Toronto
7 min

Cock tales

The men behind the skin

LOOK AGAIN. Everyone - from Ray, Cory and the rest of the strippers at Remington's, to the men who pay them to dance - is drawn to the famed, mirror-lined club for very different reasons. Credit: Paula Wilson

It lies on the edge of the ghetto, like a bordello on the outskirts of a wild-west frontier town.



You walk down Yonge St, past the hustlers and homies and dealers. You pass the gaggle of street kids flocking in front of the Evergreen Youth Centre. They ask you for change or a smoke; you know it’s just a matter of time before the good-looking ones end up on the stage next door.



Then you spot the towering doorman, Ian, who crushes you in a powerful bear hug and ushers you inside Remington’s Men Of Steel.



The temperature inside is always scorching, to keep the dancers comfortable. The air is humid and scented with cigarette smoke and cologne. Black lights make customers’ dandruff glow.



The music is loud, but not too loud. The announcer’s voice rings out over the PA system: “Don’t forget to get yourself a dancer.”



You settle at a table and wait for waitress/terrorist Bitch Diva to take your order. The walls are covered in mirrors, which are, in turn, covered in finger prints and ass smudges. Imagine what could be cloned if they took a DNA sample from the dance pole.



Each night at Remington’s you wait for The One – the dancer who will hypnotize you into a semi-conscious semi-erection. The one who seems to be dancing just for you. And no matter how brutal the night, or how drunk you get, there is always one.



Who will be The One tonight?



Dancers come in all shapes and sizes. They range from fresh out of high school to straight out of prison. Strippers are rarely who they appear to be.



Dorian is new at Remy’s; it’s only his third night. He will be 21 next week. He is a slight, pretty boy who was born in the islands, but immigrated to Canada with his folks when he was just a boy. He holds a university degree in drama.



What brought Dorian to Remington’s? “Poverty,” he says. “I tried other jobs, but my resumé is not really tailored towards retail, so I joined the service industry. A drama degree doesn’t really qualify you for much besides stripping.” He laughs nervously. “I’m an actor, so I already sell my body. Dancing wasn’t too far of a stretch.”



Dorian disappears into the crowd and I turn my attention to the stage. A boy with no rhythm whatsoever is dancing to Pink Floyd. I can smell his BO from here. His jaw is grinding furiously. He’s had a few too many Big Macs of late. He is definitely not The One.



No one notices him finish. He frowns. “C’mon guys. It’s only my second night!” There is a smattering of applause as he struggles to get his underwear back on. As he exits, I see that he’s got them on backwards. It makes me think: How do you become an exotic dancer?



Oddly enough, you take a trip to City Hall. “You go to the licensing office,” says Dorian, “You line up. A nice man takes your picture. You give him money [$186, to be precise]. And then you are a certified burlesque entertainer.”



What an image: A bunch of city employees sitting around an office in the City Hall, auditioning lap dancers. Is there anything more uniquely Canadian?



His audition for Remington’s wasnít exactly grueling, either. “I came in, chatted with the manager and showed him my licence. He asked to see my body, and that was it. I was hired.”



Maybe Remy’s should adjudicate strippers’ dancing skills as well as their bodies. There is a wide variety of dance styles on display: the hyper-kinetic circuit-queen bop, the laconic street-kid shimmy, the bouncy cowboy clomp. One punky boy dances to Nine Inch Nails like he’s a figure skating mime – a Lollapaloozer on ice.



You can tell a lot about a dancer by where he places his focus. The best dancers make eye contact with the audience. They smile and flirt and do everything in their power to steal you away from your drink or conversation. These are the charmers, the hustlers. They will sweat with exertion. They will press their groin into your leg as they bum a smoke off you after the show. They’ll show you a good time. They’ll remember your name the next time.



Other dancers simply stare off into space while they perform. They bop along at low energy, looking off to a distant horizon, or staring up at the ceiling as if they have spotted something flying overhead: a flock of geese, perhaps, or a blimp or Superman. These dancers have been dancing for too long – they don’t remember why they started and they can’t or won’t leave. They just go through the motions and pretend they’re somewhere else.



Finally, there are the boys who stare at themselves in the mirror throughout their performance – the narcissists. They might be the most common type.



But all of the dancers thrive on the attention of the customers. “It’s like you’re famous,” says one performer, “like you’re Madonna or Brad Pitt or something.” He glances at his reflection for a moment, adjusting a loose hair. “Just while you’re in here, though.”



