Strip Club Signs

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Of all the kitsch that pervades Montreal’s commercial signage, little is more gaudy and outlandish than its strip club signs. In other cities, they’re discreet and euphemistic; here, they employ neon and cartoon illustrations to demonstrate what goes on inside. Nowhere is this more obvious than at Ste. Catherine and the Main, a corner that has been seedy for decades. In the early twentieth century, it was a busy shopping district, but it was also the heart of Montreal’s red light district, with brothels, gambling parlours and bars that flourished during Prohibition, when Quebec was the only place in North America where booze flowed freely.

The queen of the corner is Café Cleopatra, which opened in 1969, one of the first modern-day strip clubs in Montreal. Its ground floor is aimed at straight men; upstairs, a more diverse crowd mingles inside the city’s best-known tranny bar. Cleopatra’s sign, which is cheeky and almost innocent by today’s standards, promises a “unisex disco” with “strip-teaseuses” and “spectacles continuels.” Its best feature is a nude, decidedly robust woman (Cleopatra herself?) lying on her side, red-striped headband tied around her golden locks of hair.

Further west, even more garish strip clubs and peep shows are found right in the heart of the downtown retail district. The most famous is Club Super Sexe, located on Ste. Catherine near the corner of University and likely the best-known strip club in Montreal. A large part of its notoriety comes from its two-storey sign, an orgy of blinking neon and caped, bikini-clad women flying through the nighttime sky. It must be quite an awesome sight for a teenager from upstate New York who has come to Montreal for his first taste of legal debauchery.

Two doors to the east, in a handsome greystone Gothic structure built in 1914, is Super Sexe’s sister club, Super Contact. Its lurid neon signs, which depict two sets of disembodied hands grasping at the body of a busty stripper, are almost comically at odds with the forced sobriety of the building in which they are housed. The maternity store located immediately underneath Super Contact, its windows filled with posters of rosy-cheeked pregnant women, only adds to the irony.

They’re tacky and unabashedly sexist, but the strip clubs along the downtown shopping strip are an essential ingredient in the street’s heterogeneity, which is what makes it so appealing in the first place. Without the incongruous mix of chain clothing stores and strip clubs, their doormen trying to entice passers-by with obscene catchphrases (“Pussies, tits and giggly tits!” yelled one, in a lilting Caribbean accent, as I walked downtown last summer), Ste. Catherine would be just another humdrum high street.

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Another version of this article was published in Maisonneuve‘s Spring 2008 edition.

This entry was written by Christopher DeWolf , posted on Sunday April 20 2008at 06:04 pm , filed under Art and Design, Canada, Society and Culture and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

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