go to the high end topless revues, but everyone who comes to Vegas wants to see a strange pair of tits.”
Since the recession, Mancini said, stripper culture hasn’t been what it was. Businessmen visiting have smaller expense accounts, and girls aren’t in as good a mood when money is limited. He’d like to see someone do an in-depth story about how the culture has changed through the years.
And while his strip club-reviewing days are over, Mancini still maintains a strong connection with the adult entertainment industry. In January, he hosted a porn star brunch, which he sponsored with his new book. He’s done videos with porn stars, where he explains food to them and takes them to fine restaurants. He still has friends who were strippers.
“I like porn stars—they’re my kind of people,” he said. “I have an affinity for the adult world. As one of my friends says: porn stars are people, too, strippers are people, too.”
On a business trip to Las Vegas Mancini took alone before he and his wife had moved there, he found himself particularly bored one night. He just wanted to talk to someone, but didn’t want to seem like a masher if he did it at a bar or a club. So his wife recommended that he go to a strip club; there his attempts at conversation would not be misconstrued.
“It’s the safest way to spend your time in Vegas,” Mancini told me, adding: “My wife’s a genius.”
Considering his taste for strippers, I asked: Does she have any tattoos or piercings?
A few tattoos, he said, some piercings. But, he added, “What you’re looking for in a stripper isn’t the kind of woman you end up marrying.”
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