Dorian re-materializes from within a cloud of cigarette smoke. I ask what it was like the first time he danced. “It was surprisingly easy. About halfway through the first dance, I had my swimsuit part of the way down, and I was like: ‘What am I doing?’ But then I thought to myself: ‘I’m an actor, I’m onstage. Go for it!’ And it was no problem.”



He says the hardest part is getting wood. “When you are dancing and you’re not hard, it’s all you can think about.



“I don’t do evening shifts because I feel self-conscious,” says Dorian. “I’m skinny. My dick is, you know, not the biggest. Lots of the customers think I’m hideous; they are the ones who like big, muscled men with huge cocks.



“But there are plenty of guys there who think I’m beautiful. I dance for them.



“But I hate to go on after Axel.”



Ah, the legendary Axel, an extraordinary young man with an extraordinary appendage. Though Axel has recently retired, you’ll still hear stories of him and his chocolate bar for years to come. He was most famous for flipping his 12-inch-plus cock back between his legs so that it was trapped between his butt cheeks. Then Axel would look back over his shoulder, right into your eyes, and toss you a killer grin.



A great cock can compensate for any deficiency. A dancer can be ugly, old, fat or smelly. If he has a big dick, someone will love him.

A rough-looking boy wearing a tacky-but-sexy leopard-print thong saunters over to my table. He has a scar above his right eye that makes him look angry, though he’s not. He asks if I want a dance. I decline. He slaps my face gently and leans in close with a devilish grin on his face: “If you take me upstairs I’ll slap your ass, too.” I ask if he’s gay or straight. “Neither,” he says. “I just dance.” In other words, he’s trade.



Trade isn’t aroused by men or women. Rather, trade is turned on by attention and hard cash. Trade wants to be watched and paid. Trade is sexually omnivorous. Trade sports tattoos and stubble and sweat and leopard-print thongs.



Trade is my life! Well, not really. But I do have a soft spot for it.

It is a little-known fact that strippers actually pay $20 to the house each night for the privilege of dancing on stage. Their performances are advertisements for private dances, which is how the dancers make their income.



These performances often involve very little dancing at all. Official house rules permit no contact between the dancer and the patron – but rules are sometimes broken. There must be a mathematical correlation between dancers who show their secret garden (spread their ass cheeks) on stage, and those dancers who maintain an anything goes policy in the back room.



“If I find a guy attractive, then giving a private dance can be fun. But usually, it’s just a job,” Dorian sighs.



Remington’s recently installed doors on the booths in the back room. Private dances have suddenly become a lot more private. Do people have sex in the backrooms?



“Not with me, they don’t,” says Dorian. “Most regular people would draw the line at getting naked for money. Me, I draw the line at having sex for money. It’s not my cup of tea.”



It’s late now, and everybody – customers and many dancers – is drunk. A massively muscled giant wanders around the stage looking lost. He’s downright wobbly. It’s difficult to suppress the urge to yell, “Timber!”



An old man with a long beard and a fedora pulled down over his brow claps loudly, yelling, “Yes! Yes!” His tongue darts in and out of his mouth like a lizard. He wears a wedding ring on his left hand.



Hot, sweating, underwear-clad boys surround a middle-aged man in a wheelchair. They buzz excitedly around him, jockeying for his attention. The man is having the time of his life.



That’s the beauty of a place like Remy’s.



Nowadays, many gay men are “men of steel.” The average guy at a circuit party has a body to rival the best of the Remy’s dancers. But circuit parties are exclusive; Remington’s is anything but. It’s a place where, with a few bucks in your pocket, you can be the belle of the ball – just while you’re in here, though.



There are dancers who work for a couple of months, grow tired of it all and leave. Then there are the lifers, guys who can’t get enough, or don’t know how to escape. For the lifers, time is measured by the appearance of new tattoos where once there were none; you can count them like the rings of a tree.



Lifers dance until nobody wants to dance with them any more; then they disappear. They are all Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray and we are all Dorian’s painter, Basil Hallward.



How long does the real Dorian plan to dance? “Until my bills are paid and I have some money. I dunno, six months? A year?” He stabs his cigarette into the ashtray. “Gotta go. I’m up.” He climbs on stage and begins to dance. He looks beautiful. He dances with real ability and grace.



I enjoy the show, but he’s not my type. He’s not The One. I still haven’t found what I was looking for. It’s late. I’m tired. I contemplate going home.



I spot a beautiful boy out of the corner of my eye. I haven’t seen him before. He must be new.



I sigh and order another drink.


Remington’s.
$5 cover. 3pm-2am.
379 Yonge St, Toronto.
(416) 977-2160.