Scary Bar Project: El Flamingo

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Just when I thought I was jaded, I glimpsed a handwritten sign advertising $3 beer and lingerie-clad “sexy ballerinas.”
“Oh my sweet Jesus!” I told my girlfriend, temporarily forgetting my Judaism. I clutched her forearm and hauled her toward El Flamingo, a windowless dance club. It was located beneath Jackson Heights’ elevated subway tracks, near the sizzling street-taco stands.

“No,” she said, surprisingly.

“I’ll buy you a beer.” This tactic entices cheapskate pals, but complimentary Budweiser doesn’t work the same magic on women.

“N-O. No.”

“But they’re ballerinas,” I countered, “and they’re sexy.” She shook her head, leaving my intrigue piqued and confused: What in tarnation were sexy ballerinas? Female Baryshnikovs fallen from grace? I worried this may be Navy Yard Cocktail Lounge redux. You know, a squalid dive offering both flesh and budget booze. Not that I minded, but visiting two strip clubs in a month crosses that thin line separating “work” and “pervert.”

The truth was far more disquieting—and a tad depressing. Like my grasp of Spanish, which I used at El Flamingo a few weeks later.

“Quiero beber cerveza,” I tell the burly security guard.

He nods approvingly and frisks me, finding only underdeveloped pecs. Satisfied, he opens the interior door and ushers me into an alternate universe.

A dozen or so “ballerinas”—bored-seeming women of every curve, jiggle and cup size, wearing cleavage-baring lingerie and Lucite heels—flank the bar. Blue-collar Mexican men down Heineken and Corona ($3 until 10 p.m. nightly) and eyeball ’em. Sober, I’m too timid to stare. So I order a lime-topped Corona, retreat to a table and swallow liquid courage.

I have company. Nearby, men slouch in chairs, watching English soccer highlights on TV and pounding brew. After glomming the scores, they train attention on the fog-shrouded, disco-ball dance floor. A DJ pumps his fist and spins salsa that, combined with alcohol’s false bravado, works its loin-quaking, booty-shaking magic.

Zombie-like, men drop beers and escort “ballerinas” onto the dance floor. Some dance chastely, separated by space enough for an inflated balloon. Others grind, groin to groin. No fluids are exchanged, only friction, blessed friction. In this regard, the scene resembles a junior high dance. There’s even a slick-haired chaperone keeping tabs on frisky hands.

I consider cutting a rug, but there’s the girlfriend factor. Second, I dance like an electric eel being gutted alive. Lastly, and most importantly, is a fluorescent handmade sign announcing that sexy ballerinas aren’t perks, like free peanuts. Each belle costs $40 an hour. That’s means each woman is worth 13 beers, a stat best left unsaid.

I order 1/13 a woman and scrutinize the writhing twosomes. White-shirted waiters follow their moves and jot the minutes danced onto pocket notebooks. At $40 an hour, 60 seconds cost $.67. That’s fine for a power ballad, but an extended club remix will break the bank, just like El Flamingo breaks my heart.

Sexy ballerinas are not scary; they’re a costly, fleeting cure to bone-deep loneliness—immigrant dreams crashing against a cold, lonely bed. I drink deeply of my Corona and its sour lime, knowing full well that buying affection is far more terrifying than El Flamingo could ever be.

Perceived Scariness (on a scale of 1 to 10): 9

Actual Scariness: 6 (Buy the cheap beer, not the ballerina dancing.)

El Flamingo, 85-12 Roosevelt Ave. (betw. 85th & 86th Sts.), Queens, 718-606-1633.

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