Why Aren't There Any Strip Clubs in the East Bay?

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Entertainer Cocoa Diamond dances on stage at Club BNB in Oakland. (Brittany Hosea-Small/KQED)

In the 1960s, San Francisco was in the midst of a sexual revolution. Officials across the bay in Oakland wanted none of it. Bay Curious is a new podcast from KQED that answers your questions about the Bay Area.

Listener Alicia Gallo was out with friends one night, and they couldn't find any strip clubs to go to in the East Bay. She got to thinking, San Francisco has plenty of them. She remembers going to one in S.F. for a friend's birthday party back in college. Stumped, she asked Bay Curious, "Why aren’t there any strip clubs in the East Bay?"

Are There Really None?

Like Alicia Gallo, I couldn’t find any strip clubs in the East Bay. But I did find strippers. After asking around a bit, I met an Oakland club promoter named Trina McQueen.

“When I came to Oakland there was no strip clubs," McQueen says. "So my girlfriend and I and all of her friends brought it to Oakland. That was in 1991. And it shot off the roof.”


McQueen's dancers work at Club BNB, an LGBT bar in downtown Oakland. They dance and strip -- but not all the way.

Promoter Trina McQueen emcees on stage at Club BnB while her dancers perform.
Promoter Trina McQueen emcees onstage at Club BNB while her dancers perform. (Brittany Hosea-Small/KQED)

There's a reason her dancers don't disrobe beyond their pasties and G-strings. It's against the law for dancers to go nude in Oakland, or anywhere in Alameda County.

“My show is not a nude show," McQueen says.

'No Breasts or Private Parts'

According to Chapter 9.28 of the Oakland Municipal Code, it’s a misdemeanor for women to expose their breasts “while participating in any live act, demonstration, or exhibition in any public place.” Even simulating that nipple with a pasty is questionable.

Every female is guilty of a misdemeanor who, while participating in any live act, demonstration, or exhibition in any public place, place open to the public, or place open to public view, or while serving food or drink or both to any customer:

A. Exposes any portion of either breast below a straight line so drawn that both nipples and all portions of both breasts which have a different pigmentation than that of the main portion of the breasts are below such straight line; or

B. Employs any device or covering which is intended to simulate such portions of the breast below such line; or

C. Wears any type of clothing so that any portion of such part of the breast may be observed.

Another section prohibits the display of “private parts" for women or men.

The Oakland City Council passed this ordinance in 1970. But why? For the answer, you need to cross the Bay to San Francisco, where commercial sex was booming, says Josh Sides, the Whitsett Professor of California History at Cal State Northridge.

A plaque hangs outside the Condor Club in San Francisco.
A plaque hangs outside the Condor Club in San Francisco's North Beach. (Brittany Hosea-Small/KQED)

Carol Doda Goes Topless For the First Time

In the 1960s, people watched dancers perform in pasties and swimsuits at go-go bars on Broadway in North Beach.

On June 19, 1964, at the Condor Club, a cocktail waitress named Carol Doda tossed aside her pasties and did The Swim dance in a topless monokini.

Carol Doda acquitted on indecency charge, 1965.
Carol Doda acquitted on indecency charge, 1965. (United Press International)

Doda, who's now deceased, said in a 1997 KRON-TV documentary that the audience was captivated.

“They were lined up around the corner. It’s like they had never seen bare breasts before in their lives," she said. Baring her nipples was a big deal, she added -- "the greatest thing since sliced bread."

Doda’s dance sparked a sexual revolution of its own. There was an explosion of adult bookstores, erotic massage parlors and porn theaters, particularly in the North Beach and Tenderloin neighborhoods.

Sides says San Francisco went from having no topless clubs in 1964 to having about 40 within a year.

“San Francisco became the sort of example that every city wanted to avoid,” he said.

The Smut Capital of America

In 1969, local and state lawmakers started to crack down on obscenity and indecency. Dianne Feinstein was running for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors that year, and she pointed to "the growth of obscenity” as one of the things ruining the city.

An ad for a topless bar in the Oakland Tribune during the topless and bottomless craze in 1969.
An ad for a topless bar in the Oakland Tribune during the topless and bottomless craze in 1969. (Oakland Public Library)

In September 1969, Gov. Ronald Reagan signed the Quimby-Walsh Act. The law allowed cities and counties to regulate how waiters, waitresses and entertainers dress in bars and restaurants.

On Jan. 22, 1970, Oakland passed an ordinance prohibiting “exposure of portions of the human body in specified places.” City officials had been waiting for Reagan to sign the Quimby-Walsh Act so they could stifle the topless -- and emerging bottomless -- craze.

To this day, that ordinance is what keeps strip clubs out of Oakland.

"We get quite a bit of interest of individuals wanting to start strip clubs in Oakland, but unfortunately the city’s policies and regulations don’t allow that at this time," says Juno Thomas, Small Business Assistance Center coordinator for the Oakland Economic and Workforce Development Department.

We Don't Want You Here!

The ban over all of Alameda County means there’s also no legal strip clubs in cities like Hayward, Emeryville or Berkeley.

Other cities in the East Bay use zoning rules to discourage strip clubs and restrict where they try to open. That’s how it’s done in Contra Costa County -- home to the cities of Richmond and Walnut Creek. In fact, zoning is the most common way municipalities deal with strip clubs.

As for McQueen, she’s hoping Oakland will change its rules to match San Francisco.

“I don’t feel like my dancers that live in Oakland need to go make their money in San Francisco," McQueen says. "I just feel like they need to be able to make their money where they live."

For now, she’ll just keep doing her thing -- pasties and G-strings -- in Oakland.


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