When the Area 51 Alien Travel Center calls itself a full-service business along Highway 95, not far from the blasted landscape of the old Atomic Test Site, it really means full service.
The car – almost by itself, as if under an otherworldy force – pulls off at the towering puke-green façade adorned with smiling, waving cartoonish, bobble-headed aliens. You can gas up for that final 90-minute push into Las Vegas, dine at its ’50s-themed diner with a Martian twist, make a pilgrimage to the squeaky-clean restrooms (it’s a long way ’til the next exit, kids), buy alien jerky, picnic under a faux-Indian ramada and, naturally, pick through a galaxy of Area 51 doodads.
One additional amenity, a shocking pink annex jutting out behind the mini-mart: the Alien Cathouse.
Brothels, of course, are perfectly legal in Nevada, and Nye County features two owned by the notorious Dennis Hof, who is to houses of ill repute in this state what Steve Wynn is to gaudy mega-casinos: That is, a guy who has gotten filthy rich off other people’s vices and hedonistic desires. There are 21 licensed brothels in the state, and Hof owns seven.
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So, OK, another brothel. Yawn. Old story. In fact, don’t they call this “oldest profession”?
But there’s nothing ordinary about the Alien Cathouse, which Hof decorated with the help of infamous Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss. It is purported to be the nation’s only “themed” brothel. Mario Cruz, manager of both the travel center and the brothel, said many visitors, truckers and tourists alike flit back-and-forth between the buildings to indulge first their gastronomic, then their libidinal, impulses. And, he tells me, I’m not the first member of the mainstream media to delve into this titillating roadside attraction. A BBC television crew apparently beat me to it. Must’ve been sweeps month.
In the interest of quality journalism, I needed independent verification of the only-themed-brothel boast, so I approached the bright red door (even alien “escorts,” apparently, fall back on the clichéd red motif), pressed the doorbell and was greeted by the smiling visage of Savannah Sunshine, the madam. Earnest and flirtatious, she was nothing less than a Hollywood version of the prostitute with the heart of gold: bottle-blond hair, a purple bustier that Madonna would think demure, a frilly skirt, and big, round … eyes. Dolly Parton would play her in the Lifetime movie version.
I didn’t even need to ask the question; she seemed to know what I wanted. An interview, that’s all. Get your mind out of the gutter.
“Yes, we are the only themed brothel in the United States,” she said.
Even though this was my first foray over the threshold of a so-called “gentlemen’s club” – truly – I figured there’s got to be a Gold Rush-themed cathouse somewhere in this big brown dusty state, or maybe a tricked-out Mark Twain “Roughing It” brothel somewhere near Carson City, right?
“No, no,” Madam S.S. insisted. “Here’s why: Brothels are only legal in Nevada, and we are the only themed brothel in Nevada, so therefore, we are the only themed brothel in the U.S. It’s one thing we love to say. It’s a big selling point. We have themed rooms.”
She did an exaggerated arm sweep, like a house-proud owner showing off for a Sunset magazine scribe. I squinted, my pupils expanding rapidly. It was really hard to see, the room being so discreetly dark. The only illumination in the parlor came from the glowing green alien head mounted on the foyer table.
“Would you like me to take you along on what we call a client tour?” she asked.
That, it turns out, is not a euphemism. It’s a real tour, and free.
(Let me digress briefly to assure you: This column will remain SFFN – Safe for a Family Newspaper.)
Like many businesses ringing Area 51 in the remote south-central part of the state, the Alien Cathouse is not above exploiting the (by all official accounts) fictional belief in creatures from another planet.
Cathouse customers expect nothing less from the stable of “Cosmic Kittens,” Madam S.S. said.
“We have a lot of sci-fi stuff that’s been donated to us,” she said, pointing to arresting heads, reptilian and with bared teeth, flanking each entrance of the hallway leading to the themed rooms. No cuddly green bobblehead images, those.
“These two masks are from ‘Alien,’ the movie,” Madam S.S. explained. “They are different masks, because there are different kinds of aliens, you know. Of course, look at our artwork on the walls. The paintings and cutouts are all alien-themed.”
Some aliens, it should be noted, were posed next to oil paintings of scantily clad terrestrial beings of the female persuasion, as if marrying Eros and ET. And when I say nude artwork, I’m not talking about Cezanne’s “A Pastoral Idyll” or Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase,” either.
I was then led into the “Galactic Negotiation Room,” where clients can browse the menu, as it were, while the stern visage of William Shatner as James T. Kirk – a life-size cardboard cutout – looks on, because, Madam S.S. says, “he protects us.”
Decency prevents me from listing the services, but let’s just say that some of these Cosmic Kittens are amphibious and most can do unusual things with pudding. Don’t even ask about the cringe-inducing “Alien Abduction and Probe Room”; I gave it a wide berth. Madam S.S., by the way, says the clientele isn’t just male. Women pay visits, too, as well as couples. “Lots of couples,” she said. “They like to spice things up.”
Before moving on, and before I could stop blushing, Madam S.S. caught herself.
“Oh, I almost forgot, let me show you our costume closet,” she said. “A lot of gentlemen request a lady in costume. Some gentlemen like to be in costumes as well as having our ladies dress up. So we offer costumes of all sizes. My big male alien (costume) is in the back. But let’s see what we’ve got. They can dress up like Poison Ivy or, let’s see, la-di-da, oh, here’s our Alien Elvis. Where’s the wig? I’m not prepared, sorry.”
Most popular costume request, not surprising, given that many customers are baby boomers: Princess Leia from the original “Star Wars,” complete with white frock and wig with the twin buns.
It’s all just a form of entertainment, Madam S.S. says, Amargosa Valley’s equivalent to catching a Siegfried & Roy show.
What surprised me was her admission that a not-insignificant number of clients don’t even “party with us” (a discreet euphemism). Fact is, the Alien Cathouse boasts the only bar for miles around, the only billiards table, too.
“We like to brag that we are a friendly brothel,” Madam S.S. said. “We invite people in to look around. Dennis believes all his brothels should be friendly. If you want to come in and just sit at the bar and have a drink, or if you want to play free pool or use our free Wi-Fi, come on in and do so. Just because you don’t party with us right now doesn’t mean that you might not tell someone who might party. We get referrals. And, who knows, next time when you’re passing through … .”
Yeah, you know, stop by just to check your email, right?
Actually, by early 2015, there’ll be another reason to pull over just down the road from the Alien Cathouse, in Crystal. Hof is in the process of constructing a Brothel Museum, detailing Nevada’s rich history in this business venture, dating to before statehood.
“He’s bringing in all kinds of memorabilia from all the brothels, not just in Nye County but the state of Nevada, so that’ll give you a reason to come visit again,” she said, winking.
Call The Bee’s Sam McManis, (916) 321-1145. Follow him on Twitter @SamMcManis